What Diseases Do Ferrets Get – How To Prevent It

Ferrets can be amazing and entertaining companions! As any pet, ferrets can suffer from various diseases. It’s important to stay informed about what diseases do ferrets get aswell as recognising different symptoms and how to prevent your ferret from getting sick or nurse them back to health.

What Diseases Ferrets Get

  • Ferret Distemper
  • Adrenal Gland Disease
  • Lymphoma
  • Dilated Cardiomyopathy
  • Insulinoma
  • Gastrointestinal Obstruction
  • Aplastic Anemia
  • Ferret Dental Disease
  • Hair Loss
  • Campylobacteriosis
  • Giardiasis
  • Influenz
  • Rabies
  • Ringworm
  • Salmonellosis
  • Fleas, ticks, mange, ear mites
  • Tumors or Cancer

Ferret Distemper

Usually, you wouldn’t have to worry about this disease as ferrets will receive their distemper vaccine at an early age at the breeding place. Nevertheless, it should still be taken seriously.

It’s your responsibiliy to make sure your pet has received the vaccine and to book booster vaccines. Distemper disease is fatal and is also contagious.

If you are getting your ferret from a breeder, you need to ask if they have received the appropriate vaccinations. Nowadays, the disease is rarer because vaccinations are mandatory. Nevertheless, your ferret can still be at risk.

Ferret Distemper Cause

Ferrets can contact the disease by having contact with body fluids from an infected animal.

Ferret Distemper Symptoms

  • Watery eyes
  • Inflammation
  • Crusty food pads and parts of their face
  • Conjunctivitis/ yellow or green discharge from the eyes
  • High fever
  • Thickening of the skin on the chin, lips and anal areas

Ferret Distemper Treatment and Management

Unfortunately, there is no treatment but you can offer supportive care to your ferret. Death would normally occur in the first four weeks after being into contact with the virus.

You can prevent this by taking your ferret to the vet and getting them vaccinated. Although, the vaccine is officaly for dogs and is off licence but has been used safely on ferrets for years. Outdoor ferrets need to be vaccinated annually and indoors ferrets – every 2 years.
Continue reading about this disease here Ferret Distemper

Ferret Adrenal Gland Disease

One of the most common diseases amongst ferrets is Adrenal Gland Disease. The main job of the adrenal gland is to produce sex hormones. Unfortunately, there is no cure for this disease.

Ferret Adrenal Gland Disease Causes

Pet owners usually castrate/spay their ferrets to avoid reproduction. As a result, this sometimes leads to developing adrenal gland disease.

Despite of the ferret’s sex organs being removed at a young age, the adrenal gland will keep on producing more hormones. In short, this can lead to the glands becoming enlarged and cancerous.

More causes include:

  • Poor diet
  • Lack of exposure to UVB

Ferret Adrenal Gland Disease Symptoms

  • Hair loss
  • Enlargement of female sex organs
  • Inability to urinate in male ferrets caused by inflammation
  • Itchiness
  • Aggression

Ferret Adrenal Gland Disease Treatment and Management

There is no cure for the disease. On the other hand, the symptoms can be managed through the use of injections or an implant. As a result, the hormone production will be controlled throughout the ferret’s life. Read more about this disease here Ferret Adrenal Gland Disease

Ferret Lymphoma

Unfortunately, if your ferret has Lymphoma, the disease is fatal and there is no prevention. Lymphoma is a type of cancer that affects the lymph nodes. Such as other animals and humans, ferrets have lymph nodes in different areas of their body.

Some of these areas are – armpits, neck. Additionally, the enlarged lymph nodes can usually be seen on the back of their legs.

Lymphoma is difficult to diagnose as there are similarities aswell as variations of how it appears in dogs and cats. Some of those include:

  • The lymph nodes can appear enlarged for other reasons such as a mild infection
  • The enlarged cancerous lymph node might not be visible until surgery is performed.

Table 1 is a proposed staging system based on the World Health Organization (WHO) staging system.

Table 1. Proposed Staging System for Lymphoma in Ferrets
Stage IInvolvement of a single lymph node or single organ
Stage IIMultiple lymph nodes or sites on the same side of the diaphragm
Stage IIIGeneralized lymph node involvement on both sides of the diaphragm
Stage IVAny of the above stages with liver or spleen involvement
Stage VAny of the above with blood or bone marrow involvement

Ferret Lymphoma Cause

Most times the cause is unknown. Your ferret can be predisposed to it genetically.

