Ferret Rescue Society of Ottawa and Area
FAQ
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Is A Ferret The Right Pet For You And Your Family?

General CareWhen to go to the vetVaccinationsHousingNutritionLitter Training
NippingFerret-ProofingCommon AilmentsADVHairballs - ACK!Financial Commitment


The volunteers of the society have prepared this booklet to provide you with some of the necessary information for owning a ferret. All of this information is based on the personal experiences of each member, who have between them, 30 years of experience owning, rescuing and rehabilitating ferrets. Additional information can be found on-line at Ferret Central, Ferret Universe, So You Wanna Get a Ferret, and The Ferret as a Pet web sites (to name just a few).


General Care

The first thing to know about a ferret is that it is not in the rodent family. Ferrets belong to the mustelidae family which includes weasels, minks, otters, badgers and skunks. Ferrets do have anal sacs/glands, but they are not used like those of a skunk.

The second thing to remember is that pet ferrets are domestic, NOT domesticated. Pet ferrets have never been wild, and cannot survive in the wild.

The maintenance and care of a pet ferret needs to be done on a daily basis.

Ferrets need to have their nails clipped whenever they become too long - usually every two weeks. A good tip: if you can hear your ferrets toenails clicking on the floor they are too long. Their nails only need to be clipped just above the quick. The quick is the pink vein that you can distinctly see in the ferret's nail. You can use regular nail clippers or clippers designed for cutting cat claws and ferret nails.

Ears should also be cleaned on a regular basis. Once again, every two weeks is sufficient, but don't let the wax build up too long. Ferrets build up a dark brown wax in their ears very quickly. Cleaning ferret ears properly requires a lot of practice. If not done correctly, you can damage the ferret's eardrums. If you have never cleaned ferret ears before, have a ferret vet or a knowledgeable ferret owner show you how to do it properly (Members of the Ferret Rescue Society of Ottawa and Area can also be contacted to show you how to properly clean your ferret's ears).

Occasional bathing of your ferret is also required. Usually 3 to 4 times a year is sufficient. Bathing a ferret too frequently strips the necessary oils off their skin and causes it to dry out and become flaky. As ferrets shed their coats only twice a year (in the spring and in the fall), this is a good time to bathe them and give them a bit of toniclax (or a similar product) that is made especially to assist cats and ferrets in passing any fur they have swallowed while grooming themselves and others.

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When to go to the vet

Introduction

Here we are again folks! My, how we've learned so much over the last year or so! We have addressed such topics as nutrition and are now trying to feed the best to our furry friends. We've looked at enrichment ideas and the benefits of having furballs with active and challenged minds. The newest on ADV and how to prevent it was the hot topic for 2006 and the new standard for 2007. After all this, we can rest assured that we are educated and can continue to provide the best possible environment for our favourite pet, right? What could possibly go wrong?

Ah ha! Without trying to sound pessimistic, 'what could go wrong' is a very good question and one that strikes fear in the heart of ferret owners. We can do everything right and still be faced with some of the hardest decisions we'll have to make in our lives when it comes to our four legged family's health and wellbeing. Don't we always say the worst kind of fear is that of the unknown? Our best defence, then, and the key to the healthiest possible relationship with our ferret is preparation.

Veterinarians

One of the scariest moments we can be faced with is when our loved ones are sick and we aren't sure how to help. We want to and need to put our trust in someone who can, like a doctor. Though doctors cannot be expected to be without fault and with all the answers, they are the experts when it comes to these situations.

Ferrets are special pets to say the least. They are not cats, they are not dogs and they are certainly not reptiles or pocket pets. They stand in a class all their own. Their resiliency and tenacity make them great candidates for treatment options that would be unethical in other animals, yet at the same time 'crashing' much faster in medical situations than a cat or a dog would. That being said, it is of the utmost importance to have a ferret knowledgeable veterinarian in your area

The first step is establishing a relationship with a regular ferret-friendly vet. Veterinarians with experience dealing with ferrets provide a number of benefits. Specialties and overall abilities will vary between practices but having a comfort level with these odd creatures is a must.

  • First of all, there can be a quicker and less expensive diagnosis of what is considered a 'run of the mill' type issue for a ferret knowledgeable vet such as adrenal disease. Diagnostic tools can be used effectively while unnecessary x-rays or other costly tests can be avoided.
  • With experience, there comes a faster and more effective decision making process. Knowing when to skip steps and go right to surgical intervention in a timely manner can save the life of your fuzzy. For example, an obstruction caused by something your ferret swallowed can be a matter of life and death that requires immediate surgery.
  • A vet's comfort level with a ferret can decrease the stress level of the pet during handling and assessment.
  • A vet with ferret experience will have a better knowledge base when discussing non-invasive and therapeutic treatment options, and nutrition alternatives. We all know how picky our fuzz butts can be and how quickly they can fall behind when they have a poor appetite.
  • It is important to understand ferret physiology, and how they differ significantly from other species in response or tolerance of medical interventions. A good example would be long term, high dose prednisone therapy which is poorly tolerated in most pets but seems to be an effective treatment plan with ferrets. Also, certain disease processes such as adrenal disease mean very different things between species such as cats and ferrets.
  • Even surgical considerations are special when dealing with ferrets. Most vets will not suggest fasting a night before a surgery because of the increased risk of hypoglycaemic or low blood sugar levels in ferrets which can have devastating effects.
  • Ferret vets recognize how devastating untreated dehydration can be in a short time frame as compared to other pets that may be 'off their food'.

Emergency Hours

Now, after reading all this, I have some very bad news. Your super duper ferret vet cannot and will not be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, no matter how you beg and bribe. We've tried.....Great, now what? Anyone who has dealt with ferret emergencies knows that they generally occur on a weekend night when no one is available. This is where having a plan B is important.

  • Get to know the different emergency options in your area. For example, in Ottawa we have 2 emergency clinics available 24-7.
  • Call and ask who the ferret knowledgeable veterinarians are and write down the names so if needed, you can call ahead and see if one of them are on call. There is no guarantee the appropriate vet will be working when you need them but you will have considerable peace of mind knowing whom to ask for.
  • A veterinarian recently suggested that in a scenario where the vets have not had a lot of experience with ferrets, and none that do are available, then: '.when in doubt, think cat and you can't go wrong in the short term.'
  • Always follow up with your own vet during regular clinic hours.
  • Be your ferret's advocate and know as much as you can about ferret disease processes, treatment and so on. Do your research! Read everything you can get your hands on about ferrets. Join forums on the web and gain the benefit of others' experiences and knowledge. Having special pets like these means we have an increased responsibility to be aware of their potential health issues.

Know your pet

This rings true in any pet, family member or even your own health. Know what is normal first so you can recognize what is not quite right sooner.

