Ferrets are very intelligent creatures and make great pets for the right family. With a lifespan of about six to nine years, a ferret can provide quite a bit of companionship and fun. A healthy ferret enjoys play time and is a fast learner. However, there are a few health concerns to look out for, and regular veterinary care is a must in order to detect disease in its early stages.
“In general, ferrets under the age of two are sturdy,” said Joe Martins, DVM, Belle Mead Animal Hospital. “However, they can catch the flu from a person, for instance. Therefore, if someone in the household is sick with the flu, make sure they do not handle the ferret and let others take over the routine care and feeding.”
There are also two other common health considerations that a high percentage of ferrets experience once they reach about four years old: insulinomas and adrenal tumors.
Seventy percent of ferrets over the age of four at some point will probably develop an insulinoma. This is a tumor the size and shape of a sesame seed that develops genetically in their pancreas which secretes insulin. The symptoms are very subtle at first because ferrets sleep long hours. The most common symptoms presenting as an emergency are seizures, unresponsiveness and/or coma. Other symptoms include pawing the mouth, rear leg weakness, especially on slippery surfaces, or simply stumbling on its rear.
“Sometimes just playing less because they are tired is a symptom,” said Dr. Martins. “It’s important to be aware of what is normal activity for your ferret so you can easily spot abnormal behavior and call your veterinarian to report the changes.”
Once your ferret reaches two years of age, it’s recommended to have a fasting blood glucose test done. Your veterinarian can use the test results as a baseline. If the test is repeated at least every 12 months, there’s a better chance your veterinarian can catch the disease before any symptoms even begin to appear.
Another common problem ferrets develop is an adrenal tumor. The symptoms are hair loss starting over their tail. If you notice some hair loss, it is best to contact your veterinarian for advice. Even though ferrets do go through two shedding cycles, it’s important for a veterinarian to determine the difference. If they are losing fur to the point of baldness, they probably have developed a tumor. Other symptoms include rear leg weakness and extreme itching that just won’t stop and gets progressively worse. Some ferrets might develop an insulinoma and adrenal tumor at the same time.
“You would be surprised how many ferrets are experiencing health problems without the owner’s knowledge,” said Dr. Martins. “For that reason, ferrets should go to a veterinarian specializing in exotic companion mammal care once a year for an exam.”
Read more here from the National Pet Health Examiner