Ferrets are rapidly becoming the third most popular house pet in
America, after dogs and cats. Their small size, lack of noise, and the
fact that they are generally caged when the owners aren't home make
them an ideal pet for the urban lifestyle.
are members of the family Mustelidae, which includes ferrets, minks,
weasels, and skunks. By contrast, dogs are in the family Canidae and cats are in the
family Felidae. Ferrets naturally have a strong odor produced by their
anal, or musk glands, which must be surgically removed to make the
ferret a household pet. Fortunately, the vast majority of ferrets sold
at pet stores have been descented and spayed or neutered by the time
they are shipped to the pet stores at six weeks of age. If you somehow
acquire a non-neutered, non-descented ferret, you should have a veterinarian
perform these surgeries as soon as possible.
Ferrets are very personable, loving, and entertaining, and make wonderful
pets which is why they are skyrocketing in popularity. They do
require veterinary care however, and there are important husbandry facts that
all owners should know.
are carnivores, and require a high-protein meat-based diet. They can be
fed high-quality cat foods, but now there are several excellent
commercial ferret foods available, which are preferable to cat food.
Ferrets can get canine distemper and rabies, and we recommend yearly
vaccinations for these diseases. They also can get heartworms, which
are spread by mosquitoes, so we recommend that any ferrets that go
outside be put on heartworm preventative, just like dogs and cats.
Ferrets do get fleas, but because of their small size are more prone to
toxicity problems with flea treatments. Owners should consult their veterinarian
before applying any flea product to a ferret.
like cats, can get hairballs, so we recommend giving them a hairball
remedy such as Ferotone or Laxatone several times weekly. Because of
their small size and desire to eat everything in sight, it is best to
keep them caged when you are not home, for their own protection. Many
owners end up getting two or more ferrets, because they play so well
average, ferrets only live about seven years, so they start having age
related problems as early as three years of age. We recommend
veterinary check-ups of ferrets every six months after three years of
age so we can detect problems early, and we will often recommend blood
work and X-rays to more accurately diagnose problems.
can succumb to digestive problems, heart disease, respiratory disease,
and problems of the urinary tract, as well as ingestion of foreign
bodies. Ferrets seem to be more prone to cancer than dogs and cats. It
has been estimated that over 50% of ferrets will develop some form of
cancer during their lifetime.
Ferrets can develop various sorts of skin
cancer, so any new or unusual skin lesion should be brought to a vet's
attention. Ferrets can also get lymphoma, which is a cancer of
the lymphatic system. This cancer can often be detected by blood work
or palpation of the lymph organs.
also frequently develop insulinomas, which are insulin secreting tumors
of the pancreas. An overproduction of insulin tends to lower the
ferret's blood glucose, often to dangerous levels. Ferrets with this
condition often stare into space, drool excessively, and show signs
that include extreme lethargy, seizures, coma/and death. Insulinomas
can be treated medically or by surgical removal of the tumor.
gland cancer is very common in older ferrets. The adrenal glands are tiny
glands near the kidneys that normally produce corticosteroid hormones
as well as adrenalin. When these glands become cancerous, they tend to
produce excessive corticosteroids and estrogens. The most common sign
of adrenal gland cancer is hair loss over part or all of the body. In
spayed females the vulva can enlarge and in neutered males, the
prostate can enlarge, contributing to urinary tract problems. Other
signs can include itching, dry, brittle hair coat, thin skin, hind limb
weakness, increase in body odor, lethargy, pot belly, drinking more
water, weight loss and anemia. The treatment of choice for this cancer
is surgical removal of the affected adrenal gland.
are just a few of the most common medical conditions affecting ferrets.
As you can tell, ferrets have a short life packed with numerous
possible medical problems, so it is especially important to get your
ferret to your veterinarian early and often.
If you have ferrets as pets, or are thinking about getting one (or more!) please contact the Merrick Veterinary Group at 516-379-6200.
We can schedule you an appointment for a ferret wellness visit and
vaccinations, or an appointment for diagnostic tests for your sick