  • Wellness checks are important for ferrets as many disease processes can progress quickly in a matter of days. Any ferret over the age of 4 or a ferret that has existing health issues should visit the vet at least twice yearly.
  • Get a complete blood panel done once yearly to obtain baseline readings. Ask your veterinarian to interpret the results for you if you don't understand what they mean. By becoming familiar with what the normal values are, you will be more aware of what is considered abnormal so you can participate in discussions with your vet about appropriate treatment options when needed.
  • Keep track of your ferret's health status, eating habits, output, activity level and so on. Being aware of the overall appearance and day-to-day behaviours of your ferret is paramount in recognizing changes early that may signal potential problems. Write it down or make a mental note of anything out of the ordinary.

Some things to keep in mind;

  • Ferret poopy is your friend, look at it! Watch for changes in colour, appearance or texture of stool. Often problems show up in stool first. Know what is normal for your ferret, and recognize abnormal such as black, green, slimy, foamy, mucous or sting-like.
  • Lack of poop or pee is serious and can signify an obstruction, undiagnosed adrenal disease and prostate enlargement, bladder stones or infection.
  • Urine should be yellow and not create puddles larger than your fur ball
  • Ferrets play and explore till the day they die so know what's normal daily activity for your kid
  • Food goes in and poopy comes out and any variation from this is bad
  • Flat ferret does not always mean a pouting ferret. It can mean your fuzzy is 'hiding' for a moment, wants to be picked up, or it could mean that it is in fact unresponsive and suffering a hypoglycaemic seizure (low blood sugar related to insulinoma), staring blankly at nothing.
  • Dehydration is insidious so don't ignore lethargy or lack of activity. Ferrets don't often tell us overtly that something is wrong, and this condition can quickly escalate into a life-threatening emergency.
  • Ferrets rarely vomit. Repeated vomiting can be an obstruction or another serious issue that needs veterinary intervention. Again, your ferret is especially vulnerable to dehydration.
  • Take note of how often and how much your fuzzy eats and drinks daily to know to catch any changes early
  • Notice things! The button missing on your remote, the earpiece missing off your MP3 player, blankets that are chewed, or just something that appears to be amiss.check it out!
  • If you get that "I don't know what is wrong but something is just not quite right." feeling, take it seriously. Parents know their kids best.

Medical issues

There are many medical issues with any pet but understanding the common ones and their signs and symptoms, combined with your foundation knowledge of your healthy fur ball is just good practice. Education leads to confidence in making a transport versus treatment decision for a ferret. Common signs and symptoms to be recognized as abnormal are;

  • Lethargy or a decrease of normal activity level. Discreet or obvious can help determine how far along an issue is and whether this is a trip to the vets or some initial intervention.
  • Abnormal stool. Welcome to the world of poop watching! Learn what is normal and what is not.
  • Vomiting. Vomiting is normally not a good sign but some ferrets do vomit a few times in isolated incidences in the course of their life for minor reasons. A good rule of thumb is to note what the vomit looks like, food versus bloody or coffee ground looking, how often the ferret 'threw up' and environment such as extreme temperature or a recent vaccination.
  • Teeth Grinding. This can mean pain or nausea and is often associated with gastric issues. This should always be investigated with a visit to the vet.
  • Sneezing or coughing. Ferrets sneeze because their noses are often to the ground or in dusty corners. Take note of circumstance, frequency, and overall health of your fuzzy. An older ferret that progressively 'hacks' more frequently for no obvious reason needs to be seen by a veterinarian. Whereas a healthy, young ferret in the spring or fall may just need regular hairball treatment because of a partial obstruction caused by a forming hairball associated with the seasonal shed.
  • Neurological stuff. Loss of balance, confusion, a tilted head carriage all warrants a visit. These issues could be something like a middle ear issue throwing off the ferret's equilibrium, a stroke, a tumour, a serious ear mite infestation or a fall from height that had gone unnoticed.
  • Alopecia or hair loss. There are a number of causes depending on the pattern of hair loss. Some ferrets regularly develop 'rat tail' during the seasonal shed but hair loss that begins at the base of the tail and moves up the body is generally a sign for adrenal disease.
  • Fur and skin. New onset coat or skin discolouration, such as having a distinct yellow or orange tinge, combined with other clinical signs such as rear leg weakness could indicate organ failure or a progressive disease.
  • Abnormal behaviour. Strange behaviour such as aggression, dominance that is out of character, or increased hyperactivity other than the usual crazy baby thing can be a sign of adrenal cancer.

Some common diseases and medical conditions every ferret owner should be familiar with are:

  • Insulinoma
  • Adrenaloma
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Lymphoma
  • Foreign body obstruction
  • Dehydration
  • Allergic reactions
  • Kidney or Liver failure
  • Tumours and Cancer

Trauma

'Definitive care is rapid transport' is a motto that paramedics adhere to when dealing with trauma related emergencies. When an animal is hurt, get them assessed. For the most part, even minor looking issues can snowball if left. Ferrets, like children, have the ability to compensate well and then crash when it's too late if transport is delayed. Some common stories include a ferret that was found with a paw twisted and caught in bedding. The paw had swollen up through the night. Assessment was delayed over the weekend until normal business hours and circulation was never restored even after intense therapy so the ferret was euthanized before gangrene set in. Again, some things to keep in mind;

  • Neurological issues related to falls and such can benefit from some medications within the first few hours but these treatments may have little effect if care is not immediate
  • There is a window for open wounds to be closed and cleaned before bacteria and infection set in, normally about 4 to 6 hours depending on environment
  • Surgical intervention needs to be timely for internal haemorrhage which can be insidious
  • If your ferret is missing or if things are too quiet, find it
  • If you have a gut feeling, like your ferret is in the dryer, check
  • Being in a cage is not 100% safe, ever, so peaking in quietly is a good thing just to be sure
  • It's what we can't see that is most worrisome

We don't mean to suggest that all ferret owners need to be completely paranoid for there is a medium ground between that and due diligence. Getting to know our fur kids, means we will be better equipped to sense or anticipate issues without being ridiculously overprotective.

Even if trauma is iatrogenic, meaning human caused, get your ferret seen. Accidents happen and these guys are always underfoot trying to kill themselves. It can happen to the best of us and I always believed my ferrets lived to a ripe old age despite my best efforts. Embarrassment is not a reason to delay treatment. Your pet's life is far more important than pride.

Have a plan

Ferrets are members of the family and like a family would have a fire safety plan for their house, so too should everyone be aware of what to do in case of a ferrety emergency.

