Skipper’s Condition

Skipper continues to have high and low days. He might have a bad playtime in the morning and a great one in the evening. There still seems to be no rhyme or reason for it; no real pattern. This last Sunday morning, he had the worst episode yet. Comatose and drooling. He was breathing fine, so I let him alone for a while as the others played (checking him every few minutes). Twenty minutes later, he was “back”. He came out and had a fairly decent playtime.

But, today, two hours ago even, he was almost dead. He would stop breathing for a period, then make a series of gasps, then stop breathing again. I gave mouth-to-snout resuscitation for about ten minutes, making very sure not to blow too hard; it was just mouthfuls of air (like spitting water in the swimming pool). I watched his diaphragm move to tell if it was even working, and to gauge how much air I was giving. I did this in between his gasps, when it appeared he wasn’t breathing. The only way I could tell he was still alive was to blow on his face and watch for his whiskers to twitch (remember, that’s what I did with Sammy). After a while, he perked up a little and was breathing on his own, albeit very shallow. I didn’t know whether or not to summon a ride to the vet, and I didn’t want to leave him alone long enough to make the call. I didn’t even know if he would make it to the vet.

When he picked up his head and opened his eyes a little, I knew he was still alive and worth making the trip to the vet. For a while, I wasn’t sure at all; for all intents and purposes, he was gone. The episode passed as we were on the way to the vet, and by the time we got there, he was moving and looking around. When we got there, they took him right back to their ER. In a short time, they brought him back to me and I was to wait a bit and talk with the vet. But, as he sat in his carrier on the counter, the nurse noticed that he was back “down” again and they took him right back again. This time though, he’s there for the night.

Now, however, as I sit here sipping some wine, trying to calm down, it occurs to me something I’ve learned; something that some of you shared with me even: Am I forcing him to live, when he might be better off… dead? When I spent eleven days and two operations in the hospital, and lost Bart while I was there, that concept became clear to me. I understand it.

So, I must consider the option of having to put him down. Indeed, that crossed my mind while he was almost dead just a short while ago, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do that; to just let him die (or live) on his own. I just couldn’t do that – I had to try to save him. But now, just minutes ago, as hard as it was, I called the vet and told them that, if it didn’t look like there’s any real hope for any quality of life; if he would be suffering and continue to suffer; if forcing him to live would make him suffer more, that I am not opposed to having him put down; if that’s the best option, so be it. Damn, that hurts! Damn, that hurts…

As I dry my eyes and recover from that last statement, I console myself with the knowledge that he had a good life with me and the others. Probably much better than he would have had elsewhere. We’ve had a lot of fun and fellowship together, and he’s known a lot of ferret joys he might not have known. Sure, it wasn’t as good as a rich ferret owner might be able to afford, but it was better than many ferret owners would have provided. This understanding also gives me some consolation where Bart and Victoria are concerned. It helps me with the other three as well; I know that, if they were to all die today, they DID have a much better life with me than they had elsewhere. I know that. That comforts me, and will comfort me on that day when they, too, depart from me.

So, I am now counting Skipper dead. I will mourn his loss this evening….

g. s.


I’ve learned two things that might be of use to you:

1. Artificial respiration CAN, in some circumstances, resuscitate a ferret.

2. Blowing on whiskers CAN be a valid indication of life (when they twitch).

Skipper is still at the vet’s, and will stay there till Friday (today is Tuesday). Even though it’s his day off, the vet called me to let me know what their plan of action is. It’s sort of a catch twenty-two: He really needs to be stronger and in better shape before an operation, but, the longer an operation is put off, the worse he gets. Ironically, today, he’s doing great!

The vet explained to me that, with a malfunctioning pancreas, there’s no rhyme or reason to it; no frequency or regularity to when it’ll happen. At a certain point, the pancreas releases *something* (don’t remember what), and he “crashes” due to low blood sugar. Whereas his sugar should be 90 something, his was measured at around 34; “barely able to live” the vet said.

That explains why I have not been able to determine anything as to why and when; no common denominator at all. And, believe me, I’ve tried many things to see what might cause an episode. At one point, I thought that activity might have something to do with it. That, maybe, motivation to play from the others might be triggering it… So, I tried a solo playtime with zero pressure from anyone (not even me). But, he had an episode anyway. Time and time again, I’ve tried to prove or disprove a theory of cause and effect, only to end up just as baffled as I was before.

We did determine that he is about 3 1/2 years old. Based on the record of when Bart and Victoria went down with Cholitus (aka Colitus or ECE), which came because of and shortly after I got Skipper, I’ve had him about three years. And, when I first got him, he was still growing; he was too small for my smallest harness, and had to grow into it.

This is part of what’s baffling the vet – Skipper is just too young to be having tumors (as far as he knows). I agree. He shouldn’t be having to deal with this for several more years yet. I guess there’s an exception to every “rule”. But, all the signs point to a tumor, clear and simple.

