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Ferret With Black Toe

Why would a ferret’s nail and then toe turn black?

By Karen Rosenthal, DVM, MS
Posted: August 1, 2011, 5 a.m. EDT

Q: We have four ferrets, and one has a toe that’s turning black. At first it may have just been the nail turning, but the toe is now black. The two nails on either side of it seem to be much larger than normal. The same ferret whose toe is turning black is currently glossy-eyed and seems to not be doing very well, although the ferret is still taking food and his treats, he seems “off.” Have you encountered this before? What could it be?

A: This is an unusual condition and something that we do not often encounter in ferrets. If the skin on the ferret’s toe is turning black, that can be a sign that there is a disruption of the blood supply to the toe. There are a few reasons that the blood supply can be interrupted.

For a toe, the most common condition is trauma. If the ferret’s nail gets caught on something on the floor or in a piece of fabric or gets hooked and the ferret pulls away or twists, the blood supply may be disrupted leading to first a blackened nail and then the toe. Another type of trauma can occur when a string, a piece of cotton or a piece of fabric also gets twisted around the ferret’s toe leading to a disruption of normal blood flow.

Sometimes a serious bacterial or fungal infection of the ferret’s nail or skin can disturb the blood supply, which causes what you are seeing.

The best way to handle this is to get your ferret to your veterinarian as soon as you can. This disruption of the blood supply does not need to be permanent if you can catch it early in the process. But it is a painful condition that can make your ferret appear sluggish with a poor appetite.

Although it is “just a toe” and this may not seem serious for your ferret, it can be life-threatening if this is an infection or if dead tissue enters the bloodstream. For these reasons and the pain involved, it is important to have your ferret examined by a veterinarian as soon as possible.

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