  • List phone numbers for vet clinics both emergency and regular
  • List contact numbers for other ferret knowledgeable friends or organizations like the Ferret Rescue Society
  • Keep a health record for each fuzzy, including age, recent illnesses or veterinary care and past medical history
  • Have a carrier all set to go and know where to find it quickly

Finances

The middle of an emergency is the worst time to start worrying about money. Putting away a 'rainy day' fund means that if something does happen, decisions can be made based on quality of life as opposed to finances. Ferrets, for the most part, are fairly inexpensive pets on a day-to-day basis. Yearly checkups and vaccinations should be no more than $200 per fuzz butt. As a ferret ages, more frequent visits mean increased expenses. Where things can get hefty are the potential surgeries. Most surgeries are between $1000 and $2000. Most ferrets can handle surgery well and may live many happy years afterwards warranting such invasive procedures. Again, these decisions are best made when not worrying about available cash. The experts tell us that you should expect at least one surgery during the lifetime of your ferret. Open a savings account and be prepared!

Knowing when to go to the hospital

So, you are prepared and you have an up to date medical profile of your furry friend. You recognise something is amiss and now you have to make the decision whether to go to the hospital or manage things at home. Here are a few questions you may want to ask yourself:

  • Is my ferret eating and drinking? Generally, if a ferret is still willing to eat and drink on it's own then certain emergency issues, such as a bowel obstruction are less likely. If the ferret is uninterested in food or fluids than something more serious could be the culprit. In addition, as the ferret becomes dehydrated, its appetite will worsen, compounding the dehydration, which leads to life threatening situations.
  • Is my ferret still urinating and what does the stool look like? If a ferret is no longer defecating, and clinically looks unwell, then this is when you want to ask yourself whether some sort of obstruction could be the issue. If there's nothing going in and nothing coming out then this ferret needs to be assessed.
  • When did the changes first begin? Is this an acute or progressive development? If you wake up one day to let your ferret out to play and it was lethargic and looking unwell in its cage, then this ferret needs to go to see a vet ASAP. If the ferret has been getting less active and losing weight over a period of time, then some home intervention and an appointment is prudent.
  • Is this trauma related? Again, trauma needs to be assessed unless it's very minor.
  • Is my ferret lethargic and uninterested in its surroundings? As a ferret ages it will sleep more and have one or two days of being less active and then a day of feeling 'frisky'. If this is a slow progression in an older ferret that regularly sees a vet then this may just be a job for some extra TLC. This is where noticing what is the norm is so important.
  • Are the eyes clear and alert or do they look dull, and sullen? Any seasoned ferret owner will tell you about the 'dull look'. Assessment is most definitely warranted in this case. A ferret that has a dull, listless 'look' is more than likely quite ill.
  • Will the ferret accept treats? This goes hand in hand with will the ferret eat and drink. If it's refusing treats that it normally loves, then it is really not feeling well.
  • Along with some of the above questions, has there been any vomiting or diarrhea? Again, a little vomiting and diarrhea on its own is not as significant as combined with other clinical findings that are indicative of illness
  • How comfortable am I dealing with this issue? Can I manage dehydration and force-feeding before I get assessment for an animal that just seems 'under the weather'.
  • What do my ferret friendly contacts have to say if I'm not sure? Use other ferret owners or organizations as a resource!!! Ferret ownership feels like an art at times and there are many in the area that have been at it, and more than likely learning the hard way for you, for a very long time.

What more is there to say?

Remember that ferret ownership is a learning curve. As a paramedic, I always say that success is not necessarily based on the outcome of my patients but rather on the contribution to all involved in an incident. By this I mean that if we do what's best and learn from our harder lessons than we are successful. We fondly refer to ferrets as nature's own antidepressant and cherish the role they play in our lives. It would only make sense, then, to be ready for the good times and the bad, as we strive to have these fun loving kids live long and healthy lives. Good luck and enjoy!!!!!

Marybeth Stanistreet
President, Ferret Rescue Society of Ottawa
Revised Spring 2008

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Vaccinations

When buying a ferret from a pet store, they will require a series of shots to ensure protection.

Canine distemper is 100% FATAL IN FERRETS. The only way you can protect your ferrets is by having them vaccinated. Ferrets need to be vaccinated against canine distemper at 6-8 weeks and again at 10-12 weeks.

Ferrets also require booster shots on an annual basis. This can be done when you bring your ferret in for its annual check-up with a ferret knowledgeable veterinarian.

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Housing

Ferrets should NEVER be housed in glass enclosures. The best housing arrangement for a ferret is a 2 or 3 level wire cage, or an enclosure type area. There must be ample room for food and water dishes, a litter box, and a sleeping area. Each area must be separated from the other. The ferret's food should not be too close to the litter box. The ideal set up for a ferret in a multi-level cage is to have the litter on the bottom level, and the food, water and sleeping hammocks on the upper levels.

Ferrets love to sleep in dark areas in blankets, old sweatshirts or curled up in a hammock. Ferrets should NEVER be kept in any kind of cedar or pine bedding as the dust and odour from the wood can cause respiratory problems.

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Nutrition

FERRET NUTRITION

WHY IS THIS TOPIC SO IMPORTANT?

Well, the trend we're seeing with human counterparts nowadays has to do with healthier lifestyles to promote mental and physical wellbeing. When we consider how our pets are an integral part of our families, it would only make sense that we would want to extend this newfound knowledge to include them. Whether it is a rat or a horse, we want our pets to live the longest and healthiest lives possible. We know now, more than ever, that diet and digestion influence disease prevention, length and quality of life, and directly affect mental health. The body has the inherent ability to do the things that drugs, supplements and medical intervention are intended for whether it be combating viral and bacterial invaders, preventing chronic medical issues or healing itself. Success begins with the right fuel, combined with other necessities such as exercise. Humans or animals, this is a variable we have control over.

OKAY... WHAT DOES MY FERRET NEED?

First of all, we have learned so much in the last number of years with respect to ferret dietary requirements, mainly through experience. In the past, ferrets were fed what the minks on mink farms received or a high quality kitten food. That sufficed at the time but we have certainly come a long way.

As some of you may know, ferrets have been domesticated for over 2500 years. Despite that, their dietary requirements, jaw strength, teeth, GI tract, metabolism, digestion, enzymes and bowel transit time have remained essentially the same as that of their ancestors, the Polecat. They are both hypercarnivores meaning they can only be carnivores unlike dogs, humans, and bears, which can adapt their diet to their environment. A polecat in the wild would catch a small rodent, rabbit, bug, reptile or bird, start at the head and eat its way to the tail. It essentially eats everything. That means bone, organs, brain, skin, hair, everything! They do not get much in the way of carbohydrates found in the intestinal tract of their prey and only eat this when they are starving. Therefore, it appears that ferrets and polecats need a high protein, high fat, low carbohydrate and low fibre diet.

OPTIMAL NUTRITIONAL VALUES

Ideally, a ferret's diet should have 50 % to 60 % protein, 30 % to 40 % fat, and 1.5 % carbohydrates.

