Common Illnesses

Ferrets should be checked on a daily basis for signs of illness. When you know your ferrets, these are easier to spot, but look for things like:

  • Sudden changes in weight, up or down.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Changes in drinking fluids, drinking more or less.
  • Unusual lumps, bumps and swellings.
  • A lack of energy or sleeping more than usual.
  • Skin conditions – loss of hair, bruising, bad coat condition, etc.
  • Limping.
  • Unusual bleeding.
  • Painful areas when touched.
  • Runny nose or eyes.

If you see any of these signs, it is probably best to visit your vet straight away. There could be other signs of illness, not on this list, and any change in behaviour should alert you to the possibility of illness.

Common health issues are:

  • Heat Stroke
    Ferrets cannot sweat and don’t tolerate high temperatures very well.
    They will start panting heavily and may become limp and listless. Eventually the animal will pass out and die.
    The best treatment is to bring the ferret’s body temperature down, but not too low. Don’t chill the ferret or it may go into shock. Soak towels in cool water and lay them over the ferret or partially submerge the ferret in a basin of tepid (not cold!) water. If the animal is conscious, encourage it to drink plenty of fluids. If there is no improvement within 5-10 minutes, get them to the vet immediately.
  • Hairballs & Blockages
    Ferrets like to chew, and can get blockages from almost anything – pieces of rubber, plastic, dried fruit, litter or bedding.
    They can also get hairballs from cleaning themselves, and this is more of a risk when they are shedding because there is so much loose hair.
    Coughing, loss of appetite, apparent difficulty in passing faeces or thin to no faeces, pawing at the mouth, and vomiting are all indications of a blockage. Laxatives are good to use to help pass anything that doesn’t belong inside your ferret. However if the object is too large, it will not pass. At this point you will need to see your vet immediately for surgery to remove the foreign object.
  • Colds and Flu
    Just like humans, ferrets are also susceptible to colds and flu, however ferrets have to “ride out” these illnesses as there are no cures available.
    Symptoms of a cold or the flu in a ferret include sneezing, coughing, runny nose and eyes, a fever, lethargy, wheezing, diarrhoea, and loss of appetite.
    If your ferret is suffering from flu offer supportive care and make sure your ferret drinks plenty of fluid and that they do not stop eating or passing faeces.
    Track the number of days your ferret is sick and if the symptoms persist for longer than 5 – 7 days or if your ferret stops eating, drinking or passing faeces, take your ferret to a vet immediately.
  • Canine Distemper
    This is very contagious to ferrets and almost 100% fatal if they contract it. It is a resilient virus that can stay active for a long time off of the host and can be carried to your ferret on your shoes, clothes, and in the air.
    Feline distemper is rare in ferrets and usually only affects very young kits.
    Some ferrets experience sudden death, but for most, the disease progresses over a period of about two weeks. Early signs include crustiness around the eyes and a rash on the chin. The rash may also be found on the abdomen. As the disease progresses, the pads on the feet may harden and thicken. Diarrhea, vomiting, seizures or severe lethargy are some other signs that may be noted. The ferret may finally lapse into a coma before it dies.
    Thankfully there are annual vaccines for distemper that will prevent your ferret from contracting the virus, and it is up to each owner as to whether to vaccinate their ferret or not. Vaccination against feline distemper is not needed because of the extremely low incidence of this disease in ferrets.
  • E.C.E.(Epizootic Catarrhal Enteritis)
    The wonderfully named “Green Slime” virus is a highly contagious diarrhoeal virus that attacks the intestinal lining causing poor fluid and nutrient absorption, and may result in extreme dehydration, anorexia, and sometimes death. Some ferrets are severely affected while others have little or no discomfort. Age, body fat distribution, general health, and possibly genetics may be factors.
    Initially the ferret may exhibit vomiting and a bright to dark green diarrhoea. Most ferrets recover from this stage of the virus in about 2-7 days. This sometimes leads to a false sense of security that the animal is ‘better’. Unfortunately the virus continues to attack the intestinal lining causing inflammation and ulcers. The ferret may stop eating and anorexia and dehydration set in.
    You should get your ferret to your vet as soon as possible. Avoid contact with ferrets that have had the disease (they can be carriers for up to 10 months after recovery) Change your clothes and shoes if you have been to an infected household to avoid bringing the disease into your home.
  •  Parasites
    Ear mites, ticks, fleas and worms are commonly found in ferrets and need to be treated straight away. 

    • Ear Mites
      Ear mites are a nuisance and microscopic, and when in a ferret’s ears, they appear as a dark reddish-brown/black discharge.
      Simple cleaning will not get rid of ear mites your vet will need to recommend you an effective product.
    • Fleas
      Fleas are easy to catch and difficult to get rid of. Once they find a host to provide their nourishment, they take up residence in your ferret’s bedding, the carpet, your furniture, and any other place where they can hide and still have access to their food supply, you and your pets!
      A ferret with fleas may itch more than normal. and if you find fleas on your ferret, it is important to get them taken care of quickly, an untreated flea infestation can cause your ferret to become anaemic and may even be fatal!
      While there are flea treatments available in pet shops, your best bet is to contact your veterinarian and get flea medication from him. Some of the new flea medicines on the market take only one drop per application and will kill all fleas and eggs present on the ferret.
      You must also clean the cage and bedding, as well as the rest of your house. Usually the complete sanitization of the cage and vacuum of the rest of the carpets and furniture will adequately deal with the problem.
    • Ticks
      Ticks can carry Lyme Disease so it is important to remove the tick as quickly as possible.
      Ticks are difficult to find on your ferret, but easy to remove if done properly.
      Grasp the tick as close to the ferret’s skin as possible with a pair of tweezers. Hold the tick firmly with the tweezers and gently pull the tick from the skin being careful to remove all of the mouth parts.
    • Ringworm
      Ringworm is caused not by a worm, as the name implies, but rather by a fungus. This fungus causes almost perfectly round patches of flaky or oozing skin to occur. Other symptoms include alopecia (hair-loss), itching and thickened, red, crusty skin.
      The only positive way to identify if a skin irritation is ringworm is with a culture done by your vet of the effected skin and hair in the area.
      This fungus is highly contagious not just to your other ferrets but to other animals in your house and to you and your family, although the most susceptible include the young, old, and the ill.
      Ringworm is treatable with topical medications, shampoos and sometimes an oral medication. The only way to be really rid of the fungus and its spores is to follow the vet’s instructions exactly and to be sure to completely disinfect the entire area that may have been contaminated. if you are unsure please consult your vet for the best form of advice and treatment.

Last modified: July 14, 2019

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