Ferrets Mustela putorius furo

Mustela putorius furo
Ferret Relatives
The domestic ferret is a member of
the mustelid, or weasel, family.
Other members of the weasel family
include badgers, ermine, and otters.
The endangered black-footed ferret
is considered more of a cousin than
a direct ancestor to the domestic
Skin and Hair Coat:
Three naturally occurring coat color patterns
Sable is the most commonly observed but albino and
cinnamon are also seen
Sable ferret is also known as “fitch” and has been
reported as a cross b/t the European polecat and
• They typically have black-tipped guard hear, cream
undercoat, black feet and tail, with a black mask
In the US, enthusiasts have developed over 30 color
• Some of these include silver, chocolate, panda, and
• http://www.ferret.org/events/colors/colorchart.html
Has an elongated body that allows for
animal to enter small areas and holes for the
pursuit of prey
• This provides challenges for both owner and vet
staff in caging and handling
Remember: wherever the head goes so
follows the rest of the body
Males are larger than the females and their
weight fluctuations vary according to season,
as does that of dogs, cats and people
Veterbral formula:
C7, T15, L5(6), S3, Cd18
Anatomical considerations of interest
include a small sternum and thoracic
inlet, nonretractable claws and a Jshaped os-penis
Digestive Tract:
Has 30 deciduous teeth and
34 permanent teeth
 Permanent teeth erupt b/t 50
and 74 days
 Dental formula:
2 x (3/3I, 1/1C, 3/3P, 1/2M) = 34
 Have five pairs of salivary
 Care must be taken not to
confuse the mandibular
salivary gland w/ the lymph
nodes in that area
 Stomach is simple and can
expand to accommodate large
amounts of food
 Small intestine is short in
length and has an average
transit time of 3-4 hours
Heart and Lungs:
Heart lies approximately b/t the 6th
and 8th ribs
 Lungs consist of six lobes
 Left lung has two lobes and the right
has four
Varies greatly in size, depending on the
animal’s age and state of health
When enlarged, the spleen extends in a
diagonal fashion from the upper left to the
lower right quadrant of the abdominal cavity
The size of the spleen is a very distinct
finding during P.E.
During estrus, the vulva becomes enlarged
Natural breeding season is from March to
Fertility in both genders is dependent on the
Females are seasonally polyestrous and
induced ovulators
Ovulation occurs 30-40 hours after copulation
• 41-42 days
If fertilization does not occur, pseudopregnancy
often occurs and will last 41-43 days
Reproduction cont.
If these females are
not bred, a large
percentage of these
individuals will remain
in estrus with the
potential for bone
marrow suppression
due to elevated
estrogen levels
Estrus-induced aplastic
Birth condition:
Born blind
Eyes are open at 21-37 days
Can start solid food at 14 days
Wean at 8 weeks
Females are called jills, and males
are hobs.
Baby ferrets are called kits.
In North America, spayed females
are sometimes called sprites and
neutered males called gibs.
A group of ferrets is a "business of
Lifespan 5-8yrs
Females are 13-14 inches long and weigh
anywhere from 0.75 to 2.5 lbs, whereas
males are on average 15-16 inches long
and weigh 2-3.5 lbs if neutered and are
even larger (4 or more lbs) if not neutered.
Most ferrets obtained in North America are
spayed or neutered and descented at a very
young age before being sold.
Sleep 75% of day
 Vocal
 Interactive, playful, entertaining
 Relatively easy to care for
 Thieves
 Independent
 Should not be left alone with small
children or other pets
Legal restrictions
Groups or individual
 Indoor or outdoor
 Recommended caging
Indoor- multi-level, wire or solid, no
 Outdoor- protection, escape proof
Play areas
Slings, shelves, hammocks in cage
 Boxes, bags, plastic tubing
Enclosed sleeping area
Towel, old shirt, commercial product
 One per ferret
Litter box
High sides
 Pellated instead of clumping litter
 Short GI transit time
Ferret proofing your house
Block off holes
 Cover bottom of chairs, couches,
 Restrict access to recliners
 No foam or latex rubber items- cat/dog
toys, athletic shoes, rubber bands,
 Video (Cage-Housing)
Ferrets are strict carnivores and have very
different nutritional requirements than dogs
and cats.
