How to care for your ferret

At Molesey Vets we’re delighted to offer veterinary services to your beloved pet ferret. At our ferret clinic we provide consultations and ferret vaccinations, as well as advice on a range of topics. They’re a joy to have in our ferret clinic as they love to play and we love watching their inquisitive ways! Keep reading below to find out more about the vet services we offer ferrets, along with some more helpful information. Read about the types of consultations we can offer your ferret.

Book a ferret vet consultation

 

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Vaccination protects your ferret against distemper which is a very serious viral disease, and can be fatal. Distemper is a highly contagious viral disease which is fortunately now rare in the UK due to vaccination. This virus causes severe respiratory signs (such as sneezing, coughing, pneumonia) fever, skin problems and even death.

The distemper vaccine is an important part of your ferret’s health care program, however there is the potential for reactions. Most reactions are not as serious (discomfort at the site of injection, tiredness, reduced appetite) and will usually disappear after the treatment.

However some reactions can be life threatening for your ferret, such as allergic reactions: bumpy itchy skin, vomiting/diarrhoea and even death. We will advise that you wait at the clinic for 30 minutes after the vaccine to watch out for severe reactions.

Our veterinary surgeon will discuss the pros and cons of vaccinating your ferret during a consultation. This allows you to make an informed decision on whether you want to vaccinate or not. If you’ve given your ferret a vaccination before and they have reacted badly, it is important that you tell the vet about this.

Other vaccines:

Influenza:

Ferrets are susceptible to the influenza virus, and they can contract this disease from infected humans. The symptoms will be similar to those a human will suffer, including nasal discharge, sneezing, fevers and feeling sick. If you have the flu please wear a mask at home and do not handle your ferret if possible.

There are no vaccines available for flu in ferrets.

Kit Health Checks

Bringing your new kit (ferret baby) home is an exciting and rewarding experience. However, there are a lot of things to consider and our aim is to help you ensure that your new kit has the best start in life and develops into a happy, healthy grown-up ferret.

At your first health check, our veterinarian will perform a full physical exam. This health check involves examining your kit’s eyes, nose, ears, mouth and teeth, skin, listening to his heart and lungs, and feeling his abdomen. Our veterinarian will also discuss all aspects of care including feeding, behaviour and training.

During the health check your veterinarian will discuss preventative care such as vaccinations, neutering and parasite control.

As you see, these kit health checks contain a lot of information for the veterinarian in one consultation!

Regular Health Checks

Regular six-monthly health check-ups are important for the long term health and welfare of your ferret.  Vaccines are important to prevent disease, as as we’ve already mentioned ferrets are very susceptible to distemper, which is also a common disease in dogs.

Undertaking routine examinations allow us to take a pro-active role in preventative health care – we may spot health problems earlier, allowing us to take appropriate treatment or preventative action.  Once your ferret comes in for his annual vaccinations, we can carry out a full physical exam, and we even include a free urinalysis.  When you visit the surgery, this is an ideal opportunity to discuss any queries or concerns you may have about your ferret’s health. Please bring in a fresh urine sample (or one that has been refrigerated) in a clean container, preferably the first sample of the morning.

We know that problems can occur at any time, so of course we are able to perform health examinations at times other than the annual vaccination. We often recommend more frequent check-ups for pets with chronic problems (e.g. heart disease, arthritis). If your pet is on an ongoing medication, then it will require more regular check-ups to allow us to monitor both the levels and the type of medication prescribed.

Older Ferret Health Checks

Ferrets are usually considered old or ‘geriatric’ from 3-4 years of age, although as with humans, this may be earlier or later dependent on their species or gender.  Geriatric pets require closer attention than their younger counterparts, and it is important that we check your animal is checked regularly in order to detect problems early. For older ferrets, we recommend a health check every 6 months.

When elderly animals begin slowing down we often put this down to age changes. However, it can be due to an underlying medical condition.  If detected early these conditions are often treatable which ultimately improves an animal’s quality of life.  Some commonly seen problems in older animals include: dental disease, arthritis, heart conditions, and kidney failure and liver problems.

At the ‘Older Ferrets Health Check’ as well as performing a full physical exam, we may advise a urine test and blood tests as part of the health exam.

