L. Vanessa Gruden
Posted: December 18, 2014, 1:05 a.m. EST
© Courtesy of L. Vanessa Gruden
Playing on a rug gives an older or ill ferret traction.
Q: I have two ferrets and a kitten. The kitten, Sweetie, and my ferret Sadie, who just turned 1, get along great — playing, chasing, teasing, etc. A month ago I got my male ferret, Cosmo. We aren't quite sure how old he is because he was rescued from a bad situation. The pet storeowners were told he is about 5 years old and when they got him you could see his spine and rib cage. He had been shaved and had no hair on his tail. I saw him the day after the pet storeowners got him, and I just knew I needed to bring him home with me. I was going out of town, so they kept him for two weeks until I came back. When I finally brought him home he gained a lot of weight. His fur has grown back but he still seems weak in the hind legs. We have slowly introduced the animals to each other, but Cosmo seems to be very aggressive at times toward Sweetie and Sadie — making both of them screech and cry. Cosmo finds ways to trap them and attack them — but not all the time, just sometimes. Most of the time now they all seem to get along playing or just doing their own thing. Then yesterday, Cosmo got very aggressive with the cat again. We separated them and later on that evening they were let out together again. Everything was fine, no aggression toward anyone at all. Is this behavior because of his age trying to show his dominance or is there something else that could be wrong? Will the strength in his muscles and legs come back the more active he gets?
A: Anytime a ferret is ill or gets older, you may see weakness in his back legs. In my experience, that’s where they lose strength first. You don’t know Cosmo’s past and can’t be sure what happened to him. Because he ended up emaciated in a pet store, it doesn’t sound like he was getting great care. He could have been fed poor-quality food that lacked appropriate nutrition. He could have been caged too long, thus not allowing him to get enough exercise. Putting on weight quickly will worsen back leg troubles short-term — he’s putting more mass on weakened body parts.
Start building his muscle tone slowly. Encourage him to play on a rug, chasing a string and ball. Do you have carpeted stairs? Let him climb them or the sofa. If possible, purchase a carpeted cat condo; climbing the sides of a condo is a great workout. Given Cosmo’s age, he could have osteoarthritis. Talk to your veterinarian about helpful supplements.
It’s really difficult for a ferret who has been alone most of his life to acclimate to other ferrets. Separated from siblings at 6 to 8 weeks, they just don’t recognize their own kind anymore.
Again, given his age, he could be partially blind or have cataracts. Ask your vet to check that, also. A startled blind ferret can be aggressive because he doesn’t know what is in front of him until he smells it.
It’s great that Cosmo tolerates the kitten and other ferret on most occasions. That should improve over time. I’ve seen ferrets that would attack any other slowly integrate … a cold night and the recognition that that hated furry thing is warm will turn around the most stubborn little weasel! The youngsters can get away from him so don’t worry too much about them. You’re giving this little guy a wonderful "FurEver" home, and I know he really appreciates it!
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