  RAT CARCASS FERRET KIBBLE
PROTEIN 55% 30 - 40%
FAT 38 % 20 - 25%
FIBRE 0.5%
CARBS 1.2% 22 - 30%

Historically, we have been more successful meeting these requirements at least somewhere in the middle.

DIET ALTERNATIVES

Again, ideally, we should be feeding our furkids whole adult mice or rats, chicks, or raw meat with bones, brains, organs, spinal cord and all... Alright you say? Well, other than the disgust factor being quite high for most of our loving ferret homes, an ethical issue for some and the concern about contamination, (as we all know, ferrets like to stash and eat later.), it's not entirely practical to feed. Not to mention, most kits are imprinted on kibble and adults are nearly impossible to switch to a more natural diet after 6 months to a year of age. Truthfully, kibble has been designed for the owner, and not the ferret.

What can we do? Well, we can have a good quality kibble available at all times, keep treats healthy and in moderate quantities and offer high calorie or high protein supplements daily or as required. For example, quality supplements can be any sort of raw meat like beef or chicken, scrambled eggs, Bob's chicken gravy, some 'duck soup' recipes, chicken baby food, a prepared raw mix for carnivores found in pet health food stores, or real meat canned diets for cats and dogs. Wetting kibble is a poor option because there tends to be increased waste and quick spoilage and odour.

WHAT DOES A BETTER DIET HELP PREVENT?

IRRITABLE BOWEL AND OTHER INFLAMMATORY DIGESTIVE ISSUES

Kibble can be very hard on our ferret's bodies. It has 9 - 10% moisture content that is less than a hard wood floor, which has 12 %. Ferrets have a short bowel and cecum and a rapid transit time of 3 - 4 hours. With feeding only dry kibble, ferrets are forced to drink more water to facilitate digestion. If too much fluid is ingested with solid foods, the stomach acids are diluted which can hinder the breaking down of foodstuffs. (This applies to humans as well). Also, unbeknownst to many owners, ferrets have no significant molar contact for grinding. They have rear molars for cracking bones and that is it... this means the teeth only cut and kibble is simply crunched down into smaller chunks instead of a more palatable paste or mush. In addition, in order to be able to grind, their jaws must go sideways like a cow but a ferret's jaw cannot as it has a lock with a special hinge to prevent displacement when cracking bones. Chronic inflammatory issues related to this mean that the ferret is not getting the necessary vitamins, and nutrients it needs, even in a kibble that is well balanced, in addition to the discomfort of an inflammatory process. Providing a softer, regular supplement like duck soup or real meat makes the necessary nutrients and such more available with less effort and compliments a kibble diet. For ferrets which are diagnosed with IBS, a daily duck soup recipe can be a life saver.

INSULINOMA

This could be attributed to the high carbohydrate level in the kibbles and treats that our ferrets eat throughout their life, as this issue is not common in countries where the ferrets are fed a diet closer to the evolutionary diet of a polecat. We know from research comparing the polecat with the domestic ferret that their carbohydrate requirement is essentially 0 %. That being said, not enough research has been done to date to learn what a safe daily carbohydrate level is that can be fed without having chronic, debilitating issues, like insulinoma. Also, to our knowledge, there have been no long-term studies on the actual health impact of a prolonged carbohydrate diet. This may mean that feeding raw meat is a good idea, remembering that ferrets cannot simply eat chicken breast and get all the necessary vitamins and trace nutrients. They would have to eat a whole chicken to get that. Again, this is not practical or as easy to feed as a good quality kibble when our Canadian ferrets are kept inside as pets instead of outside in barns or sheds as working animals. Without a more natural diet then, it becomes so important to stick with a high protein, low carbohydrate kibble, complimentary soft alternatives and to feed only healthy treats.

PERIODONTAL DISEASE

Unlike dogs and cats, eating kibble does not clean ferrets teeth. Their teeth are skinny, and narrow compared with other carnivores and so the kibble actually destroys the enamel over time, contributing to gingivitis, abscesses, loose and broken teeth, bone changes, bad breath and so on. Although counter-intuitive, it would be better to feed a soft supplemental diet twice daily to a ferret with these issues than give them hard stuffs to help combat the gum disease. Starches in the kibbles are converted to sugar in the mouth increasing plaque production. These starches also help feed the bacteria that form plaque, particularly under the gums. Studies have revealed that the dental wear rate is 3 to 5 times faster with more broken and avulsed (displaced) teeth while feeding kibble only diets than a real meat diet. Ideally, raw chicken bone would clean the teeth as the ferret crunches away. There has been some evidence that using dental pastes designed for pets to work with the mouth's own enzymes may help control plaque build-up if used with some regularity.

IS A BETTER DIET MORE EXPENSIVE?

No, not necessarily. An adequate kibble, specifically designed for ferrets with high protein and low carbohydrate ingredients is very comparable if not cheaper than the lesser quality food. As well, the ferret will not feel as hungry and therefore eat less overall. With a low quality kibble that is mainly fillers, despite boasting its balanced ingredients, a ferret does not feel full. They digest so quickly that fillers and wasted ingredients zoom right through them, barely sating their hunger. They may even get 'fat', though it's an unhealthy weight and the ferret continues to eat in excess to get what it needs. Again, an alternative, like feeding a soft, soupy supplement twice daily, using a better quality kibble ground in the mix, allows easier access to all the necessary nutrients and vitamins, being on the whole, far easier to digest. A heavier ferret may always be big, but the weight will be proportioned and less unhealthy looking. Actually feeding raw meat as the main diet, particularly that which is prepared for specifically for pets, can be pricy, keeping in mind it is unwise to feed wild rodents and such because of the risk of disease and parasites. Frozen adult mice, chicks and prepared meats are most appropriate and safer if such a diet was chosen. No matter what the main course may be or what sort of supplemental feedings are chosen, always provide availability to kibble. And remember, in the long run, a healthier ferret means less medical costs down the road.

WHAT ARE SOME APPROVED TREATS?

Totally Ferret bits and treats
Bandits
Ferretone
Nutrical
Raw meat, organs and bones
N bones

CAN I TEACH MY FERRET TO EAT A BETTER DIET?

Patience my friends, patience! Kits are imprinted on kibble so this transition is not going to happen overnight. The more variety young ferrets are exposed to, however, means they will be more accepting of new and different foods and supplements. This is beneficial in time of sickness when they need the duck soups with meds ingeniously hidden in them, and if a brand of food becomes unavailable. Older ferrets are harder to convince and to some degree with elderly ferrets, the concept of 'if it's not broke, don't fix it' may be prudent. Always do things slowly to start because a ferret that turns its nose up to a sudden change in diet can become dehydrated and flat - quickly.

