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Emergencies of Ferrets

By James K. Morrisey, DVM, DABVP (Avian), Service Chief, Companion Exotic Animal Medicine Service, Department of Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell University

Whenever a ferret appears to be lethargic or there is a sudden change in its behavior, a visit to the veterinarian is recommended (see Table: When to See a Veterinarian). Ferrets may hide signs of illness or discomfort until the illness is advanced, so a sick ferret can rapidly become critically ill.

Ferrets with an intestinal blockage will stop eating and defecating and may cough, choke, or begin vomiting with advanced disease. Any ferret with signs of vomiting or diarrhea that lasts for more than 24 hours should be evaluated by a veterinarian because ferrets can quickly become dehydrated and weak. An occasional soft or irregular stool is not usually a problem. Bloody droppings can occur in both young and old ferrets for different reasons. Whatever the age of your ferret, if you notice bloody or dark, tarry droppings, you should seek veterinary care for your pet right away.

Poor eyesight and insatiable curiosity make ferrets susceptible to falls and other types of trauma, which may result in broken bones or internal injuries. Bent or disjointed limbs, limping, or difficulty coordinating the back legs may indicate a broken bone or other problems. There are many problems in ferrets that can lead to weakness of the back legs; any time this problem is seen, a veterinarian should be consulted.

When to See a Veterinarian

See a veterinarian immediately if you notice:

See a veterinarian within 24 hours if you notice:

Weak pulse or low or quiet heart beat

Continuous sneezing or coughing

Bluish or white gums or tongue

Vomiting or diarrhea for more than 24 hours

Broken bones

Excessive water consumption

Puncture wounds to the abdomen or chest

Sudden change in behavior

Bite marks

Sleeping more than usual and unwilling to play

Heavy bleeding

Cloudy eyes, squinting, or inability to see

Burns, frostbite or a fever above 105°F (40.5°C)

A rash, excessive shedding, excessive head shaking, or persistent chewing or scratching of the body

Choking

A nose bleed for no apparent reason

Protruding rectum

Abnormal lumps that are not painful

Bloody, foul-smelling, or uncontrollable diarrhea

Lack of appetite, but no other signs of illness

Thick, black stools

Soft stools not accompanied by pain, blood, foul smells, or straining

Straining but failing to defecate or urinate

Sudden weight gain or loss

Extreme lethargy

Drooling

Seizures

Lameness for more than 24 hours

Staggering or other problems walking

Swollen joints

Sudden, severe lameness

Moderate itching

Severe or constant pain

Discharge from the eyes, ears, or other body openings

Failure to eat or drink for 24 hours

Difficulty breathing, or shallow breathing

Bloody urine, discomfort while urinating, or bleeding from the urinary or genital area

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