Posted: April 2, 2011, 9:30 p.m. EDT
The fewer white markings a ferret has, the less its chance of being deaf due to genetics.
Several years ago I bought my husband two kits (baby ferrets). It was the first time in years we had ferrets in our lives again. My family was so excited. But while my husband, Scott, was at work and my boys were at school, I found myself getting more and more frustrated with the new additions, Ping and Pong. They had a few habits I had never experienced with ferrets before. What’s more, they wouldn’t listen to me at all.
This is how my day went. “No, Ping ... stop. Stop! Nooo! What is wrong with him? Hey, Pong. Pong. Hey boy, come here. Ponnnnnng!”
If they were getting into something, I had to physically stop them every time. If I wanted to play with them or pet them, I had to go retrieve them — every time. I thought they were the most stubborn kits on God’s green earth, and I must have completely lost my touch with how to train and relate to ferrets.
Scott saw nothing different about them at first. These two kits were his pride and joy. I soon found myself not just screaming at them to get their attention, but going to extremes such as coming up and clapping behind them. Then it finally sunk in.
There was no reaction whatsoever from either one of them. Could they be deaf? I never heard of ferrets being deaf. And what were the odds of me getting two at the same time? Surely it’s not possible. I systematically came up with every home-hearing test I could muster. There was no reaction from either of them.
I turned to the Internet, visiting various online ferret chats and message boards to ask if ferrets could be deaf. It was hard to find people who knew anything about it, but then the responses began to trickle in.
They suggested a few more tests for me to try. Still there was no reaction from Ping and Pong. I thought about my husband coming through the door after work looking for his “perfect” babies, lit up with joy. I thought about breaking the news to him. It would be hard.
He reacted as I had at first — clapping and yelling, and then squeaking toys trying to get them to react. This went on for days. It finally sunk in with him, too. His adoration turned to concern. Unlike me, however, he got over it quickly and was joyful once again. “So what?” he said. I was still in a stage of sadness.
People go through various emotions upon learning that their pet is deaf. “For a couple of days I was devastated!” said ferret owner Greta Hoisington. “Then I theorized that Nada had always been deaf and was very happy, and if Nada didn’t mind, then why should I? She is my cuddle girl. Deaf or hearing, I love her with all my heart.”
I followed my husband’s lead in moving on, except I didn’t say, “So what,” I asked, “What can I do?” To my dismay, there was nothing online about deaf ferrets except some comments on message boards. Back then, I was in the dark and on my own.
Today, much of the ferret community is aware of deaf ferrets and some of their issues. Most shelters and breeders can supply information to ferret owners about testing, specific training and special care of these animals. In addition, vets who specialize in ferret care are becoming more aware of deaf ferrets and offer support.
Needs Of Deaf Ferrets
What if you find out your ferret is deaf? What next? Most ferrets are usually born deaf, so your pet probably doesn’t realize it lacks this sense. Your ferret is happy, normal and a great pet. After you realize this, it can be fun to move on to modifications in care to help you and your deaf ferret communicate and bond better.
1) Deaf ferrets may startle easily. So learn, through habit, always to warn your ferret that you are approaching it by doing things such as stomping your foot before you come up to it. Before waking it up or coming up behind it, use tactile signals, such as touching its hammock, blowing on its fur or tapping its cage.
“You can train a deaf ferret as well as any other,” said Caitlyn Martin, a deaf ferret owner in North Carolina. “Everything has to be tactile or visual to communicate, though. If we rap on the floor and get Pertwee’s attention, he’ll happily respond to a wave to come on over.”
2) Use exaggerated facial expressions as well. Deaf ferrets need to learn when you are mad, sad, happy or pleased.
3) It can be fun to challenge your ferret’s other senses. Some ferrets enjoy being put up to their owner’s chest and throat while he or she talks or sings. They may love the vibration and physical action. Fill your ferret up with tactile sensations, aromas, visual stimuli, tasty treats, etc. Challenge your own creativity.
4) All ferrets need stimulation because they are very intelligent. They bore easily. Humans are their best toys. “Once we realized that our ferret, Beethoven, was totally deaf, we decided to make the greatest play room we could for him,” said Jack and Joanie Smith of Michigan. “We filled our enclosed front porch with a virtual city of every shape and size cardboard box we could find.”
The Smiths filled this “city” with toys, boxes filled with rice for digging, shredded paper, clothing and an elaborate tunnel system made from 4-inch diameter black plastic sewer pipes.
“Out of all the items,” Smith said, “he chose for his favorite a tiny rag doll that I bought at the dollar store, for —you guessed it — one dollar!” Beethoven keeps this favorite toy, named Dolly, in his favorite box. He preens, nuzzles and fusses over it daily.
But this huge play area and abundance of toys isn’t enough for Beethoven. “He hates to play alone,” Smith said, “getting instantly bored if ‘Mom’ or ‘Dad’ human is not there to join in and to watch his antics.”