Choosing a Vet for the Best Ferret Care

Guest Post by Michael Hearing

Ferrets make great pets, but, as we’ve mentioned before, pet ferrets are fairly high-maintenance critters. Part of that maintenance involves frequent vet visits becauseFerrets Playing ferrets are prone to several health issues. It is very important, then, that you choose a vet who is knowledgeable about, experienced in, and equipped for proper ferret care.

Here, for example, is what happened the first time Karen took her fuzzy kids, Rikki and Possum, to the vet.

We called a trusted vet we had used several times before with our dogs and cats and made an appointment. But when we (and Karen’s woozles) arrived at the vet’s office, we didn’t get to see Dr. M. Instead, we saw a young woman who was just six months out of vet school.

Now, she was friendly, easy to talk to, and generally knowledgeable about veterinarian matters, and she was a pleasure to deal with. But she had very little experience with ferrets – which she was up front about. This brand-new vet couldn’t answer many of our questions about ferret health. So Rikki and Possum got a general exam and their vaccinations and no more. We went home to research answers to our questions on ferret care and ferret health on our own.

In Ferrets for Dummies (which we consult often) Kim Schilling emphasizes the need to ask a lot of questions before you choose a vet – and not to just assume they know about ferret care, as we did. Schilling says: “Questions are your best tools. A good, professional veterinarian and staff will recognize your valid concerns and won’t hesitate to answer your questions as completely as possible.”

Schilling recommends that you ask at least a few basic questions before choosing a vet so that you can find out:

  • How long the vet has been practicing ferret medicine and how many pet ferrets he or she generally treats in typical day, week, or month
  • The vet’s experience with diagnosing and treating common ferret diseases
  • Whether the clinic stocks plenty of ferret vaccinations (e.g., USDA-approved rabies vaccine)
  • Fees for check-ups, examinations, and vaccinations
  • Whether the facility is equipped to house (overnight or even longer) ferrets that may require hospitalization
  • The vet’s level of experience in handling both routine surgeries (such as spaying and neutering) and more involved surgeries (such as tumor removal and adrenal-related surgeries)
  • What kind of continuing education the vet uses to stay abreast of recent developments in ferret medicine and the latest in surgical techniques

So, choose a vet for you fuzzy kids wisely. You wouldn’t take your other children to just any old doctor, would you?

For more information on ferret health and ferret care, see Getting Started with Pet Ferrets.

More Ferret Health Concerns

So there has been a lot of interest in ferret diseases and health problems in ferrets lately.  I have already done a few posts on sick ferrets, but it seems that another one is in order.

One reader wanted to know about the mortality rate in ferrets that have periodontal disease.Happy Panda Ferret in Bag I have researched this and talked to a vet about it. It turns out that periodontal disease is not fatal – if you catch it in time. But if you don’t have it taken care of, the infection will go into the blood stream and then into the kidneys and liver.  Very bad for ferrets.

So, just as we humans need to take care of our teeth, we also need to take care of our little fuzzies’ teeth. When you do your ferrets’ daily grooming, add in brushing their teeth. Yes, brush your ferrets’ teeth! It’s also a good way to see if any other illnesses are developing. And remember to take your fuzzies to the vet periodically to have any stubborn tartar build-up removed.

Here, according to Getting Started with Pet Ferrets, is how to brush a ferret’s teeth:

  1. Hold it firmly by the scruff of the neck.
  2. Gently open your ferret’s mouth.
  3. Use the toothpaste and toothbrush to brush its teeth. Remove any greenish-gray tartar buildup.
  4. As you brush, check the gums. They should be pink, firm, moist, and smooth. If the gums are red, white, or gray, take your ferret to a veterinarian.
  5. Rinse the toothbrush and use it to massage the gums.

Keep in mind, too, that fluoride is toxic to ferrets. So always use a ferret-safe tooth paste that does NOT contain fluoride.

Now, another ferret health issue that has been of interest lately is one that involves coughing, weight loss, and constipation.  All of these could be signs of blockage in your ferret’s intestines or stomach. Just like cats, ferrets can get hairballs, but unlike cats, they can’t cough them up. The hairball just sits there building up into one large mass.