A possible cause of lymphoma is the helicobacter infection that ferrets usually contract when they reach 3 years of age. This infection causes inflammation that sets up the GI tract into developing lymphoma.

Ferret Lymphoma Symptoms

  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Anemia/Lethargy/Weakness
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty breathing

Ferret Lymphoma Treatment and Management:

Lymphoma is fatal. Management of symptoms such as nausea, diarrhea, etc can be done through the use of steroids. Another available option, to give your ferret more time, is chemotherapy treatment.

Ferret Heart Disease
Dilated Cardiomyopathy

Dilated Cardiomyopathy is a heart failure disease that can occur in ferrets. It is not as common as other diseases but it can still be a concern. Diagnosis of the disease can be difficult unless your vet detects irregularity in your ferret’s heart.

Dilated Cardiomyopathy Cause

A possible cause can be the absence of Taurine from your ferret’s diet. This ingredient can be found in the food they get in the wild.

There is no concrete evidence that this causes the disease but keeping your ferret on high-quality diet is vital (check out this article about the food recommendations for your pet ferret)

Dilated Cardiomyopathy Symptoms

  • Weakness
  • Lethargy
  • Coughing
  • Fast breathing

Dilated Cardiomyopathy Treatment and Management

There is no cure. To manage the symptoms, medications can be used to slow down the heart palpitations and to help the heart to pump blood.

Ferret Insulinoma

Insulinoma in ferrets is when their blood sugar to drop unlike diabetes when it spikes. The cells of the pancreas produce tumours that create more insulin than the body requires. Subsequently, the blood sugar level decreases and makes your ferret lethargic.

If the blood sugar drops too low it can cause seizures and even coma/death in some cases. To diagnose this disease, a blood sugar test at the vet’s usually can detect the tumours.

Ferret Insulinoma Cause

Such as diabetes, your ferret’s diet will have a big influence in developing this disease.

Ferret Insulinoma Symptoms

  • Lethargy
  • Weakness
  • Weight loss
  • Tremors
  • confusion

Ferret Insulinoma Treatment and Management

Usually, your vet will prescribe steroids. In some cases, surgery can be suggested to remove the pancreas partially. This would then regulate their sugar levels and can eliminate the need for steroids.

Therefore, to manage this disease, it’s important to have your ferret on the appropriate diet and to avoid spikes in the blood sugar.

Ferret Gastrointestinal Obstruction

When your ferret ingests a foreign object, it will lead to gastrointestinal obstructions. Preventing this is not easy as ferrets are by nature curious and will try to steal objects.

Ferret Gastrointestinal Obstruction Prevention

Firstly, you need to safe proof your house and to never leave them unsupervised. Secondly, you must keep an eye on anything missing from your house and small things such as remote buttons chewed off, missing key chains or fridge magnets, and more.

Hairballs can also cause a blockage. It won’t appear on a radiograph but appear with the same symptoms. Hair won’t digest in their stomach, so what happens is it builds up and then leads to a blockage that won’t allow food to go through.

Ferret Gastrointestinal Obstruction Cause

Ferrets’ personality is adventurous and curious. They can cause damage to themselves by ingesting objects from around the house or elsewhere. They especially like rubbery items to chew which can lead to ingestion. These objects once swallowed can obstruct or block the gastrointestinal tract and if they aren’t extracted, it can be fatal.

Ferret Gastrointestinal Obstruction Diagnosis

At first you might not know if your ferret has ingested something that’s blocking their intestines until you start seeing the symptoms showing.

Your vet can do an x-ray to detect if there is a foreign object and then decide if surgery or endoscopic retrieval is required.

Ferret Gastrointestinal Obstruction Symptoms

  • Not able to keep food down
  • Weight loss
  • Lethary
  • Painful abdomen

Ferret Gastrointestinal Obstruction Treatment and Management

Surgical removal

Anemia In Ferrets

Female ferrets are usually spayed for a few reasons. One is to prevent reproduction; second reason is to minimise bad smells from the anus glands and the third reason is to prevent aplastic anemia. Aplastic anemia can be one of the most deteriorating diseases in ferrets as it diminises their playful spirit.