So, here’s what’s going to happen: he’s going to stay at the vet’s till Friday. On Friday afternoon, even though it’s not the vet’s normal surgery day (Wednesday is), he’s going to do the surgery. I’ll know Friday evening if Skipper is still with us or not. In the meantime, I know that he’s under the best care possible.

The vet has consulted with a number of colleagues and other ferret professionals, and between them all, they agree that it’s got to be done ASAP. They are trying to build him up with as much nourishment as possible between now and then. They say he’s “eating like a horse”, which is very good. Then, when it’s time for the operation, they will start an IV drip with some sort of sugary substance (?) to help prevent a crash during the operation.

They give him a “strong” 50/50 chance of making it (slightly better than 50%). Well, when it comes to that, that’s a better chance than he has (or had) if he keeps “dying” every other day! Either way, when facing the realistic fact that I might have to have him put down anyway, if it is going to happen, it might as well be there and then, when he’s under anesthesia. Meanwhile, there’s still that strong 50% chance that he will make it through and survive. He’s the biggest, toughest little guy I’ve ever known!

Now, we hope that any tumor(s) are NOT growing inside any main vein as was Victoria’s case. If that is the case, he’s probably already “gone” so to speak (doomed). *sigh* I am resigning myself to that possibility, and working on letting him go. I told the vet today that, if, when he gets in there, and there’s just no hope of any real recovery or any quality of life (or worse), do what he must do and send Skipper to be with Bart and Victoria. He understands.

So, now it’s a waiting game. I’m not really stressed about it right now, but, come Friday, naturally, only about half my mind will be on my work. I have been trying to spend as much quality time with Skipper, knowing that sometime soon, *something* (bad) was going to have to happen. Had I known that Vicki was going to leave so soon and suddenly, I would have spent much more intense time with her too. In the last week or so, I’ve spoiled him with so many (beneficial) treats that he stands there staring at me a lot, hoping for more.

I think I should go visit him Thursday. I don’t think I could bear it Friday, that close to surgery, without getting just too emotional. Oh well, having loved and lost Bart and Victoria, I knew and know full well what I have let myself in for, so I must learn to cope with it. I sometimes wish I could be like the vet and his staff when it comes to the death of an animal: concerned, but not directly emotionally attached. Sure, it hurts them when a patient dies, but not as it would if it were their pet. This is what helps them keep going, even when they (inevitably) lose one here and there.

I think what hurts them more, is seeing the grief of those who have lost a pet; I’m sure that hurts big time, and I don’t envy them in that regard. When my vet has to inform a pet owner that they didn’t make it (and he insists on giving that tragic news in person), it has got to be the hardest part of his job. Frankly, I don’t know how he/they can do that for any period of time. But, they are professionals, and they can handle it. I couldn’t do it. Heck, I’d be blubbering worse than the pet owner!

Well, let’s hope that he doesn’t have to do that for quite a while with Skipper. That’s all I can do. Regardless, at least I know that, if he dies, he had a much better and longer life with me than he would have had wandering around homeless. That wouldn’t have lasted long (or, knowing him, large animals would be disappearing in the vicinity!)

Hmmm… maybe I should go visit him Wednesday AND Thursday…

Now, provided he makes it, I have decided that I’m going to separate him from the others. Often, I find Skipper buried under the other three, and I can’t help wonder, can he breath all right? Even if he was perfectly healthy, that’s still a couple of pounds of ferret piled on top of him. The vet agrees. I sometimes wonder if that hasn’t been a factor in other episodes Skipper has had. They’ll still have playtime together, but Skipper’s going to have his own “condo” to live in. Oh goodie! Another litter box to clean! Well, I asked for that, too… *sigh*

Other news…

I’m starting to produce BuzzBalls Ferret Toys for a trial run. I have several outlets in mind, including possibly my vet’s office. I even have a strategy in mind: over a period of three weeks or so, call and have my friends call and visit various pet stores asking if they have BuzzBalls. After these well spaced requests for them, any sensible pet store owner would be getting interested in finding them. Then, when their curiosity is up, I’ll “just happen along” with a batch of them. *grin*

I’m starting to count the cost of materials, production time and establish a production procedure. Did you know that, for some strange reason, when you sand on a ping pong ball (to get the logo off), it smells like Ben-Gay or something menthol like that? Even an old ball that’s been aired out has a strong smell when sanded. Sheesh! In light of the fact that China is systematically trying to poison America, and the fact that virtually all ping pong balls are made in China, I hope they aren’t somehow poison! Naaa, if they were, I think I would have found that out by now. Regardless, I must now sand and air out my (ping pong) balls.

Back To Skipper…

I went to see him yesterday. As usual, he’s doing great! I took his favorite sleeping bag to him (a coat sleeve that he loves, which bears his scent and the scent of home). He crawled right into it and poked his head out the small end. He didn’t seem exceptionally glad to see me, but he never has.