Ferrets need a high protein, high fat diet
that is made from animal proteins.
Protein levels should be between 36% and
37% and come from high biological value
(BV) sources (chicken, chicken byproduct,
egg, or liver for example).
Cat or kitten food is not appropriate
for ferrets!
A raw, chicken based diet is
probably the best choice, but very
few people have the time or
resources to provide their ferrets
this diet.
Totally Ferret® and Natural Gold
from Pretty Bird® are most likely
the best prepared foods currently
Ferrets definitely enjoy treats, but
usually it’s not something they
should be eating.
Don’t give your ferret sugary
treats, fruits (including raisins), or
chocolate. These can lead to
serious health problems.
Vitamins and Supplements
If a ferret is on a quality ferret food there
shouldn’t be a need for any vitamins.
One “supplement” every ferret should get is
Laxatone® (hairball prevention paste). Give
a dime-sized amount every few days,
especially during shedding seasons!
In dry areas skin can become dull and dry.
Offering a small amount of a fatty acid oil
like Ferretone® daily can help with this
Supplements to dry food
Whole prey (Pinkies or juvenile
 Fresh raw organ (liver) or muscle
 Omega-2 oils, fish oils, meat fat
Difficult to change an adult ferrets diet
 Water
 Video (Proper diet)
Instinctive behaviors for play, hunting,
marking, digging, going through
 3 hours exercise/day
 Appropriate toys
 Enclosed area for sleeping
 Video (Toys, playing)
Should follow routine small animal veterinary protocol
 Coughing
 Sneezing
 Vomiting
 Diarrhea
 Discharge:
• Eyes
• Nose
• Any other body orifice
 Diet and appetite
 Drinking water excessively or increased urination or straining
to urinate
 Active/alert
The proper technique for
restraining a ferret. The
scruff of the neck is
held by one hand, and
the other hand
supports the body.
Often this technique
will elicit a “yawn,” at
which time the oral
cavity may be
Normal Body temperature:
• 101-104F
• 200-250 bmp
• 33-36
Medical Considerations
Grooming (video)
 Spay/neuter/remove anal glands
 Ear mites, fleas, heartworms
 Vaccinations- rabies, distemper
 Physical exam/blood work
Annual until 4-5 years
 Biannual
Medical Considerations
Young- foreign body, traumatic
 Old- insulinoma, adrenal gland
disease, lymphoma, dental disease
Dr. Eckermann-Ross
Routine Wellness Procedures
Depending on ferrets age and lifestlye,
you may recommend other procedures
like deworming, ADV (Aleutian Disease
Virus) testing, and routine bloodwork.
It is highly advisable to run bloodwork
on ferrets at least annually. Many
diseases have been detected early by
running bloodwork when the pet was
Blood collection
Page 251
 Jugular vein
 Caudal artery
 Cephalic vein
 10%
 Video
Clin Path Considerations
(A Ferret is Not a Cat nor is it a Dog)
Ferrets normally have high PCV and low WBC.
PCV (43.0%-55.0%)
Persistent lymphocytosis does NOT mean
Hepatic enzymes are usually elevated simply
as a result of inanition in the ferret.
Older ferrets are commonly mildly
hypoproteinemic due to chronic bowel
inflammation due to coronavirus or Helicobacter
Ferrets with adrenal disease rarely have
abnormalities on routine CBC/chemistry.
Surgical Considerations
Use inhalation anesthesia without premeds.
Injectable anesthetics are very
unpredictable in ferrets.
Isoflurane safest with mask or chamber
Heating pad suggested during and after
surgery ferrets get hypothermic very
Should provide fluid therapy for all surgeries
more serious than neutering
Diseases on Ferrets
A ferrets normal life span is from 5 8 years, and beginning at the age of
2-3 they are susceptible to two very
common serious illnesses:
Adrenal Disease,
(both require medical and/or surgical
intervention, which could become
quite costly).
Insulinoma is a very common problem in ferrets. Small
tumors form on the pancreas and cause an
overproduction of insulin in the body. This in turn causes
the blood sugar to drop dangerously low!