Ferret Aplastic Anemia Cause

When female ferrets go into heat, they must mate in order to stop producing the estrogenic hormone and suppressing bone marrow. Subsequently, the blood produced in the bone marrow lowers or stops. As a result, the ferret will start presenting anaemic symptoms.

Ferret Aplastic Anemia Symptoms

  • Lethargy
  • Weakness
  • Pale gums

Ferret Aplastic Anemia Treatment and Management

Your vet can treat this disease and you can prevent it by spaying your ferret after 3 months of age.

Ferret Dental Disease

One of the diseases that ferrets can develop is dental disease. This is as a result of their teeth not cared for properly. Nonetheless, you don’t have to brush your ferret’s teeth as there are foods/treats specifically designed to keep your pet’s teeth healthy.

Ferret Dental Disease Cause

Ferrets are used to hunting and tearing their food in their natural environment. Therefore, when their owners would only feed them pet kibbles, this can lead to dental disease.

Ferret Dental Disease Symptoms

  • Teeth causing pain
  • Bad breath
  • Your ferret licking their lips or pawing at their face.

Ferret Dental Disease Treatment and Management

If your ferret ends up having bad, infected teeth, as a result your vet can extarct them.
In order to prevent this from happening, you must:

  • Ensure your ferret has a good diet
  • Appropriate chew toys
  • Brush your ferret’s teeth

Alopecia In Ferrets

Hair loss or Alopecia is very common in ferrets. The disease presents as complete or partial loss of hair in different parts of the body.

As alopecia is quite common in ferrets, it can usually be treated. With this in mind, most prone to this disease are ferrets that are spayed/castrated or ferrets that are between 3 and 7 years of age.

Alopecia Symptoms

  •  Unusual hair loss

Symptoms can progress slowly or rapidly and distribution of the bald patches and the level of hair loss can determine if the disease has occurred on its own or it’s a result of a different underlying condition.

Alopecia Types

Alopecia resulting from metabolic issues will appear as large areas of hair loss. If the bold areas are patchy, it usually means it’s a result from bacterial or parasite infections.

Alopecia Causes

Adrenal gland disease can cause alopecia. Other causes can include:

  • Immune disorders
  • Allergic reactions
  • Bacterial infections
  • Fleas/mites infestations
  • Diet insufficient of protein or fat

Alopecia Diagnosis

If you suspect that your ferret is suffering from alopecia, you must take it to the vet for a correct diagnosis. In addition, your vet will investigate other poossible causes such as skin cancer or hormone disbalance.

Lastly, to confirm the diagnosis the tests that your vet will administer include blood and chemistry analysis to test for anemia, infection or hormone imbalances.

Alopecia Treatment and Management

Treatment is based on the type of alopecia or hair loss. In the case of tumours, they are surgically removed, the same suit is followed with adrenal glands. Whereas, parasites are treated with topical creams.

You need to get advice from your vet on what’s the best treatment for your ferret’s case. Secondly, make sure you monitor if your ferret is improving from the chosen medicine.

In order to prevent this disease, you need to ensure that your ferret:

  • Has a well-balanced and high-quality diet with enough proteins and fats
  • Their environment is safe and clean
  • Your ferret should have all the necessary vaccinations
  • Have regular visits to the vet to monitor their health

Worms In Ferrets

One of the diseases in ferrets that is a health concern, is worms. If your ferret goes outside or lives with other pets, you should be taking extra care. Apart from this, most parasites in ferrets are preventable and treatable.

Another disease that ferrets can contract is Ringworm. This is a fungal infection that can be transmitted to people.

Roundworms are uncommon in the ferret but the ferret can serve as an intermediate host.
All new ferrets or those in contact with other pets should receive a routine fecal exam to test for parasites.

Ferrets can also get infected by heartworms. Heartworms in ferrets are spread by mosquito bites. The mosquito must bite an infected dog and then bite the ferret. This worm can’t be spread from ferret to dogs or other animals.

Symptoms Of Worms In Ferrets

  • Dry and frail fur
  • Bloating around the middle of the belly
  • Weakness or lethargy
  • Itchy anus
  • Diarrhoea
  • Mucous or blood in poop
  • Increased appetite and weight loss simultaneously
  • Stomach aches. Belly sensitive to touch

Read more about worms and diseases in ferrets here Worms In Ferret Poop – What It Can Be And What To Do?

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