Even if the health check reveals nothing untoward the information we gather will help in the future if concerns for your pet’s health are raised.  Knowing what is normal for your pet will help immensely when investigating illness.

Ferrets are true carnivores, with a diet that consists almost entirely of meat and animal products. As a result of this, they have a short intestine that food passes through rapidly.

Any diets that are high in vegetable proteins, fibre or carbohydrates must be avoided.

A ferret can develop problems with their pancreas if they have a diet high in carbohydrates or sugars. Vegetable proteins in a complete food can lead to stones in the urinary tract. Whole pieces of vegetable (such as peppers or carrots) can lead to a blockage in the intestine and may need surgical removal.

Some people feed ferrets a natural diet of mice, rats and birds, but this can become a very messy process.

The ideal ferret food contains:

  • Food with a protein content of 30–40% (preferably at the higher end of this range)
  • Food containing a fat content of 15–20%
  • Food with a fibre content < 3%
  • Meat or meat by-products should be listed as the first 3 ingredients (not corn/grains)
  • Food that’s highly digestible

Dried, high quality kitten food is a viable alternative to feeding a commercial ferret diet. Foods such as Hill’s Science Diet Kitten, Iams Kitten or Royal Canin kitten dry foods are appropriate.

Canned versions of these kitten foods should be avoided as the main diet as the ferret cannot physically eat enough of it to supply its needs.  A small amount twice a week is fine.

We do not recommend a poor quality cat or dog food (for example most of the supermarket brands) for ferrets – they are inadequate due to low digestibility and high levels of sugars and vegetable proteins.

De-sexing, or neutering, is a surgical procedure performed under general anaesthesia.

In female ferrets, this involves the removal of the ovaries and the uterus and may also be called ‘spaying’, whilst in males, ‘castration’ is the removal of the testicles.  With male ferrets, hormonal castration can also be used.

Neutering is essential for the on-going health of your ferret. The breeders will normally have had a veterinary surgeon perform the surgery before you purchase your pet. If female ferrets are not spayed they will develop life-threatening anaemia due to the effects of the cycling female hormones.

Male ferrets will become extremely smelly if not castrated, and it will become exceptionally difficult to live with them indoors.

However, neutering can increase the risk of adrenal gland disease. If you are concerned about the health risk of neutering, then speak to one of our veterinary surgeons during your consultation. They will be able to recommend treatments to reduce these risks.

If you have a ferret and you are unsure about whether it has been neutered, then please do call the surgery and book an appointment with one of our consultants.

We all know the importance of regular dental care – we brush our teeth at least twice a day and if we don’t, plaque, tartar and other tooth diseases will soon result.  Our ferrets are no different.

If your ferret is suffering from dental disease you may see symptoms including bad breath, reddened gums, and build-up of yellow or brown tartar along the gum line.

Your ferret may show changes in chewing, eating patterns and may start to paw his mouth. As the infection and inflammation of their teeth or gums progresses, periodontitis may result – this is irreversible and may lead to the loss of the tooth. As oral bacteria from dental disease can be released into the blood stream, which can also result in heart, kidney, liver and lung disease.  As our pets are living longer compared to their wild relatives, maintaining good dental health is very important towards them leading healthy, happy lives.

We advise regular dental checks for your ferret– the annual health check or vaccination check-up is the ideal time to identify any problems before they progress further.

Ferrets are also at risk of breaking their canine teeth.   Most ferrets are very inquisitive and love to bite on things, and jump around.

Broken teeth need treatment otherwise they hurt your ferret and can develop abscesses in their gums.

During your consultation your vet can advise you on how to keep your ferret’s teeth clean and whether a dental cleaning is required. The plaque and tartar is removed by using an ultrasonic scaler, and the teeth are polished afterwards.  During the dental checks we assess for any loose or damaged teeth, which may need to be extracted.  The dental procedure is carried out under a full general anaesthetic, as no conscious ferret would let us clean their teeth!

Your vet may advise pre-anaesthetic blood tests, and your pet may be required to take antibiotics before the dental cleaning. They may have to go home on some medications afterwards.

Home care is important to prevent development of dental disease.

Young kits should have their mouths handled from an early age, to get them used to the idea of tooth brushing or teeth inspection.

Even older animals, if introduced slowly and patiently, can be taught to accept having their teeth brushed.

