Ferrets can make fantastic pets. They are smart and funny, and most of them love human attention and exploring their environment. However, ferrets are complex creatures who come with their own set of health issues and their own needs for care and vaccination.
Just like dogs and cats, it is required by law that ferrets are vaccinated against Rabies. The vaccine is the same one that is used in dogs and has to be done annually. Ferrets also need to be vaccinated against canine distemper, and should receive one vaccine every 3 weeks until they are 12 weeks old. The vaccine should then be boostered every year. Because ferrets are susceptible to canine distemper please do not allow your ferret around any puppies who have not received all of their initial distemper vaccinations. Similar to dogs and cats, ferrets will also need their ears cleaned and toenails trimmed for general grooming. Shedding is normal in ferrets and many will experience “rat tail” where all of the fur on the tail falls off until the next seasonal cycle. Giving your ferret as much darkness as possible helps to maintain normal shedding as these creatures are normally burrowing animals with limited light exposure in the wild. Keep in mind, however that symmetrical shedding or overall abnormal thinning can be an indication of a serious condition.
Feeding your ferret a high quality, high protein diet is also very important to their health. Since they are obligate carnivores their kibble should be at least 30-50% protein with the first three ingredients being meat. Beginning with this type of food as young as possible is important since ferrets imprint upon their food at a very young age.
In addition to vaccinating and feeding your ferret properly keeping them safe from harm by household objects is imperative. Aside from cancer, death resulting from household injury and accidents is likely the leading cause of death in ferrets. Reclining chairs, exposed electrical cords and other pets in the home are the most frequent culprits.
Ferrets are prone to several different diseases, the most common being cancer. Adrenal cancer causes excessive production of sex hormones resulting in excessive hair loss, itching and a swollen vulva. It is most common in ferrets over 3 years. Insulinoma is a tumor in the pancreas that causes an overproduction of insulin resulting in loss of coordination, decreased activity and a glazed expression. Lymphoma results from tumors in the lymph nodes, skin or digestive tract, and mast cell tumors can occur in the skin and are almost always benign in ferrets. A variety of treatment options exist for each of these cancers varying from medical management to surgical removal.
In addition to cancers, ferrets are very prone to heatstroke at temperatures above 80F. Keeping your ferret in the air conditioning or directly in front of a fan with access to a frozen water bottle can help to avoid heatstroke. Ferrets are also able to contract the same influenza virus that affects people. Keeping you ferret and his/her food, water and bowls separate from anyone experiencing flu-like symptoms will help to ensure they remain as healthy as possible. Minor scratches or other injury to the eyes can also be very serious, leading to blindness if left untreated. Discharge, squinting o redness should all be addressed by your veterinarian immediately.