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Common Health Problems in Ferrets

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This is general information. Please, consult with your vet for any medical advice

Common Health Problems In Ferrets

Fleas:

 

Fleas have three species, Ctenocephalides felis, Ctenocephalides canis, and Pulex irritans that can affect dogs, cats, rodents, rabbits, ferrets and many other animals. The adult flea will live on its host long enough to acquire its blood meal and lay its eggs. Also, the flea spends time in the surrounding environment laying more eggs and waiting for its next victim. Adult fleas live about 3 to 4 months and the entire life Some pets (as well as some humans) can and will  develop an allergic skin reaction to the flea's saliva resulting in scabs, sores, intense itching and hair loss. It is therefore important that flea control be aimed at removing the fleas both from the pet as well as from the environment or the fleas will not be eliminated.

 

 Even though ferrets have fairly thick skin, flea medications can still cause a localized dermatitis or be absorbed directly through the skin and cause an internal toxic reaction. Too, if the ferret can reach the area where the product is applied, it may lick the product during grooming activities and ingest toxic amounts of the material. Whenever you use a new product on your pet, you will need to observe your ferret closely for 24 hours following application for signs of toxicity. Some of the signs to look for are redness of the skin, intense scratching, lethargy, depression, loss of appetite, diarrhea, excessive salivation, tremors, seizures and loss of consciousness. If you observe any of these signs, wash the product off the ferret immediately, using mild soap and lots and lots of water, and be sure to call your veterinarian for further instructions. Keep all flea products and soaps away from the ferret's eyes, ears and mouth. It is best to discuss with your veterinarian which type of flea medication to use as many of the over the counter flea medications are toxic and deadly to your ferret.

 

Make sure not to use flea collars on ferrets for any reason. The material in the collar often toxic and contact with the collar can cause serious skin irritation. Also your ferret can get the collar wedged over the lower jaw and if it may try to chew it off. Also, if the collar gets caught on something, it could choke to death.

 

Colds and flu:

 

Ferrets can catch colds and the flu just as we do. They will also display the same symptoms that we do: runny or stuffy nose, watery eyes, sneezing, coughing, and loss of appetite. One particular problem is the human viral influenza type A. If anyone in your household is experiencing symptoms of a cold or flu, you should not let your ferrets come in contact with them. Ferrets can easily catch your cold or flu and your sick ferret can then re-transmit the disease back to you.

 

Usually, there is no need for medication; just make sure your ferret drinks plenty of water and is placed away from drafts. However, if the symptoms become chronic and/or persist for more than three days, you will need to take your pet to the vet.  One word of caution, never give aspirin to a ferret.

 

Coccidia: 

 

Coccidia is a gastrointestinal parasite which affects the lining of the ferrets intestinal track and can cause bloody or black, tarry diarrhea. Coccidia is usually caused by poor sanitation and also can be picked up from the environment.

 

Coccidia is not contagious or transmittable to humans.  However, it is very contagious to other ferrets, dogs and even cats.

 

Symptoms can include:

 

1. A very strong odor to your ferret and its stool.

2. Diarrhea which may be black tarry, bloody or contain mucus.  Often the rectum has prolapsed.

3. Weight loss in your ferret.

4. Dehydration. (This may become severe.)

5. Lethargy.

 

If left untreated, Coccidia will continue to affect the intestinal lining causing a thickening and ferrets may also have enlarged mesenteric lymph nodes. It can be life threatening and even fatal. Constant cleaning of the litter box, bedding, cage area and environment is also important in eradicating the parasite.

 

Aleutians Disease :

 

Aleutians Disease or ADV is a form of parvovirus that affects minks and ferrets. It is highly contagious from ferret to ferret, but since it is not the same parvovirus for dogs and cats, it will not affect them. The virus fools the ferret's immune system into overproducing antibodies, which can then damage internal organs. 

 

Overall, ADV is a "wasting" disease. On the other hand, many ferrets who carry and shed the virus show no symptoms at all. However, they are still contagious to your other ferrets. Unfortunately, ADV doesn’t really have definitive recognizable symptoms. If your ferret is chronically sick, is losing weight and muscle tone, or has diarrhea and is not thriving, ADV is a possible cause of the ferret’s illness. For more information go to  http://ferretadv.com/ I want to thank Darzi for bringing this to our attention. 

 

Insulinoma:

 

Insulinoma or pancreatic cancer is the most common cause of tumors in ferrets. It is estimated that more than 30% of ferrets over 2 years of age are affected. This type of cancer causes hyperglycemia (low blood sugar). Signs include depression, a glazed look, and posterior weakness which can include dragging the back legs or paralyses of the back legs and seizures. The most revealing signs include profuse salivation and pawing at the mouth. (These are indicative of nausea which is common in ferrets with insulinoma) Treatment may include surgery. However, this is only a temporary treatment. Medical treatment includes frequent feeding, administering prednisone and dizoxide as clinical signs necessitate. Unfortunately, in the end, insulinoma is fatal.  Ferrets over the age of two should be screened approximately every six months.

 

Adrenal Disease:

 

Adrenal tumors are very common in ferrets, and this cancer occurs with the same frequency as insulinoma and often concurrently. Although it generally affects ferrets over the age of three years of age, it can also affect one as young as a year old. These tumors occur twice as frequently in female ferrets than the males. Signs can include bilateral symmetric hair loss, usually starting at the tail base and then, progressing up the body. Your ferret may have a history of hair loss and spontaneous regrowth.  Dryness of the skin, accompanied by itchiness is often associated with adrenal disease. There may be a loss of muscle tone and weakness and in the female an enlarged vulva may be present.

 

Lymphosarcoma:

 

Lymphosarcoma is cancer of the lymph nodes and also is common in ferrets. The most commonly affected organs are the spleen, liver, and, lymph nodes of the chest and extremities. The clinical signs are dependent upon the organs affected. Symptoms can include weight loss, enlarged spleen, lethargy, difficulty breathing, enlarged lymph nodes, and skin tumors. Treatment may include surgery and /or chemotherapy.

 

Cardiomyopathy:

 

Cardiomyopathy actually means heart muscle disease. It generally affects ferrets over the age of two. With CMP the muscle of the heart becomes progressively weaker, and the heart is no longer strong enough to pump all of the blood .This congenital problem manifests as ferrets get older. As the muscle weakens, it stretches, and the heart gradually becomes enlarged.  CMP has two forms: hypertrophic and dilated. Hypertrophic is where there is a thickening of the heart muscle that causes a deceased size of the chambers of the heart. Dilated cardiomyopathy is caused by a loss of muscle tone decreasing the strength of the heart muscles. Therefore, the heart can not pump blood.

 

Symptoms include a murmur, weight loss, decreased activity, and difficulty breathing. The treatment for CMP depends upon the type of cardiomyopathy. Diagnosis is made through x-ray and ultrasound.

 

There are several other ailments not covered here. The best advice we can give you is to become familiar with your ferret and its personality, and to become informed about the different health problems of ferrets.  There is information you can read on the internet and books you can purchase.  When in doubt, it is always wise to take your ferret to your vet.

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