A 'duck soup' idea shared with our organization at the last IFC Ferret Aid Conference in Toronto was this:

Blend the ferrets kibble in a blender, adding some Ferretone for taste, and a soft food with little carbohydrates and high protein like canned real meat diet for cats or chicken baby food. Add water as needed and freeze the soup in ice cube trays. Thaw as needed. Start with half a cube defrosted and warmed and rub it on the ferret's upper gums with your finger. At first, you may need to scruff but most of our kids will put up with just being held while this is done. Expect some ferrets will think you've lost your marbles and are trying to poison them. Be patient. The next time, do the same and encourage the ferret to lick the soup voluntarily off your finger. Slowly work your way to having it lick out of a dish while being held until the ferret will eat small amounts and then a meal on its own out of a dish. Provide this soup once or twice daily and make it a routine. When the ferret looks forward to it's meal, (kibble and fresh water are still always available), you can consider starting blending raw chicken and parts into the mix or any additional ingredients depending on what is needed, as in the case of an illness. Start with a little so they don't really notice and work your way up to larger amounts.

When introducing duck soup, a kit will be easier than an older ferret, as a ferret that's always been exposed to variety will be easier than a one-kibble sort of kid. Remember, as well, that carbohydrates taste good and so a ferret that's been fed cat food or a poorer quality food will more than likely turn its nose up at the new and healthier choices. If the ferret begins to gain too much weight, cut the feedings back. All ferrets should be familiar with a duck soup recipe should it ever be required in times of illness. Recipes can be found on the FRSO website and from experienced members.


OLDER FERRETS' CONSIDERATIONS

Again, changing things for an older fuzzy can be a touchy scenario. Healthy older ferrets can have the same high protein foods as a kit but fuzzbutts with existing kidney issues may benefit from lower levels of protein. Ferrets are individuals, like people, and some will adjust to the better diets with little stomach and digestive issues, while others will not handle the change at all. Tread lightly in this area with your older kid and never be afraid to ask for advice from our ferret community, the Ferret Rescue Society or from a ferret knowledgeable veterinarian. At the end of the day, if an elderly fuzzbutt is doing quite nicely on what they've been fed their whole life, now may not be the time for big kibble changes. Duck soup is a life saver at any age but consider using the kibble they are used to in the mix.

SOME FOODS COMPARED

(This was provided by a presenter at the IFC conference in Toronto and unfortunately, some kibbles familiar to our local ferret community were not included).

NAME

PROTEIN FAT FIBRE CARBS
Totally Ferret Baby 42% 24% 2% ~14%
Totally Ferret Adult 36% 22% 1.5% ~25%
Marshalls 39.9% 20.2% 2.2% 26% (corn)
Zupreem 40% 20% 2% ~28% (wheat)
Mazuri 38% 20.5% 4% ~20% (rice)
Eukanuba Kitten 36% 22% 2.5% ~22% (corn)
Natural Gold 50% 22% 5% ~5% (oatbran)
Innova Evo 52% 22.9% 1.43% 7%

Just a note, the canned versions generally hold fewer carbohydrates then the dry versions because it is the carbohydrates that hold the kibble together. However, with 78% moisture content, they have to eat a lot! Also, it was suggested that we consider the Hills M/D or Purina D/M diabetic diets. It was pointed out that the Purina version uses a high level of dry plant protein and the Hill's may contain arginine, which increases insulin production so these are not suggested alternatives.

CONCLUSION

So there you have it folks! Will following some of these suggestions prevent illness and help your ferret live a long and healthy life? Well, there are obviously no guarantees but it sure looks like a good place to start. Food is the fuel that runs the body and the proper fuel makes for a cleaner, better running engine. Makes sense? In summary, clean, fresh water and a good quality ferret kibble should always be available for our ferrety friends. In addition, feeding a softer, more natural, high protein supplement regularly and sticking to healthier treats, combined with natural light and tons of enrichment and exercise is a good way of providing the best we can for these special pets

Marybeth Stanistreet, revised July 2010
President, Ferret Rescue Society of Ottawa

References

Bob Church, zooarcheologist and ferret lover, IFC Ferret Aid, Toronto, 2006

Dr. Dennilyn Parker, Assistant professor and exotic service chief at U of Saskatoon, IFC Ferret Aid, Toronto, 2006

Dr. Bruce Williams, chairman department of Telemedicine, pathologist armed forces institute of Pathology, VP of the CL Davis Foundation for the Advancement of Veterinary Pathology, IFC Ferret Aid, Toronto, 2006

Animal Planet, Ferrets, co 2007

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Litter Training

Litter training in ferrets is almost never 100% perfect. Ferrets are very unique in their personalities. Some ferrets will use their litter box no matter where they are or what they are doing. Others will use it whenever they are in their cage, but may miss when they are out playing. Generally, a ferret's attitude about using a litter box is whether they see one in the near vicinity when the feel the need to use one. If they don't, they will back into a corner, raise their tail and do their business. Their messes are quite small and are usually only found in corners.

The best way to litter "train" your ferret is to ensure there is a litter box in each room the ferret has access to. When you catch a ferret backing into a corner where there is no litter box, yell "NO", pick up the ferret and put them in the closest litter box. Have a treat on-hand to give your ferret as soon as they have completed their business. This process may take a couple of weeks, but generally the ferrets will get the idea and return to their litter boxes when they need to.

DO NOT use clumping litter for ferrets. They love to burrow and dig around in sand. As their noses are almost always damp, the clumping sand can get clogged in their noses. When it dries, it will be hard clay, making it difficult for the ferret to breathe. Also, some ferrets like to eat sand. If ingested, clumping litter can lead to liver and stomach ailments and can be fatal.

We have found that the best litter for ferrets is the pellet type made of recycled newspaper (yesterdays news) or sawdust (wood stove pellets). This is safe for them even if they decide to dig and roll around in it.

Be sure you firmly attach the litter box to the cage (especially if you have a baby ferret) as they love to dig and tip things over. You may come home one day to find your ferret's litter all over the bottom of the cage! A little creativity may be required to ensure it is securely attached and cannot be tipped over.

Another helpful tip is to make sure the litter box is at least twice the size of a full grown ferret. Rectangular cat and ferret litter boxes are a good option. Avoid using the small corner litter boxes.

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Nipping

Ferrets love to nip when they are babies. As with puppies, they need to be taught not to bite. In general, ferrets are more active and hyper when they are babies (kits). This is when you must ensure that they are taught properly.

The key to training your ferret not to nip is understanding why ferrets nip in the first place. A ferret has no other means of playing or grabbing anything other than using their mouths. As ferrets have very thick skin, they are very rough when playing with each other.