I give my fuzzies Ferret Lax (which I either order from Amazon or get from my local pet store) twice a week. This helps them pass the hairballs, which they can’t cough up. Rikki and Possum also like the taste.

Still, prevention is the best cure for hairball problems. I try to brush Rikki and Possum every day, especially during their shedding seasons. The shedding occurs twice a year, spring and fall. For this, I use a brush made for cats.

I want to stress that when you begin to suspect any ferret illness or ferret disease, you should take your fuzzy baby to the vet. This way, you can make sure early on that there isn’t something seriously wrong. Without proper treatment, something as seemingly inconsequential as dirty teeth or hairballs could make your ferret seriously ill or even lead to death.

Sick Ferret? – Some Common Ferret Diseases and Symptoms

I love to talk about ferrets – it’s my favorite subject. My least-favorite subject is sick ferrets. One thing I’ve learned about ferrets is that when they have an illness, it’s usually pretty serious – even life or death serious.

So far, I have been really lucky with my ferrets. The last time I took my fuzzy babies to theHealthy Happy Ferret vet for their check-ups and shots, they got an A+ on their health. But the vet also talked to me a lot about Rikki because she’s the oldest, and we don’t really know her age. The vet told me about all the things I need to start watching for and the diseases Rikki could get, especially now that she’s getting older.

Well, that kind of put me in panic mode! Since then, I have been researching some of the diseases my little woozles could possibly get. But I should have just remained ignorant – because now if my fuzzies just sneeze or cough, I’m panicking.

I found 19 major ferret diseases. (Have you pushed the panic button yet?) Below are the names of these diseases with a very brief description and/or list of causes/symptoms:

  1. Periodontal disease (gum disease) – The primary cause of periodontal (gum) disease in ferrets the lack of a natural ferret diet.
  2. Influenza – Yes, your little fuzzy can catch the flu, too! So if you or members of your human family have the flu, don’t sneeze or cough on your fuzzy baby. You can give the flu to your fuzzy kid, and he can give it back to you.
  3. Bladder and/or urinary tract infections – These infections are most often caused by E. coli bacteria.
  4. Rabies – Although the likelihood of your ferret contracting rabies isn’t very great, you still need to get her vaccinated.
  5. Heartworm disease – This is caused by a heart-attacking infestation of a parasitic roundworm.
  6. Adrenal-gland disease – This one is very common in ferrets and is usually the result of the adrenal glands’ overproducing sex steroids.
  7. Epizootic Catarrhal Enteritis – This mouthful is just a fancy name for inflammation of the intestinal lining.
  8. Insulinoma – One of the most diagnosed ferret diseases, insulinoma is a cancer of the insulin-secreting cells in the pancreas.
  9. Helicobactor Mustelae Infection – This jawbreaker is the name for an infection caused by bacteria that reside in your fuzzy’s stomach.
  10. Dilated Cardiomyopathy – A form of heart disease, Dilated Cardiomyopathy causes damage to the heart muscle.
  11. Eosinophilic Gastroenteritis – This is another disease of the intestinal tract.
  12. Lymphosarcoma – This is cancer of the lymphatic system – that is, the organs and cells that fight disease).
  13. Megaesophagus – A relatively uncommon disease in ferrets, Megaesophagus stems from a decrease in or absence of the esophageal muscles’ ability to move food to the stomach.
  14. Chordomas – These are some of the most common musculoskeletal tumors that afflict ferrets.
  15. Disseminated Idiopathic Myofascitis – I covered this disease in the previous blog post and you can read more about DIM in “A Mixed Ferret Bag.”
  16. Itchy growths (or skin tumors) – Ferrets can get skin tumors in all shapes and sizes, but the good news is that most of the time they are benign (non-cancerous).
  17. Aleutian Disease Virus – Causes by a parvovirus, this is a contagious and potentially fatal ferret disease.
  18. Basal cell tumors – These are slow-growing and wart-like nodules with tiny craters in the middle.
  19. Sebaceous cell tumors – These are tumors that form in a ferret’s oil glands or hair follicles.

So, have you pushed the panic button yet? I do every time I read about diseases or illnesses in fuzzies.

But I hope you will do plenty of research on these diseases as well. If you suspect any of these in your fuzzy babies, PLEASE get them to the vet.