Symptoms of insulinoma include: staring into space,
staggering when walking, pawing at the mouth, lethargy,
and possibly seizures.
Action needs to be taken immediately if your ferret
exhibits signs of insulinoma. If you suspect your ferret’s
blood sugar level is low you can rub some Nutrical® or
Karo syrup on their gums. This will provide the body with
some sugar to help lower the insulin level.
Islet cell tumor (Insulinoma)
May be function or nonfunctional
Inappropriate secretion of
insulin resulting in trances,
hindlimb paresis, salivation,
seizures and coma.
Pancreatic islet cell tumor in a ferret
-History and clinical signs
-Blood glucose test
60-80 g/dl - questionable
<60 positive
-Insulin testing generally
not necessary
-Unfortunately, 40% of
ferrets will experience
recurrence within 10
Normal pancreas in a ferret (note gastric and jejuna
Adrenal Disease
Tumors on the adrenal glands occur in
about 75% of domestic ferrets
Symptoms include: hair loss, excessive
itchiness, swollen vulva in females,
prostate problems and sexual aggression
in males, and an inability to keep weight on
The best option is to remove the tumor(s)
with surgery.
Medical treatments include Lupron
injections (a human hormone product) or
Melatonin implants
Adrenal-associated endocrinopathy
Extremely common
Due to hyperestrogenism.
Proliferative lesions
(hyperplasia, adenoma,
carcinoma have identical
clinical signs)
(Photo courtesy of Erik Stauber)
Classic bilateral truncal alopecia in ferret with AAE
Clinical signs
• Bilateral truncal
• Vulvar swelling in
spayed females
• Dysuria in males
• Return to intact sexual
Surgical treatment treatment of choice
Medical treatment
Normal anatomy of adrenal glands in the ferret
Intestinal Blockages
Ferrets tend to eat a lot of things they
shouldn’t and often these objects get
lodged in the stomach or intestines and
must be removed surgically.
Hairball blockages are also common in
ferrets. Prevent these by giving your
ferret some Laxatone a few times a week.
Symptoms of ferrets with blockages
include: pawing at the mouth, vomiting,
diarrhea, and lack of appetite.
Gastrointestinal foreign bodies
Very common in ferrets
High index of suspicions in
ferrets less than 1 year of
age. May be seen in bored,
caged ferrets.
Latex, rubber, cloth, and hair
most popular. Only show up
on X-rays <10 percent of
Donot wait on surgery for
confirmation! Cut on first
NO house is completely ferret-proofed!
Gastrointestinal foreign bodies
Other types of
injuries may
occur from
exploring the
with their
Electrical cord injury
(Note broken canine teeth and wood
oral foreign body )
Electrical cord injury with oronasal fistula
and amputation f tongue
Contagious viruses
in ferrets
Epizootic Catarrhal Enteritis
ECE, or “green slime diarrhea,” is most likely a corona virus
that attacks the lining of the intestines and the stomach
causing diarrhea and dehydration.
ECE is highly contagious and great care should be taken to
keep it from spreading. Adults are most susceptible and
even after recovering ferrets can have bouts of diarrhea
There is no prevention or vaccine for the virus and it is
believed that the virus can be shed for up to 6 months, even
if the ferret appears healthy.
ECE can be deadly if not treated. Symptoms include:
diarrhea that looks like bird seed or is neon green, watery,
contains mucous, or has a foul fishy odor as well as lack of
appetite and dehydration.
Keeping a ferret with ECE hydrated is critical and
aggressive fluid therapy is vital!.
Ferret Coronavirus
Epizootic catarrhal
enteritis (ECE)
High morbidity, low
carriers often pet
store kits.
Older animals more
severely affected
Prolonged shedding
of virus
Clinical signs and history
Clinical pathology not
Jejunal inflammation and atrophy with
malabsorptive feces in ferret with ECE
-Viral infection of villar tips
-Necrosis of cells
-Loss of surface area and
brush border enzymes
-Passive secretory
-Mucus hypersecretion
-Villar atrophy fusion, and
Note the lack of body fat and the
forest green unformed feces
distending the colon
Aleutian Disease
Resurgent disease in ferrets
new strain?
