Ferret Husbandry and Preventative Healthcare
Cage – Minimum size of 2×4 feet. Additional space is necessary when keeping multiple ferrets together. Many cages have several levels to provide more surface area to climb and play.
Litterbox – A litter box should be provided in one corner of the cage. Use low dust litter, such as those made from paper pulp – Carefresh Bedding and Yesterday’s News both work well. Ferrets tend to move litter boxes around, so you may want to secure the box in the corner. We DO NOT recommend cat litter due to risk of illness if consumed.
Bedding – Sleeping areas should be provided. You can offer towels or old t-shirts, or you can purchase a “ferret hammock.” Check bedding daily for signs of ingestion/chewing, especially in young ferrets. Bedding should be replaced/cleaned frequently to keep clean and prevent ingestion.
Exercise/socialization – Allow your ferret supervised time out of the cage every day. Ferrets are generally playful and interactive family members, but are notorious for getting into trouble if allowed to freely roam. It is essential that you always supervise your ferret when outside of the cage. Ferrets love to play in boxes, run through tubes, and hide under blankets. Sturdy rubber dog toys intended for small breed dogs, or toys with squeakers, usually appeal to ferrets. Supervise your ferret closely to be sure it doesn’t consume toy parts.
Commercial Food – We recommend feeding a high protein and low carbohydrate commercial ferret food, such as Evo, Wysong, Marshalls, Totally Ferret, or 8-in-1. Any dietary changes should be made gradually to prevent GI tract upset.
Laxative – Laxatone/Ferretone can be given to your ferret 2-3 times a week to help prevent hairballs, which are more common during shedding season.
Treats – Treats can be important for training and rewarding good behavior. Avoid sugary treats, fruits/vegetables, and high carbohydrate table scraps, as ferrets are mostly carnivorous and not adapted to processing such foods. Select treats that are primarily meat-based. Small amounts of plain chicken or eggs can be offered on occasion.
Nails – Ferrets need their nails trimmed regularly. You can learn to do this at home, or bring your pet in for technician appointments to have the nails trimmed.
Bathing – You may bathe your ferret with pet-safe shampoo about once a month. Bathing more often will remove natural oils from the coat and may cause dry, itchy skin.
Ear cleaning – You will likely need to clean your ferret’s ears on occasion. You can do this at bath time, drying them gently with a cotton ball. Cotton swabs/q-tips are not recommended due to risk of damage to the ear drum.
Teeth cleaning – Like cats and dogs, ferrets get tartar build-up on their teeth. If you accustom your ferret to having its teeth brushed (with a pet-safe toothpaste) at an early age and brush the teeth regularly, you can help prevent tarter build-up and the need for more aggressive dental cleaning procedures later in life.
Initial Exam – An initial physical exam should be performed on any newly acquired pet. During the exam, the doctor will check the teeth, eyes, ears, heart, and lungs, and will palpate the abdomen. Your new ferret may need to finish the initial vaccination series started by the store/breeder, which typically includes a rabies vaccine and distemper vaccine boosters. It may also be recommended that your pet be checked for internal parasites (fecal exam) and ear mites (ear smear).
Annual Exams – Your ferret should return yearly for routine physical examinations, vaccine boosters as appropriate (discuss benefits and risks with your veterinarian), and bloodwork as needed.
Senior Ferrets – Beginning at the age of 3 years, it is recommended that yearly blood work be completed at annual exams to better evaluate health and screen for common diseases. Your veterinarian may also recommend bringing your ferret in every 6 months for exams because of the high risk of certain genetic diseases in older pet ferrets.
COMMON MEDICAL PROBLEMS:
Foreign Body – Signs/symptoms include vomiting, retching, reduced or absent appetite, and straining to defecate or not passing stool. Ferrets tend to eat things that they shouldn’t, especially when not supervised. The intestinal tract may become fully or partially blocked, causing a serious medical emergency that could require surgery. The most commonly ingested foreign bodies are remote control buttons, felt or rubber padding, rubber-soled shoes and shoe linings, small plastic toys and their parts, pencil erasers, foam or stuffing from stuffed animals/pillows, hairballs, and cherry pits.
Influenza – Signs include sneezing, coughing, fever, and lethargy. There is no treatment for the virus, but very young or very old ferrets may benefit from supportive care while the virus runs its course. Treatment may include antibiotics (for secondary infections) and fluid therapy/assisted feeding if the ferret has stopped eating. This flu virus is considered zoonotic, which means that it can be caught from people or contracted by human family members.
Epizootic catarrhal enteritis (ECE) or “Green Slime Disease” – Signs include explosive diarrhea (possibly green), anorexia, and lethargy. This viral disease is extremely contagious between ferrets, and usually coincides with the introduction of a new ferret in the household. Treatment is entirely supportive, and includes fluids, anti-diarrheal medications, and antibiotics. This virus can be extremely dangerous in very young and very old ferrets, and usually requires medical attention.
Adrenal Gland Disease – Signs include hair loss over the tail and pelvis/hip area of the body, dry itchy skin, a swollen vulva in female ferrets, and difficulty urinating (due to enlargement of the prostate gland) in male ferrets. Although confirmatory lab tests are available, presumptive diagnosis is usually by observation of characteristic signs on physical exam. Treatment for adrenal gland disease involves either surgical removal of the affected adrenal gland or hormonal injections/implants.
Insulinoma – Signs include lethargy, hind end weakness, decreased appetite, chronic weight loss, difficulty waking the ferret after sleep, drooling, pawing at the mouth, seizures, coma and sometimes death. Signs are caused by low blood sugar due to overproduction of insulin. Insulinoma is often diagnosed with yearly screening bloodwork in middle-aged to older ferrets. Treatment includes oral medications for the rest of the ferret’s life or surgical removal/debulking of the mass. Surgery, although usually successful, may need to be repeated in the future since these masses have the propensity to rapidly regrow.
Dental plaque – Build-up of dental plaque is very common in ferrets. Some ferrets will tolerate regular teeth brushing with a pet-safe toothpaste. Veterinary dental cleaning may be recommended in some animals with plaque build-up. It is usually performed prophylactically (preventatively) to avoid severe periodontal disease. Ferrets must be anesthetized for this procedure to allow for thorough cleaning.
Skin tumors – Skin tumors are fairly common in older ferrets. Although they tend to be benign, it is recommended that you bring your ferret in for assessment of any skin tumors. Depending on their appearance, location, etc., either surgical removal or at-home monitoring may be recommended.
Need yearly rabies vaccinations, have an affinity for eating foreign objects
Visit A Veterinarian
Healthy annual examinations, vaccinations or titers, not eating/defecating, diarrhea, black stools, teeth grinding, sneezing, drooling, trouble urinating, appears painful, bloated, itchiness and/or hairloss, tremors and/or seizures, lethargy