Common Ferret Illnesses

Ferrets do not show pain or weakness until they are VERY sick and it should be taken care of right away. When they are at the point of showing symptoms, it means they have been sick for a while.

Symptoms of pain, where they need to be seen by a vet, include: lethargy, gnashing teeth, eyes watering, squinting eyes, limping, not wanting to be touched, moving away from being rubbed or handled, unusual biting, etc.

Symptoms of serious problems, where they need to be seen ASAP, include: falling over, unable to walk straight, hind end weakness, diarrhea and no solid stool for more than one day, throwing up, not eating for more than a half day, not drinking for more than a half day, etc.

Ferrets can catch bacterial infections and the flu from humans. If you or anyone else in the household has cold or flu symptoms, keep the ferret away from the germs. Ferrets can easily die if they get the flu. We don’t always know if we have a cold or the flu, so best to take precautions. If a person with flu or cold symptoms has to go around the ferrets, hands should be washed well and the ferret kept completely away from the face. Even better is to wear a face mask. Do NOT cough or sneeze around the ferret if you have symptoms.

Having a ferret put under anesthesia is always risky and should be done only when really necessary. Some vets want to put a sick ferret under anesthesia to draw blood. This should not be done! It is too risky for the ferret.

Insulinoma – Over half of ferrets will get insulinoma. This is low blood glucose. Tumors grow on the pancreas and affect the way glucose is used in the body. These tumors are cancerous and, if possible, should be removed by surgery.
Symptoms that first appear: sleeping a lot, head tilted to the side, not eating well, stumbling or falling over when walking or pawing at the mouth when drinking or eating. A ferret with these symptoms should go to the vet within one or two days. Other symptoms include: glassy look to the eyes, eating a lot but still no energy, being nearly comatose, hind end weakness, can’t stand up well, drooling, etc. A ferret with these symptoms should go to the vet as soon as possible. It could die within a matter of hours.

Prednisone, Prednisilone or PediaPred are prescribed to treat insulinoma. It is better to use Prednisilone. It is not as hard on the liver. These medications are hard on the stomach and can cause ulcers and death. They MUST be given with a soup made from kibble to help protect the stomach. Just having the food available is not enough. You must be sure the ferret eats soup when it takes the medicine. Better is to give soup before giving the medication and then with the medication so the stomach is well protected.

Kidney Stones, Bladder Stones, Urinary Tract Crystals, Swollen Prostate – If you notice any of the following symptoms, the ferret needs to get to the vet within a day.

  • Straining to urinate and taking a long time to do it.
  • Pain (whimpering, eyes watering) when urinating
  • Urine is dark yellow (from being held so long due to pain).
  • Urinates less often
  • Urinates a lot at one time (due to being too painful to go as often as needed)
  • Dribbling after urinating (a line of urine when walking away, indicates not releasing all urine due to pain)
  • Defecating more frequently (due to pressure on colon from swollen prostate or bladder)
  • Blood in urine (usually from straining too hard, or an infection)

Inflammatory Bowel Disorder (IBD) – Many ferrets will get this. It is an inflammation of the intestinal lining. It causes frequent diarrhea, weight loss, and discomfort. It is a permanent condition. There isn’t a standard treatment. You and the vet have to figure out what works for your ferret. Treatment can include giving probiotics twice a day, changing the diet, giving stomach medications as needed, giving an anti-diarrheal like Kaopectate twice a day as needed, giving Slippery Elm supplement twice a day, and treating with antibiotics when the diarrhea gets bad enough to cause a bacterial infection.

Ferrets do not normally throw up. The esophagus / throat is different for ferrets than other animals. If a ferret is throwing up or dry heaving, it needs to go to the vet. If the ferret is dry heaving, it is possible it has a hairball. Treat as noted below and/or see a vet. If the ferret is still dry heaving a few hours after being treated for hairballs, it must be seen by a vet.

Ferrets get hairballs just like cats. However, they cannot throw up the hairballs. They need to be given hairball medication to move hairballs through the system. You can buy hairball products or make your own (petroleum jelly mixed with something they like, like Ferretone, coconut oil or salmon oil). It is also a good idea to mix a small amount of fiber powder or pumpkin into a soup mixture occasionally.

Lymphoma is a type of cancer common in ferrets. To visually tell for some lymphomas, the ferret will have enlarged ‘padding’ on one or both sides of the neck, behind the front legs, in front of the back legs, or between the back legs and tail. This enlarged padding is actually enlarged lymph nodes from the lymphoma. (Note, enlarged padding can also be from fat. Fat padding is mushy and the ferret will be a little chunky.) Chemotherapy can be used, but it’s expensive. Essiac liquid may help slow the progress. Reishi mushroom may help with the inflammation. Otherwise, keeping the ferret as healthy as possible with proper food and play will help it live as long as possible without pain. When the ferret is beginning to be uncomfortable, Prednisilone can offset the pain from it. This is hard on the stomach and can make the ferret swell over time. It must be given with soup to protect the stomach.

Ear mites – Most ferrets have ear mites. Scratching at the ears is almost a sure sign of ear mites. Other signs are discharge from the ears or dirt you can see in the ears. An ear infection can happen if ear mites aren’t treated for regularly (preferably once a month).

Because ferrets eat a very high protein diet, they are more likely to have kidney disease as they get older. Once a ferret is considered a senior (over five years old), feed a lower protein food, but never less than 32% protein. Symptoms of kidney disease include: frequent urination, clear urine sometimes, sleeping a lot, hind end weakness, drinking more water, urinating in unusual places, and much more. It is hard to catch that your ferret has this disease. If you catch it, the ferret can lead a relatively normal life. If you don’t catch it, it’s just a matter of time before something happens and renal failure occurs.