There are three ways to train your ferret not to nip. One is to spray Bitter Apple on your hands and arms and play with your ferret. When they nip your hand or arm, they will not like the taste and will back off immediately. This will take a couple of attempts on the ferret's behalf before they give up trying to nip. A second method is to use a spray bottle to spray them when they nip. DO NOT squirt them in their ears or eyes.

As a last resort, you can scruff them and say NO in a very stern voice. Hold them still until they stop squirming, and then place them on the ground. If the ferret is not calming down, you may also want to put the ferret back in its cage for a couple of minutes for a time out. When they calm down, you can let them play with you again. This method will also have to be repeated several times before they realize that nipping you is not fun.

NEVER flick or thump your ferret's nose to discipline them. This will make the ferret afraid of your hands, and will encourage them to bite you in fear whenever you go to pick them up. Also, thumping and flicking a ferret's nose can cause damage to the membranes and tissues of their noses.

Additional information can be found at the
Problem Ferrets and the People who Love Them website.

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Ferret-Proofing

Ferret-proofing your home is very important. Reclining furniture can be lethal to ferrets as they can get caught in the mechanisms and be crushed. If you have reclining furniture in your home, it is best to ensure your ferret does not have access to the room that the recliner is in. Ferrets are naturally curious and if they are in the same room, they WILL investigate it.

Ferrets can easily get into upholstered furniture. They can squeeze into any seam, get under cushions and inside the sofa itself. Never sit down until you are sure your ferret is not in the furniture.

Another item to look out for is the material used for the box spring under your bed. This fabric is very dangerous to ferrets as they easily claw at it and become entangled. If they get stuck in it, they can suffocate.

Ferret-proofing requires a lot of time, work and effort. The best way to ferret-proof your home is to get down on your stomach and check things out. A ferret can usually get into any holes that are bigger than half an inch. A general rule is that if their head fits, the body will follow. Ferrets have the amazing ability to flatten themselves out to squeeze through very tight spaces.

Loose caulking around bathtubs and toilets can also be a problem as the ferret might attempt to eat it. This can cause an intestinal blockage and should be avoided wherever possible.

Ferrets love to crawl under everything. Make sure they cannot get under or behind fridges, stoves, dishwashers, washing machines, dryers and any other larger home appliance. They can chew the wires and be electrocuted, or if you do not see them, they can be killed when you start the appliance.

Ferrets are also natural diggers. Plants are especially vulnerable. They generally will not eat the plant, but they will dig in the dirt whenever given the opportunity. A couple of solutions are available: cover the dirt with heavy rocks, cover the pot with a fine wire mesh, or move the plant out of their reach.

Kitchen and bathroom cupboards are very easy for ferrets to open. Use childproof latches on the doors to stop the ferrets from gaining access. If you store your cleaning products in a bottom cupboard, make absolutely certain that the ferret cannot get into the cupboard as the ferret could ingest some of these poisonous products. It would be safer to store these products and soaps in the upper cupboards away from the reach of ferrets.

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Common Ailments

Intestinal Blockage - Ferrets love to chew on a number of objects, many of which are very harmful to them. Intestinal blockages are very serious in a ferret, and can lead to death if not discovered immediately. Some of the most common items ferrets chew are latex or rubber toys, sponges, erasers, fabric, children's toys that are easily chewable, rubber bands, foam and anything else that they can get their teeth into.

Ferrets should have ample chew toys such as kongs, rubber rings and balls made for puppies. Also, keep a close eye on their toys. Replace the toys immediately if you find fraying of rubber and vinyl pieces. Be extremely careful with toys that have "rattles" inside (such as the PingPong Ball/Rattle available at Petsmart) as ferrets have been known to break them open and eat the little pieces that make the rattle sound. It doesn't take a large piece of toy to get caught in the ferret's intestine to cause a blockage.

If you catch the ferret in the act of chewing something they shouldn't, you can give them some toniclax to help pass the object. THIS DOES NOT ALWAYS WORK. Watch the ferret closely for a couple of hours, and check its stool to see if the object passed. Other symptoms include diarrhea, black tarry stools, lack of stools, lethargy vomiting and lack of appetite (not eating and drinking). If your ferret displays any of theses symptoms, bring them to the vet immediately. The only remedy for intestinal blockage is surgery.

Following is a list of other illnesses that ferrets can suffer from. Please educate yourselves prior to bringing a ferret into your home. The lack of knowledge could cost your ferret its life.

Heart problems, respiratory infections, cancer, adrenal gland cancer, insulinoma, lymphosarcoma, skin tumours, gastrointestinal disorders, epizootic catarrhal enteritis (ECE), intestinal parasites (tapeworms, hookworms) and eye problems.

Additional ferret health information can be found at the
Ferret Heath Care site.

ALWAYS BRING YOUR FERRET TO A KNOWLEDGEABLE VETERINARIAN FOR ANY PROBLEMS THAT YOU SEE IN YOUR FERRET, NO MATTER HOW MINOR YOU MAY THINK IT IS.

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ADV

What is ADV?

ADV is a parvovirus that originated in Aleutian mink. It is suspected to have spread originally from the mink farms when ferret owners supplies came from the same location as the mink breeders. The virus is an antigen and the ferret produces antibodies against it. Instead of eliminating it, the virus and antibody actually join to form immune complexes that damage the liver, spleen, kidneys, blood vessels etc. The virus can be active (symptomatic) or non-active (positive, but otherwise healthy)

Little is known about the ADV shedding period (when the virus is spread), incubation period (development after exposure), and transmission (just how contagious it really is). It is suspected that the virus can be transmitted to other ferrets through contact with anything that has been in contact with a ferret that is shedding the virus (urine, feces, saliva, blood, bedding, cages, etc).

How soon an animal is affected or dies depends on strain and individual i.e. age, pre existing health issues and so on. Being a virus, ADV can mutate. Like different strains of the flu, different strains of ADV can be more virulent. Scientists believe there to be 6 strains that affect mink and 1 that affects ferrets

What are the Signs and Symptoms?

It should be noted that ADV symptoms are identical to other diseases. A ferret showing these symptoms may or may not have ADV and should be taken to a vet to determine the actual cause. In addition, an infected ferret may not show anyY of these symptoms.

  • Urinary incontinence
  • Lethargy
  • Tremors (not the normal ferrety shiver)
  • Progressive hind end paralysis
  • Muscle wasting
  • Black, tarry feces
  • Respiratory infections
  • Weight loss
  • Eye inflammation
  • Chronic cough
  • Heart disease
  • Gastrointestinal bleeding
  • Immune system issues, like kidney and liver failure

How do we treat it?

There is no cure for ADV. Any care given to a ferret is mostly supportive to help control the symptoms. This may include:

  • Steroids, like prednisone or dexamethasone
  • Antibiotics for secondary infections
  • Mineral and vitamin supplements
  • Immunosuppressants

How is it prevented?