New outbreaks have almost
100% morbidity and
Insidious disease with long
latency period
Innocuous parvovirus
resulting in hyperimmune
Abdominal viscera of a ferret infected with ADV.
Aleutian Disease
Classic Disease
Disseminated vasculitis
Coagulation defects
Death in 2-3 years
Characteristic appearance of glomerulonephritis in ADVinfected ferret
(Photo courtesy of John Gorham
Canine Distemper
-100% fatal in ferrets
-12-45 day progression
-Most commonly seen in
pet store kits or as a facility
-Diagnosis should be made
on clinical signs, followed
by euthanasia of all affected
-Antemortem FA testing
available but not
Moribund and severely affected CDV ferrets
(Photo courtesy of John Gorham)
Clinical signs:
Hyperkeratosis of
Nasal Planum and
Skin rash
Weight loss
Clinical signs
Hyperkeratosis of Nasal
Planum and Footpads
-Skin rash
-Weight loss
Mild footpad hyperkeratosis, ferret
(Photo courtesy of John Gorham)
Clinical signs cont..
-Oculonasal Discharge
-Hyperkeratosis of Nasal
-Planum and Footpads
-Skin rash
Weight loss
Diarrhea and nasal hyperkeratosis in CDV ferret
(Photo courtesy of John Gorham)
-Uncommon disease
-Less than 50 diagnosed
-Ferret susceptible to skunk,
bat, and raccoon strains
-Dumb and furious
-Should be a ruleout for all
neuro cases.
Negri bodies in mink brain
-No treatment
-Quarantine period in most
-Annual IM vaccination for all
ferrets beginning at 15 weeks
Imrab-3 vaccine
Bacteria and more…
Helicobacter mustelae
Ubiquitous disease - all ferrets infected
by 2 wks of age.
Contributes to debility in older ferrets.
10% will show clinical signs during
Gastric damage due to physical
destruction of gastric mucosa coupled
with profound lymphoplasmacytic
Associated with gastric ulcers
Gross lesions usually absent
Helicobacter mustelae
-Chronic atrophic gastritis with
resultant loss of acid production
-Bacteria damage to mucosa via
three mechanisms:
1. Direct cytotoxic effect to mucus
neck cells
2. Inhibitory effect on parietal cell
acid production
3. Non-autoimmune inflammatory
disease (lymphoplasmacytic
Lymphofollicular gastritis in ferret with H. mustelae
(HE, 20X)
Gastric Ulcers
-Common in ferrets
and other mustelids
under stressful
conditions or with
concurrent disease
-May be associated
with Helicobacter
Hemorrhage associated with non-lethal ulceration
Clinical signs
-Often nonspecific
Tarry Stools
-May be found
Tarry stool (contrast with fresh blood)
Gastric Ulcers
Perforating pyloric ulcer
Pinpoint ulcers in pyloric stomach
(Photo courtesy of John Gorham)
(Photo courtesy of John King)
Proliferative colitis
-Sporadic disease of
young male ferrets
(Desulfovibrio) sp.
-Affects colon only in
-Frequent painful
defecation with frank
blood and mucus.
Grossly thickened colon in ferret with Ileobacter
(Photo courtesy of John Gorham
-Clinical signs and history
-Thickened, cobblestoned,
painful colon on
abdominal palpation
-Colonic biopsy
�Cobblestone� appearance to colon in ferret with PC
(Photo courtesy of Lois Roth)
Proliferative colitis
Silver stains reveal
numerous apical
intracellular bacteria.