Never use human toothpaste as this can cause foaming, and ferrets do not like the minty taste. If needed, dog or cat toothpaste is acceptable.

If performed daily, tooth brushing can prevent plaque formation, gingivitis and periodontal disease, saving your ferret from living in pain whilst reducing the cost of future dental care.

If your ferret won’t tolerate tooth brushing, there are other methods which may help to maintain a healthy mouth.

  • Special diets. There are some diets available that can help clean the teeth while they eat, and some have even been developed to help clean their teeth. Please ask your vet for more information about the different types of diet available and which best suits your ferret’s needs.
  • Dental treats. Certain chews are marketed to be a part of dental health care, but not all are created equal.  For information on which products are most effective, check out the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOCH) website.  Remember that these treats may contribute towards weight gain, and you should always supervise your pet should you give them any chews.
  • Dental sprays. Certain products can be sprayed into the mouth or added into the drinking water as an anti-plaque wash
  • Toys. Some toys will help to reduce plaque and tartar, but some pets do not want to use chew toys.

If you’re unsure about what products would be best for your ferret, please come in and discuss further with our staff if necessary.

When your pet has to stay in hospital for treatment it can be a very worrying time for owners. We always try to make your ferret’s stay in our hospital as comfortable and as stress-free as possible.

We usually will keep ferrets in our Cat Ward, which has a wide range of different sized cages to suit your pet. Our ward also includes Isolation facilities. These are separate from our other wards, and are used to house animals with infectious diseases which may spread to other pets or humans. For patients that are critically ill, we have temperature controlled oxygen cages. These allow the administration of oxygen without stress to the patient.

Whilst your pet is in hospital, our dedicated hospital nursing staff look after their every need, and work closely with the vet in charge of your pet’s case.  Clinical rounds are carried out regularly throughout the day, with the vet and nursing staff planned each pet’s treatment for the day.  You will usually be updated about your ferrets’ progress after morning rounds, and should further updates be needed, they will be given throughout the day.

Your ferret will be offered cat food, dry & tinned while in hospital. If your pet only eats a certain type of food at home, please let us know so we can maintain their normal dietary routine. You can bring in the home diet too. You may wish to bring something from home to make your pet more at ease whilst staying with us e.g. a favourite blanket or toy.

If ferrets are fed on an appropriate diet and are kept healthy, they rarely become overweight.

However, if you feel that your pet is gaining weight, it might be an early sign that there is something wrong and you should make an appointment.

The vet will then be able to advise you on the actual condition of your pet, if they are overweight or not, and if the diet needs to be changed, or whether investigations into the health status should be done.

In their natural environment, ferrets are hunters so they need lots of stimulation to keep them happy and healthy.

Ferrets are naturally clever and inquisitive animals that love to play.

One of the best play things for your ferret is a friend. They are naturally social animals and another ferret is probably the best thing to keep them happy and give them something to play with.

Whether you have one or ten ferrets you will still need to give them some little extras to play with.

Alone time. We all lead busy lives, and ultimately our ferrets often end up spending a good portion of their day home alone. To stop them becoming bored and stressed, giving your ferret something to do when they’re by themselves. Food puzzle toys require time, patience and problem-solving, whilst encouraging natural behaviour such as chewing, licking and pawing.

Kong toys for cats or small dogs will be suitable.

A big wheel (with solid base) should help keep your ferret exercised, fit, busy and well-muscled.

Out of the cage time!

Your ferret needs to be let out of the cage at least once a day, every day to play and exercise.

Remember to ferret proof your home so they cannot bite electrical cables, get stuck in holes in the furniture, and get into trouble!

Ferrets love to explore, so tubes and hoses can be bought from electrical shops and turned into an adventure playground.

Ferrets love to burrow and dig, so give them a box filled with woodchips or dry rice for them to enjoy. Hide some food treats in it to make it even more fun.

Leaving a bowl of water with a ball floating in it will give them hours of fun.

Let them use a window seat to watch wild birds or sit them near a fish tank, both of these give them visual stimulation too.

Watch that your ferret cannot get to the fish though!

If you are unsure about how to help provide enrichment in your ferret’s home, then ask one of our dedicated veterinarians. We’ve tried out a lot of enrichment toys on all our staffs pets too!

If you would like more advice on caring for ferrets, contact our friendly team who will be happy to help.

 

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