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Ferret Diseases/General

Rabies: Ferrets are assumed to be highly susceptible to rabies and capable of transmitting the virus. A killed rabies vaccine should be given annually, starting at 3 months of age. There are now rabies vaccines approved for use in ferrets. All pet ferrets need not to be routinely vaccinated for rabies. Chances are remote that a pet ferret would be exposed to rabies virus through the saliva of a rabid animal. This is because ferrets, unlike many urban cats, are never allowed to roam freely outdoors, where they may come in contact with wild animals or other domestic animals. It is important to understand, however, that pet ferrets not vaccinated against rabies may be quarantined and even euphemized after biting incident so as to determine whether the animal was carrying the rabies virus. On the other hand, vaccinated ferrets are usually not quarantined after biting incidents. Consequently, each ferret owner must decide whether or not to vaccinate their ferret against rabies.

Heat Stroke: Ferrets lack sweat glands and are somewhat compromised in their ability to maintain normal body temperature in extremely warm environmental temperatures. If the temperature rises above 90 F, and if water is restricted or not available to ferrets, heat prostration is likely and death quite possible. Providing ample shade and spraying your ferret on hot days will help reduce the likelihood of this problem.

Urinary Stones: Either within the kidneys or urinary bladder, may cause serious problems in ferrets. Both sexes seem to be affected equally. Signs of urinary stones include blood in the urine, inability to urinate, a swollen and painful abdomen, vomiting, listlessness and inappetence. Surgery is usually necessary to correct this problem, though a special diet may eliminate certain types of stones or prevent recurrence.

Cardiomyopathy is a condition of the heart muscle seen in dogs, cats and ferrets. Most affected ferrets are males over 3 years of age.The cause for this condition is unknown. The muscle walls of the heart become thickened, reducing the ability of the heart to pump adequate quantities of blood to the rest of the body. Signs include inappetence, fatigue, increased periods of sleep, intolerance to exercise, fainting and shortness of breath. Cardiomyopathy is diagnosed using chest x-rays, an electrocardiogram EKG), and echocardiography (a diagnostic technique using ultrasound waves). All ferrets older than 3 years should have an EKG to screen for this disease.

Miscellaneous Problems: Insulin-secreting tumors are not rare among ferrets. These tumors cause persistently low blood sugar levels, which produce weakness, depression, fainting spells, changes in behavior and convulsions. A number of autoimmune diseases of ferrets have been identified. These types of diseases arise when the ferret's immune system begins to destroy one or more of the body's components. These diseases are usually very serious. Signs may include depression, lethargy and weakness. Veterinarians experienced in working with companion exotic animals should be consulted if this type of disease is suspected. An evaluation of the blood (and perhaps other tissues) is necessary to diagnose autoimmune disease. Cataracts are fairly common in pet ferrets (young and old). Their significance and genetic predisposition are not fully understood. Ferrets' nails (claws) can become extremely sharp and should be trimmed periodically. The method used and guidelines followed are identical to those used in trimming the nails of a dog or a cat. Ferrets should not be declawed.