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Ferret Bumps Into Things And Walks In Circles

Why would a ferret suddenly start bumping into things and walking in circles?

By Karen Rosenthal, DVM, MS
Posted: November 1, 2010, 5 a.m. EDT

Q: I have a ferret about 2 years old that friends gave me a couple of months ago. He has no significant past medical history. He seemed to have normal vision and neurologic status when I got him. For the past month, however, he’s been running into walls and objects more frequently with no obvious signs of cataracts, tearing or eye anomalies. For the past week, every time I let him out of his cage he walks in small clockwise circles. When he does travel a straight line, he doesn’t seem to be weak or ataxic. Both the visual deficits and the circling seem to be getting worse. Any idea what’s going on?
A: Ferrets normally do not have the best vision in the animal kingdom, but they are able to see well enough to recognize owners, other ferrets and objects in their surrounding area. Your ferret definitely sounds like he has either neurologic deficits or trouble seeing. Another possibility is that neurologic deficits are the cause of either poor vision or the absence of vision.

In the past, we would do examinations in ferrets for a disease called progressive retinal atrophy or PRA. This disease is rarely noted anymore in pet ferrets. With this disease, sight is progressively lost due to retinal degeneration. PRA does not cause any changes to the areas of the eye that you can easily see, such as the cornea and lens. The only way to make this diagnosis is by a veterinary ophthalmologist utilizing specialized equipment.

I suggest that you take your ferret to its veterinarian. He or she can do an ocular examination but might need the expertise of a veterinary ophthalmologist. And your veterinarian can do an excellent neurologic examination and determine if there are neurologic components to your ferret’s problems. But your veterinarian might also recommend a visit to a veterinary neurologist if the problems seem complicated and if there is a need for specialized neurologic diagnostic equipment.

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Reader Comments
It could be possible that your ferret is having or recently had a seizure, and is temporarily paralyzed. This could be due to a disease called Insulinoma, which in more of less words, is like diabetes in ferrets. It is a very common disease in older ferrets, and is treatable in two ways. Medicine (prednizone) can help control the disease and can make seizures less common, and another option is surgery which can be very costly and sometimes not 100% that the Insulinoma will not return.
Nick, Longmeadow, MA
Posted: 9/8/2011 2:35:51 PM
Hi, my ferret daisy who is blind and has cancer started doing it a lot and we went to vet. He said she has a lesion on the brain from bumping something too hard. So you may want to keep that in mind or ask your vet about that.
Kayla, Arlington, TX
Posted: 2/9/2011 7:04:19 AM
Hiya!! My Caoli also has this issue with walking in an immediate circle. It's as if he has to turn around 4-6x before he can make a decision on which way he wants to go. He does it before every directional change. My vet has no idea what is causing this strange behavior. I am happy to hear it's not only my Caoli that is doing it but I'm rather nervous that it may be a strain of something or an environmental trigger. Thanks for posting this article!! Lots of luck! xoxo
Kody, Trenton, NJ
Posted: 11/10/2010 1:25:28 PM
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