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Young Ferret Is Itchy And Losing Weight

What could cause a young ferret to be itchy, lethargic, lose weight and show other signs of illness?

By Karen Rosenthal, DVM, MS
Posted: January 1, 2012, 8 a.m. EST

Q: My ferret, Ash, is 5.5 months old. In the last couple of weeks he's been scratching himself a lot. He is lethargic and looks like he can't even open his eyes. He flops a lot when he's tired. He doesn't come out of his cage anymore. He lost all of his hair around his neck. He has blotches of red on his skin. They are bigger around his back side, about thumb size. His gums are yellow. Six days ago, I took him to the vet. He weighed 2.2 pounds then, but two days later he weighed 2 pounds. Today, he weighed 1 pound 14 ounces. He squeals when he pees, but he is able to pee. He eats very little and doesn't even eat his treats. Should I wait for the suggested 10 days to take him to the vet, or should I take him back sooner? Last time the vet said I should do a glucose test, if I wanted to.

A: It sounds like your young ferret is very sick. Because your ferret is losing weight, his health condition is considered unstable. When a veterinarian gives a suggestion to return in 10 days, it is based on the assumption that your ferret’s health is improving or at least remaining stable compared to the initial visit. But because your ferret is not doing as well as when he was at the veterinarian’s office, it seems prudent to call the vet and discuss the recent changes to see if this warrants a sooner visit to the clinic.

It is difficult to determine what is wrong with your ferret; he is very young to have so many symptoms. The most significant sign that you mentioned was the yellow gums. Yellow-colored gums can indicate liver dysfunction or be due to an overwhelming and devastating destruction of red blood cells. In either situation, if this condition is not treated, there can be fatal consequences. At this next visit, it is likely the vet will recommend a complete blood count, a biochemistry profile and radiographs. One of the first things the vet may ask is if your ferret has been vaccinated properly for canine distemper virus. Although the signs you describe are not exactly typical of distemper virus, distemper infection is one of the few diseases in young ferrets that causes many varied signs of severe illness and leads to death.

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