There’s something to bear in mind about Skipper: he never has acted like most ferrets. Although he has had his “tender” moments, he’s like most ferrets when it comes to being “aloof”; (“I love you but”) “don’t touch me, please”. But, also, when playing, he never has “gotten silly” like all the other ferrets I’ve known. Now, sometimes, as with most other ferrets, on his own, he’ll get a little silly, roll around then lick his winky. Yes, he’ll do that. But, when playing with him with a cloth or something, unlike other ferrets which “blow a happy fuse”, he never has done that. His personality simply doesn’t quite match most of the basics of most ferret personalities.

(When he feels good,) he seems to have his own agenda and even his own “route” around the room. While the other three are playing, Skipper would rather dig in and splash around in their plastic tub-o-water. Then, he might want to go into their “big ball” (A HUGE Christmas tree ornament with a big hole in it) and claw some. He used to love to do that, but doesn’t do it much lately. He might then want to try to drag a small (or large) plastic soda bottle partly filled with water back behind the couch. He always wants to disembowel my small back-pack, but, there are things in there (tools, etc.) that are dangerous and I don’t want any of them messing with. If he feels real good, he’ll beat up all three of his much bigger brothers, but it’s been a while since he did that. Oh, he also likes to fly from the couch to the coffee table.

I can’t help but wonder: Did his stopping breathing (or, has it before), or will it cause any permanent brain damage? He kind of seemed “normal” (for Skipper) yesterday… But, certainly, it doesn’t do him any good in that regard to go through that repeatedly. I also wonder: How many other times has he gone through such a near-death experience, and I wasn’t there to breath for him? Can/does he somehow “snap out of it” and make it on his own? This could have happened numerous times without my knowledge. Maybe, likewise, he might have pulled through episodes without any help.

But, I can say this: Had I not been there when it was happening, to the best of my understanding and knowledge, he was a gonner. Maybe I’m wrong… maybe he can (and has) made it before without help. In light of the frequency of episodes I have seen, it’s reasonable to assume that there have been episodes that I wasn’t there for.

Well, regardless, tomorrow is the day. He’ll either live or die. *sigh*


Friday morning, I called the vet to check on Skipper’s condition. He was doing “great”; as well as could be expected in his condition. Surgery was at noon. Naturally, I was on pins and needles. I couldn’t eat my lunch at noon, so I just kept on working to keep my mind off him.

I called at 2:00 PM to see if he made it. He did. He was starting to wake up. The vet removed two pancreatic tumors. He was on oxygen and a sugar drip IV. Whew! I could breathe again. Thanking God, my appetite came back and I ate my lunch.

After work, I was at my neighbor’s house. We were talking about things and laughing. I felt great myself, thinking Skipper was out of the woods. But then, at 4:00 pm, I called to check on him again. The vet came on the phone (always a bad sign) and explained that, only minutes ago, Skipper passed away. It happened while they were checking him again. Something went wrong and he couldn’t handle it.

The vet was devastated, as was I. He felt so positive about the outcome, as did I, and neither of us were prepared for the sudden turn for the worse. It was a “sucker punch” to be sure. I think he takes it personally when he loses a patient like that; I could hear it in his voice. He wouldn’t be a vet if he didn’t expect and experience a certain level of success. He did the best that anyone could have done if faced with the same circumstances. He did the best that modern medicine and technology could provide.

Now, I must cope with his loss. Having lost two already, I know what I’m in for. And, for the record, it does not get any easier. Each one lost is the loss of a little “person”; they had a personality, so a person was lost. That personality is lost. All the traits, habits and quirks that made them who they were, are gone. What a loss… what a waste. So sad…

It’s hard to believe that a three and a half year old could have tumors like that. Bear in mind that, due to the fact that all my ferrets were rescues, none of them have any record or history to draw upon. It’s up to the vet’s professional opinion as to how old they might be. As for Skipper, I do know that, when I first got him, he was too small for even the smallest harness, which he grew into, so I think he was about 6 months old when I got him. That, combined with the three years I had him, and he was about 3 1/2 when he died.

Now, memories are all I have, and they come flooding back like the tears that flood my eyes. I made a point, knowing that he was going to have an operation soon, to give him as many treats and as much affection as I could the week before last (this last week, he spent the whole week in the hospital). I’m so glad I did! Although he wasn’t always up for it, we did have some good times together. At least I know there’s Bart and Victoria to meet him on the other side of life.

So, will I get another one, to bring us back to four? No, I don’t think so. Not for a while anyway. I think I’ll stick with the ideal number of three for a while (unless “ferret math” jumps up and bite me in the ass again!). Did I learn anything (else) from this? Yes: just because a ferret makes it through surgery, doesn’t mean it’s in the clear yet. Things can still turn suddenly.


Buddy, Nipper, Victor and Gary

(missing Bart, Victoria and Skipper)

The author, Gary Schooley, is always happy to hear from other ferret owners and get their feedback. His email address is (of course replace the AT with @)

Leave a Comment