Ferrets are very interesting exotic pets, but just like dogs and cats, they are prone to various diseases. By understanding the common diseases your ferret may have, you’ll be better prepared to recognize their signs and symptoms, and possibly even prevent your ferret from getting sick.
Canine distemper isn’t as common as it once was, thanks to vaccinations for the disease, but it’s still a major problem for pet ferrets. Canine distemper is deadly and highly contagious, so it is valued in the ferret owner community. Most ferrets receive their first canine distemper vaccination from a breeding facility, but must be boosted about a month later and then given annually.
The disease initially presents with tearing and inflammation, but ferrets with canine distemper all develop hard food pads and parts of their faces. These skin changes are typical of the disease.
ferret adrenal disease
Adrenal disease is probably the most common ferret disease of all. There are still several factors that can cause the disease, but there is no real cure. It is thought that early sterilization and sterilization may play a role in developing adrenal disease, but diet and lack of UVB exposure are also thought to be contributing factors.
The adrenal glands secrete different hormones, including sex hormones. It’s thought that because ferrets’ reproductive organs are removed at such a young age, the adrenal glands still produce sex hormones throughout their lives, so these glands become swollen and cancerous. Implants or injections are often used to control hormone secretion throughout the lifespan of a diseased ferret.
Symptoms of adrenal disease include hair loss, enlarged vulva, inflammation of the prostate gland (preventing male ferrets from urinating), itching, and aggression.
Lymphoma is a dreaded ferret cancer that affects the lymph nodes. It is fatal and there are no known precautions.
Lymphoma is usually suspected when lymph nodes are significantly enlarged. Ferrets, like other animals, have lymph nodes in multiple parts of their bodies. Their necks, armpits, and the backs of their hind legs are the most common places for ferrets to have swollen lymph nodes. But sometimes abdominal surgery can reveal enlarged lymph nodes that are not visible from the outside.
However, not all swollen lymph nodes are cancerous. Infection can cause temporary swelling of the lymph nodes.
ferret dilated cardiomyopathy
It’s a heart disease that can lead to sudden death in pet ferrets, and while it’s not as common as some other diseases, it’s still a concern for ferret owners. Taurine, an ingredient in high-quality ferret food and whole prey, may play a role in heart health, but it is not known whether excluding it can cause dilated cardiomyopathy.
Dilated cardiomyopathy can be thought of as heart failure in ferrets. Symptoms ferret owners may see include weakness, lethargy, coughing, and increased breathing rate (shortness of breath). This is because the heart works harder during the disease process. This disorder can be difficult to diagnose at first unless your veterinarian hears a heart murmur or you have an echocardiogram. Medicines can be prescribed to reduce the effort the heart needs to pump blood, but there is no cure for dilated cardiomyopathy.
While diabetes can cause blood sugar to rise, insulinoma can cause blood sugar to drop in ferrets. One might think of this disease as the opposite of diabetes because it causes the pancreas to become overactive. Like diabetes, diet may play an important role in this disease in ferrets. Pancreatic cells develop tumors and secrete more insulin than the ferret needs, so glucose (blood sugar) levels drop and the ferret becomes lethargic. Seizures, coma, and death can occur if blood sugar drops too low, which makes the disease so scary.
Signs of insulinoma in ferrets are usually excessive sleepiness and lethargy. A simple blood sugar test at the veterinary office can often diagnose this pancreatic tumor, and steroids are often prescribed. Surgery is sometimes performed to remove part of the ferret’s pancreas, which may keep the ferret from needing medication and regulating its own glucose levels again. Diet also plays a huge role in the successful management of ferrets with insulinoma, as regular spikes in blood sugar from eating can put more stress on the pancreas, leading to poor disease management.
ferret bowel obstruction
Ferrets are very naughty little creatures, so they often get into trouble when they eat things they shouldn’t. Rubber products are particularly attractive to ferrets due to their soft texture, and chewing can sometimes lead to swallowing. These foreign bodies can block or block the ferret’s gastrointestinal tract and can be life-threatening if they are not removed.
It can be difficult to know if your ferret is eating something that will cause the blockage, but after a while, your ferret will start to stop defecating and vomit. They will lose control of their food, lose weight, become lethargic, and may experience pain in their abdomen when you pick them up. Radiographs (X-rays) may be able to diagnose foreign bodies and blockages, followed by surgical or endoscopic retrieval depending on the type and location of the item.
Preventing gastrointestinal blockages sounds easy, but oftentimes, owners don’t even know how their ferrets get their claws onto things they shouldn’t eat. Bitten off remote control buttons, small objects dropped on the floor, key chains, refrigerator magnets and more were found in the ferrets’ stomachs.
Hairballs can also cause blockages. These are called trichomoniasis and don’t show up on X-rays but cause the same symptoms as other items stuck in ferrets. Hair doesn’t break down in the stomach or intestines, so it often builds up and then creates a blockage that keeps food from getting through. They usually need to be surgically removed like a foreign body.
ferret aplastic anemia
If you’re wondering why ferrets are spayed at such a young age, it’s because of aplastic anemia. Female ferrets in heat need to mate to stop their bodies from producing large amounts of estrogen and suppress bone marrow. Blood is produced in the bone marrow, so if this production is suppressed, ferrets will become anemic.
Symptoms of anemia are usually lethargy, weakness, and pale gums. Ferrets exposed to heat for more than a few weeks are at risk of anemia. Thankfully, your veterinarian can treat it, and it can be prevented by spaying your ferret.
ferret dental disease
Ferrets have teeth, which can develop dental disease if they are not properly cared for. Not many people brush ferrets’ teeth, but they can provide food designed for those teeth. Kibble is not suitable for the health of ferret teeth, but whole prey, such as mice and chicks, can. Ferrets will tear apart their food and crush bones, but most owners can’t even understand that ferrets do what they do naturally, so they feed ferrets coarse grains instead.
A diseased tooth can cause pain, bad breath, and you may see your ferret licking its lips or pawing its face repeatedly. Bad teeth can be removed by your veterinarian, but even better, dental disease can be prevented with a proper diet, chew toys, or someone brave enough to brush your ferret teeth.