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Routine Health Care for Ferrets

By

James K. Morrisey

, DVM, DABVP (Avian), Companion Exotic Animal Medicine Service, Department of Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell University

Last full review/revision Jan 2020 | Content last modified Jan 2020
Topic Resources

It may be difficult to find a veterinarian with experience 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 your primary care veterinarian does not provide 24-hour service, locate an after-hours emergency clinic that treats ferrets in case your ferret is injured or becomes ill late at night.

A plastic cat carrier is sufficient for transporting a ferret to the veterinarian’s office.

Vaccination Schedule

Ferrets should be vaccinated annually against 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.

Only 1 rabies vaccine is approved for use in ferrets in the United States. The vaccine should first be given to ferrets when they are at least 16 weeks old and then repeated annually (depending on local laws).

Ask your veterinarian which distemper vaccine is best for your ferret. Vaccines made of mink or ferret tissue culture, which are used in some vaccines for dogs, should not be given to ferrets because they may cause the disease. Ferret kits and adult ferrets with no vaccine history should receive a series of booster vaccines against canine distemper virus. Consult your veterinarian about the vaccination schedule that is appropriate for your ferret.

Ferrets frequently have vaccine reactions that can include vomiting and diarrhea. In some ferrets, vaccine reactions 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. Ferrets should not receive both canine distemper and rabies vaccines on the same day. Reactions can occur up to several hours after vaccination. It is common for ferrets to be mildly lethargic for several days after receiving vaccines.

Dental Care

Ferrets explore their environment in large part through feel, especially by using the mouth and teeth. Ferret teeth are unusually sharp, even when ferrets are young. They will bite as part of play. You should have your ferret’s teeth and gums examined annually by a veterinarian. Dental cleaning to remove plaque and prevent gum disease and tooth loss requires general anesthesia. Thorough examination of a ferret's mouth may also require general anesthesia. Brushing your ferret's teeth and feeding dry ferret food help minimize plaque buildup. Do not use human toothpaste containing fluoride for ferrets; this type of toothpaste is not meant to be swallowed and could be toxic to your pet.

Claw Trimming

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 at an angle that leaves the trimmed claw end parallel to the floor when the ferret is standing. 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.

Proper care of ferrets includes keeping the nails trimmed.

Proper care of ferrets includes keeping the nails trimmed.

Ferrets should not be declawed. Ferrets need their claws to walk and to grasp objects.

Ear Care

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. Do not insert the cotton swab into the ear canal. 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 ear mites. Your veterinarian can confirm the presence of mites and prescribe medication to eliminate them.

Hairballs

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.

For More Information

Also see professional content regarding management of ferrets.

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