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Ferret Makes Congested Noises

Why would an older ferret suddenly begin making a congested noise?

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

Q: I have a male ferret about 7 or 8 years old that we adopted from the humane society about two years ago. About six weeks ago his body became warmer, then normal. He lost hair on his tail upwards on his back side. I started him on liquid melatonin, 1mg. Three days ago, at night, he started making an unusual noise, maybe like a hair was in his throat. I’ve never heard our past ferrets make this noise. He would stop and start. His heart started to beat more rapidly, so I held him most of the night thinking he was departing. I thought his lungs were filling up or his heart was enlarged. His noise sounded congested. He was not lethargic. He ate baby food. The next morning I made a vet appointment for when I got out of work. I had my husband have him ready so I just ran in the house and picked up the carrying case. By the time the vet saw him, his breathing was better.

It was our first time going to this vet, our previous vet retired. The vet said he looks OK and put him on amoxicillin and said to wait a few days to see how he did. She listened to his heart and said it's not his time.

Yesterday he only had one time he made the noise but heart not beating fast. When we let him out of the cage he did not play with the other ferrets, just went to sleep. Any idea what it could be? The vet said X-rays would be the next step.

A: It sounds like you have done all of the right things for your ferret. It also appears that your veterinarian is taking the correct steps to help your ferret.

Because your ferret is up there in years, we worry about older ferret diseases. The most common disease that could cause what you are seeing is heart disease. Your veterinarian, just by listening to the heart, can rule out many heart-related conditions. Her response was to put your ferret on an antibiotic, amoxicillin. This suggests that she is more worried about an infection than heart disease.

As ferrets, (or any animal) age, a common concern is that the immune system is not as competent as it was when the animal was younger. Therefore, infections may be more common. Your veterinarian may be worried about a respiratory infection causing the sounds you are hearing. That makes a lot of sense based on what you described and your veterinarian’s findings.

Because it may take a few days for the antibiotic to work, it may be that long before the noises your ferret is making go away. Your veterinarian’s suggestion of getting radiographs (X-rays) if the noise persists is an excellent one. This way, she can get a better idea of what could be causing the problem if your ferret does not respond to the antibiotic.

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