There is no vaccination available for ADV, so the only way to prevent it is to ensure that infected ferrets are kept away from all other ferrets. To ensure that this happens, annual or bi-annual ADV tests are needed so that infected ferrets are identified and kept separate from non-infected ferrets.

It is also very important to ensure that toys, blankets as well as any clothes that an infected ferret is in contact with are kept away from all non-infected ferrets.

Why Test?

There is no cure, no vaccinations, and not enough is understood about how easily it is transmitted between ferrets. It can be debilitating and fatal - even ferrets not showing obvious signs of the disease can spread it. Testing for ADV, helps control exposure, which helps control the spread of this disease.

What does a positive test mean?

Diligent monitoring of day to day health and happiness of your pet to ensure any resulting problems are treated as quickly as possible. As the disease progresses, supportive care of the ferret will be needed (special feedings, medicines, etc). Many ADV positive ferrets can live a relatively normal life as long as they are monitored carefully and treated as symptoms occur. Infected ferrets must be kept segregated from ADV Negative ferrets and must not attend any public events or visit any ADV Negative homes.

What does a positive test mean to the FRSO?

Once we have a case of an ADV positive ferret in our care, we will be forced to setup a foster home for only ADV positive ferrets. Depending on the situation, we may have to retest all ferrets in our care as well as in our foster homes and members homes. ADV positive ferrets will only be adopted to people who have ADV positive ferrets - which means they will likely remain in our care until the cross the rainbow bridge.

What tests will the FRSO be using?

Our preferred test will be the CIEP blood test that is done at the Animal Health Lab at the University of Guelph. This test has a low rate of false positives/false negatives and is low cost when sending in batches of 20 tests at the same time.

In emergency cases we will use the Avecon Quick Check. It is not as accurate as the CIEP, but provides instant results for times when we can't wait for the next batch of CIEP tests to be run.

For all ferret frolics and other events with ferrets in attendance, the FRSO will require proof of a negative ADV test in the past year. This includes using our ferret sitting services. To help our members and the general public have their ferrets tested, we will be offering low cost testing clinics at least twice a year. Please note that holders of a Regular FRSO Membership receive one free test per year. Tests can also be done through veterinary hospitals along with annual vaccinations or treatments, but the cost is significantly higher.

Does Testing Hurt?

The saliva test requires that a ferrets mouth be swabbed with a cotton swab for one minute. It is uncomfortable but does not hurt.

The CEIP blood test requires us to cut a the quick of a toe nail and gather a small amount of blood. This causes a small amount of pain which quickly subsides (and can be soothed with a treat of ferretvite or ferretone).

Do I have to euthanize my ADV positive ferret?

ADV is not an immediate death sentence. It can be like any chronic illness where your pet has good days and bad or it can be asymptomatic where the ferret shows no signs of the disease and lives out a normal life. Euthanasia is only an option when quality of life is poor.

What has the FRSO done so far?

In the summer of 2006 two board members attended the IFC Ferret Aid conference in Toronto in 2006. While there we participated in ADV seminars and spoke with other shelters that have dealt with, or are dealing with ADV. We have implemented a series of semi-regular ADV test clinics so that we can ensure all ferrets in our care remain ADV negative and to allow the general public access to inexpensive ADV testing. To date, all FRSO foster ferrets have been tested using the CIEP test with 100% negative results. We have also implemented mandatory ADV negative tests for all ferrets attending frolics or other events (shows, spa days, ferret sitting etc) to discourage the spread of the disease, set precedence in dealing with other diseases and to continue to encourage ADV testing.

The Furry Conclusion

The FRSO remains committed to our ferrets and ferret community. We intend to set precedence with respect to advances in veterinary medicine, nutrition, enrichment and so on. We will not lose sight of what's most important in everything we strive to accomplish and that is our furry companions mental and physical health and well-being. Giving these wonderful creatures a second chance in life is a passion we share with our members.

References

Ferrets magazine. May/June 2002. pg 41-45

Dr. Jerry Murray. IFC Ferret Aid conference. 2006

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Hairballs - ACK!

Hey everyone! Guess what time of year it is?! Yup...you guessed right...SPRING!!! A wonderful time when the sun becomes warm and inviting, the rain starts to fall, and fall, and fall...but we know it's leading to green grass, trees and flowers...we all begin to feel the stirrings of spring cleaning tendencies and it's a wonderful time of shedding! Oh, how we love this time of year. You can vacuum everyday and still feel like you are unable to stay on top of what your beloved pets keep leaving behind. You show up at work with hair on your clothes and jackets and your vacuum bag looks like there may just be a cat hiding inside. Other than the obvious inconvenience of it all, there is something more menacing that threatens our furry, four legged family members...HAIRBALLS!

WHAT ARE HAIRBALLS AND WHAT IS THE RISK?

I imagine it's fairly self-explanatory but for those of us new to the game, hairballs can form in the stomach and then into the intestines as an animal grooms itself. This is more likely to occur when an animal sheds in the spring and fall. These masses of hair can grow as more hair is swallowed and sticks to it. In cats, hairballs that form in the stomach can be coughed up. May not be the least bit pleasant but definitely a better alternative than keeping them in and allowing them to grow. Ferrets cannot do this and so a hairball that forms in the stomach behaves like a foreign body and either stays there or passes into the intestines and may cause a blockage. When this happens, portions of the gastrointestinal tract may lose blood supply and without immediate intervention, the ferret will become ill and may die.

DO ALL FERRETS RUN THE RISK?

Well...I would imagine some of our older, hairless fuzz butts have a distinctly smaller chance of a hairball but otherwise, any age can. Hair balls can also form over a long period of time and can therefore, obstruct any time of year.

HOW IS A HAIRBALL DIAGNOSED?

Many veterinarians can actually palpate or feel a hairball in the abdomen. Radiographs are normally taken, occasionally using a contrast medium like barium, for effective diagnosis. The hairball may not be entirely distinguishable from a foreign body aspiration, but an imminent blockage is dangerous no matter the culprit.

HOW DO I TREAT HAIRBALLS?

A ferret hairball laxative can be given as a preventative measure every week or two in the off season and then more regularly when fuzzies shed the most in the spring and fall. Generally an inch of 'goo' will suffice 3 to 4 times a week, to help ingested hair pass through the digestive tract.

When we start to notice our ferrets sneezing or coughing excessively, at these times of year, ferret lax can be given once daily until the coughing stops to hopefully decrease the risk of obstruction. If coughing persists, and in particular if it is seen with other signs and symptoms, there could be a more serious issue developing. Seek veterinary assistance. If there is no laxative paste available, Vaseline/petroleum jelly or mineral oil can be used.
With a partial or full bowel obstruction, surgical intervention is essentially the only treatment.

