It may be difficult to find a veterinarian with experience in treating ferrets. Check with ferret clubs, local telephone directories, and online sources such as your state veterinary medical association for a recommendation. Do this before buying a ferret, or if you move, before an illness occurs. A yearly examination and vaccinations are recommended for pet ferrets; this is an excellent opportunity to establish a relationship with a veterinarian. Make sure the veterinarian is knowledgeable about ferrets and is located nearby. If possible, choose one who has after-hours emergency services, in case your ferret is injured or becomes ill late at night. Alternatively, know where he or she refers after-hours emergencies.
A plastic cat carrier is sufficient for transporting a ferret to the veterinarian's office.
Ferrets should be vaccinated annually for rabies and canine distemper. Reported cases of rabies in ferrets are rare, although like other mammals, ferrets are susceptible to the virus. Canine distemper is another viral disease that is fatal for ferrets.
For rabies, there is only 1 approved vaccine for use in the United States. The vaccine should first be given to ferrets when they are more than 16 weeks old and then repeated annually. For canine distemper, there are 2 approved vaccines. Be aware that vaccines made of mink or ferret tissue should not be used, as they may cause the disease. The vaccine is given at about 8, 10, and 12 weeks of age and then yearly.
Ferrets frequently have reactions to vaccines, which can include vomiting and diarrhea. In some ferrets, vaccines can cause shock and death. Owners of ferrets should remain in the veterinarian's office with their animal for 20 to 30 minutes after vaccination to watch for these signs. It is also recommended that ferrets not receive shots for both canine distemper and rabies on the same day to avoid possible reactions. Reactions can occur up to several hours after receiving a shot; however it is common for ferrets to be mildly lethargic for several days afterwards.
Ferrets explore their environment in large part through feel, especially using the mouth and teeth. Ferret teeth are unusually sharp, even when they are young. They will bite as part of play. You should have your ferret's teeth cleaned annually by a veterinarian to remove plaque and prevent gum disease and tooth loss. After administering general anesthesia, the veterinarian will use a steel scraper to remove buildup. He or she will also check for cracked or broken teeth. Teeth cleaning may be scheduled as part of a ferret's annual checkup. A diet of dry ferret food helps minimize plaque buildup.
Ferret claws are extremely sharp and should be trimmed every 1 to 2 weeks. Claws that are not regularly trimmed may become painfully long and more difficult to trim. There also is some risk that the ferret will injure itself or pull out the claw. Long claws may become more easily caught in carpet, towels, toys, and other items. A nail clipper made for humans may be used for trimming. The claws should be trimmed such that the end is parallel to the floor. Be careful not to cut the dark vein visible in each claw. You will hit the nerve as well as cause bleeding. Should you accidentally cut the vein, immediately apply styptic powder to stop the bleeding.
Ferrets should not be declawed. Claws are needed to walk and to grasp objects.
Ears should be cleaned once a month to remove the reddish wax buildup common in ferrets. Place drops of a commercial ear cleaning solution into the ear, then rub the ear to work it in. Ferrets will then shake or fling out the wax. Use a cotton swab to remove any remaining wax on the outer portion of the ear only. Work carefully and gently as the ear canal is very delicate.
Check for ear mites weekly. If wax is gray or granular, or the ear has an unpleasant odor, it is likely your ferret has mites. Your veterinarian can confirm the presence of mites and prescribe medication to eliminate them (see Ferrets: Parasites).
Ferrets are proficient self-groomers, requiring little human help. Because they shed each year in the spring and fall, hairballs may develop. Hairballs can cause vomiting, decreased appetite, or intestinal blockage. Use a soft brush to comb the fur. Loose hair can be controlled by changing bedding once a week. If your ferret is shedding a lot, you can treat it weekly with a malt-based cat or ferret laxative. However, many of these contain large amounts of sugar. Your veterinarian can recommend appropriate brands.
Last full review/revision July 2011 by James K. Morrisey, DVM, DABVP (Avian)