Ileobacter bacteria within apical colonic epithelium
-Commonly seen,
especially in older
-Stereotypical response
to chronic smoldering
-Less than 5% are
Marked splenomegaly in a ferr
-95% are benign
-Splenectomy is
treatment of choice in
lethargic ferrets
Splenic extramedullary hematopoeisis in enlarged ferret
Common Incidental Findings
Fatty livers
-Common physiologic
-Due to inanition and
mobilization of
peripheral fat stores
(Photo courtesy of Richard Montali)
Fatty Liver in a Ferret
Common Incidental Findings
Renal Cysts - Over 25% of ferrets have benign renal cysts
Fatty liver in a ferre
(Photo courtesy of John Gorham)
More tumors…
Malignant lymphoma (Lymphosarcoma)
Most common
malignancy in ferrets
-1-2 years - Juvenile
(Lymphoblastic) - visceral
-2-7 years - Lymphocytic - lymph
node distribution
2-7 years - Immunoblasticpolymorphous
Lymphocytic lymphoma in an adult ferret
-Clinical signs
-Organ-specific changes in
clinical pathology data
-Biopsy of enlarged lymph
node or organ
-Can not diagnose on CBC
Lymphoblastic lymphoma in a young ferret
Malignant lymphoma (Lymphosarcoma)
-Poor prognosis
except in primary
cutaneous cases
regimes available,
but less than 10%
Renal lymphosarcoma in an adult ferr
Malignant lymphoma (Lymphosarcoma)
Cutaneous variant
-Few reports
-Longest survival times
-May have good prognosis if
completely excised early
-May represent cutaneous
(Photos courtesy of Randy Belair, above and Betty Janner, below)
Sebaceous epithelioma
-Most common skin tumor
-Warty appearance
-May be multiple
-Surgical excision is curative.
Other Neoplastic Goodies
-Axial skeleton
-Usually tip of tail
-Very invasive low
grade malignancy
-Poor prognosis if
other than tail tip.
(Photo courtesy of Jeff English)
Tail tip chordoma in a ferret
Mast cell tumor
-Invariably benign
-May be multiple
-Affected animals often
develop more over
-No systemic
(Photo courtesy of Steve Sanders)
Mast cell tumor
Surgical excision curative, good prognosis!(?)!!!
Other Neoplastic Goodies
Squamous cell
-Mandible a
common site, but
may see anywhere
in skin Poor
prognosis in oral
Mandibular SCC in a ferret
Other Neoplastic Goodies
-Neoplasm of vascular
origin Low grade
malignancy in skin Much
worse prognosis if seen
in viscera.
Hepatic SCC in a ferret
(Photo courtesy of Mike Garner,
Northwest Zoo Path)
Other Neoplastic Goodies
Bone tumors
-Osteomas much
more common
generally flat bones
-Osteosarcomas flat
and long bones
Osteoma in a ferret
(Photo courtesy of John Gorham)
Parasites- Earmites
Earmites are the most
common ectoparasite in
ferrets and are caused by
Otodectes cyanotis . The
same organism is found
in dogs and cats, and the
disease can be passed
between species
Ivermectin 0.5 mg/kg
Topical half dose in each
ear, repeat 2 weeks
Fleas are occasionally seen
in ferrets, especially in
households with multiple pets,
and can be transmitted
between ferrets and other
household pets. Diagnosis is
by visualization, and
treatment is the same as for
Dirofilaria immitis
 Preventive in heartworm endemic
areas use Ivermectin
 Liquid formulation of
100mcg/suspension of Ivomec in
propyline glycol (in amber bottle)
given at dose of 0.1 ml. per pound BW
 Alternative 0.5-1 tablet of ivermectin
for small dogs.
 Ferrets over 6 months of age should
be tested
Fungal Diseases:
Ferrets are susceptible to
Microsporum canis and
Trichophyton mentagrophytes
Transmission is by direct
contact or fomites and is often
associated with overcrowding
and exposure to cats.
Infection is more common in
kits and young ferrets and is
often seasonal and selflimiting.
VIDEO (behavior, medical
Preventive medicine
There are currently two vaccinations for ferrets
– canine distemper and rabies.
Technically, the rabies vaccine is required by
law, but the distemper vaccine is not. It is vital
that ferrets be vaccinated with a ferret vaccine
for canine distemper, not the one they give to
dogs – it could kill them.
Canine distemper vaccines for ferrets should be
of chick embryo or recombinant origin
PureVax Ferret Distemper
Vaccine Reactions
Unfortunately, ferrets have a high
incidence of vaccine reactions.
Ferrets should be vaccinated at ~6
weeks old with booster every 2-3 weeks
until 14-16 weeks (distemper).
Vaccine reactions occur frequently in
ferrets and it is recommended that
vaccinated animals be monitored for 2030 min following vaccination
Profuse vomiting, diarrhea, and a
skyrocketing temperature are the most
common symptoms of vaccine reactions
and they can be fatal!