HOW MUCH WOULD SURGERY COST?

Depending on how severe the case is and so on, the cost of this type of intervention is anywhere from $1000 to $2000...Not so much fun and you can see why prevention is a way better alternative.

WHAT DO I LOOK FOR?

Hairballs tend to come on slowly over a period of time and so signs and symptoms also develop at a slower pace until a complete obstruction occurs. Here are some things to watch for, which may resemble other gastrointestinal issues so veterinary assessment is needed for a conclusive diagnosis:

  • Excessive sneezing or a dry/hacking cough
  • Decreased appetite/activity
  • Vomiting or retching
  • Pawing at the mouth
  • Hyper salivation
  • Inability to defecate/straining/no output noted
  • Teeth grinding because of abdominal discomfort
  • Lethargy/dullness/looks 'unwell'
  • Abdominal distension/rigidity/tenderness

A good rule of thumb for ferret owners is that food goes in and poopy comes out and any variation from this is bad.

WHAT ABOUT ALTERNATIVE PREVENTION?

Grooming!!!!!! Now, have you ever tried to brush a squirming, squiggly, perpetually active fuzzy? Not so easy...here are some grooming tips and good luck!

  • Bathing is fine but no more than once monthly and not for very long. Some experts even recommend no more than four times yearly. If the bath is prolonged or too frequent, than the ferret's natural oils from the skin may be stripped and become dry and itchy. Oh great, an itchier ferret! Also, the skin may begin to produce excess oils to compensate and the ferret can end up smelling stronger. Some ferrets love the water and others truly believe you are trying to drown them.

    Some suggestions are holding your fuzzy in the shower with you to give a greater sense of security. Always use warm water enough for a child (a ferret's normal body temperature is 100 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit). Warming the shampoo bottle is also an idea. One expert suggested holding the ferret on the forearm with the head on your hand. Lather and rinse well, wicking the excess water off. Shampoo residue can make a ferret's fur rough and skin dry which can be very uncomfortable. Dry the excess water off with a towel and then afterwards, the ferret can be let loose to go crazy drying itself and weasel war dancing on a pile of towels on the bathroom floor which, of course, is half the fun. A clean area to dance in means you won't need to wash rinse and repeat! Some fuzzy kids will allow themselves to be blow dried but be sure to use a 'warm' not 'hot' setting, keeping the blow dryer about 12 inches away and moved frequently to prevent burns. Heating towels in the dryer before bath time is nice for a wet fuzz butt to roll around in and remember to keep any drafts in the area down.

    Another piece of advice is to use the kitchen sink as a bath and to try holding the ferret under the chest with the hind end in the water. If they can touch with their back legs, this may help to decrease a ferret's bathing anxiety. Some won't tolerate being bathed under running water but may do okay in a bath setting. A double sink could work well using one to soap in and the other for rinsing.

    Stick with hypoallergenic pet shampoos and avoid medicated ones, in particular ones that are tar or sulphur based. There are plenty of ferrety shampoos on the market now to choose from. A baby-safe shampoo is an option. Also, when in doubt, something designed for safe use on cats or kittens could suffice in a pinch.

    Fearful or aggressive ferrets may have to be scruffed if a bath is absolutely recommended. Hand dipping water or using wash clothes for around the face and ears is also an option.
    An odd ferret fetish to be aware of is soap and shampoo eating. I don't ask why, but in case you were not aware, this has zero nutritional value so try to keep this habit to a minimum.
  • Brushing with a soft bristled brush or one designed for ferrets is suggested, especially during shedding seasons. This serves as a way of distributing natural skin oils and removing dirt and loose hair. Brush gently with the hair and then follow with a fine-toothed comb. The less hair a ferret ingests during personal grooming, the less likely a hairball will form. Some lazy bones will love to be groomed while others fight the entire show. Try to keep brushing for the squirmy folks to a minimum in one sitting but don't give them exactly what they want every time. This means, give a few more brush strokes when your fuzz butt starts to struggle so they don't figure out that fussing is the way to get out of things. Start young and try brushing when a ferret is sleeping deeply.
  • Plucking is a favourite pastime of a few of our members. Ferrets end up looking mangy and patchy but excess hair is easily removed and discarded and beautiful coats come in smoothly afterwards. It's the transition period that is scary to look at! Only pluck during shedding times and only when the hair comes out easily.
  • Duck soup or a high protein, soft diet should be a regular supplement in any ferrets nutrition regime. A soupy consistency can move around hairballs that have not passed or completely obstructed, is easily digested and great as postoperative care if surgery becomes a necessity.

CONCLUSION AS ALWAYS

So...are you all grossed out yet? Nah, I didn't think so! We ferret folks, are a tougher breed after stepping in poopy presents on a regular basis. So, prevention is the key as we are well aware! Don't let the infamous hairball sneak up on you or your loveable fuzzy butt! Grooming, regular veterinary care and nutritional or laxative supplements can go a long way in preventing heartache or financial strain. Just in case, save your pennies and never be afraid to have your ferret seen, even if it's a false alarm, when it comes to something as scary as an obstruction, no matter what the cause may be. The alternative is unthinkable if you ended up waiting too long. Remember to have fun, oh, and good luck with the grooming part! One more word to the wise...Have your bath or spring cleaning bathroom frenzy after the furry kids have had theirs!

Marybeth Stanistreet
President, Ferret Rescue Society of Ottawa and Area
Spring 2007

REFERENCES

Pg. 74-79. 'Looking Good'. FERRETS USA. 2006 Annual

The Ferret. An Owner's Guide To A Happy Healthy Pet. Mary R. Shefferman. Pg 59 - 62, 83. Howell Book House. 1996

Ferrets For Dummies. Kim Schilling. Pg 132- 137, 210. Wiley Publishing Inc. 2000

The Ferret Handbook. Gerry Bucsis and Barbara Somerville. Pg 119-126,139. Barron's Educational Series, Inc. 2001

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Financial Commitment

While ferrets make wonderful pets, their curious nature can get them into a lot of mischief. Because ferrets are not as common as other pets, there are very few experienced and knowledgeable vets.

There are a number of ferret books available at the book stores. Please educate yourselves thoroughly before purchasing or adopting a ferret.

Here are some of the general costs to consider when owning a ferret:
Startup (cage, food, litter, books, etc) $400 to $600
Ferret (per ferret) $100 to $250
Annual check-up $100 to $200
Adrenal gland, insulinoma and blockage surgeries (per operation) $700 to $2,000
Teeth cleaning (every 3 or 4 years) $200
Spay/Neuter and descenting $200 to $300
Other surgeries $300 to $1,500

Please note that these costs are approximate and will vary depending on where you live and the vet you choose.

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