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Is It A Ferret Medical Emergency?

It’s time for an immediate veterinary visit if your ferret suffers any of these eight medical signs or situations.

By Jerry Murray, DVM
Posted: June 1, 2011, 5 a.m. EDT

Page 2 of 2

ferret
© Courtesy Jerry Murray, DVM
Xylitol poisoning caused this ferret to become jaundiced.

4. Ferrets That Ingest Toxins Or Foreign Bodies
When a ferret ingests a toxic substance, emergency veterinary care is needed immediately. Toxic substances can include poisons like ant baits and rat baits, cigarettes, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, illegal drugs, alcohol, chocolate, liquid potpourri, household cleaners, poisonous plants and the sugar substitute xylitol. The sooner these cases are treated the better the chances for a successful outcome for the ferret.

Likewise if a foreign body is ingested, the ferret needs to go to the veterinarian as soon as possible. Common foreign bodies include foamy things, rubber items, fleece from bedding and hammocks, pencil erasers, and pieces of plastic. Some ferrets that ingest a foreign body whimper from abdominal pain when picked up, especially if an intestinal blockage is present. Most of these items need to be removed by surgery, so prompt veterinary care is needed.

5. A Ferret That Refuses To Eat
If a ferret stops eating or only eats a small amount of its food, then veterinary care is quickly needed. Anorexia can indicate a stomach ulcer, foreign body, hairball, infectious disease, kidney failure, liver failure or cancer. Tarry feces or diarrhea is another gastrointestinal sign that requires same-day veterinary care.

6. Ferrets That Have Trouble Breathing
When a ferret is having breathing difficulties, it is a true emergency. Many things can cause labored breathing, such as cancer (especially lymphoma), heart disease, infectious diseases (influenza, pneumonia, FIP), and trauma. All of these are serious and potentially fatal conditions, so rapid veterinary treatment is imperative.

7. Ferrets With Sudden Color Changes To Skin Or Urine
Occasionally the color of a ferret’s nose, lips and gums will change from a pink color to a pale or white color. This is usually from anemia and can be quite serious. Likewise the color of these mucous membranes can change to a yellow color (jaundice). This usually indicates liver damage.

Another color change to be aware of is the color of a ferret’s urine. Sometimes the color of the urine changes from the normal yellow to a green color. This can indicate red blood cells being broken down from heartworm disease, immune-mediated anemia or a severe bladder infection. All of these color changes can be serious and potentially fatal, so quick veterinary care is needed.

8. Post-Surgical Complications In Ferrets
One last problem that requires urgent veterinary care is complications after a surgery. Any time a ferret has surgery, a small chance exists for problems during the recovery period. Ferrets can chew out their stitches and chew a hole into the abdomen. This is a very rare problem, but if it happens it is an extreme emergency that needs expeditious surgery to repair the damage.

Infections after a surgery are possible, so if a ferret becomes hot to the touch it is time for a quick trip to the veterinarian. On the other hand if the ferret becomes cold to the touch it may be going into shock. Shock requires an emergency visit to a veterinarian.

Luckily ferrets are not prone to as many medical emergencies as cats and dogs, but always take your pet ferret to a ferret-knowledgeable veterinarian when an emergency does arise. It is also a good idea to talk to your ferret’s veterinarian about where to take your ferret for after-hours emergencies. Not all veterinary emergency clinics will see pet ferrets, so you want to know in advance which emergency clinic to use if you have a ferret emergency, especially since most emergencies happen at night, on the weekends and on holidays.

Dr. Jerry Murray practices at the Animal Clinic of Farmers Branch in Dallas. He currently has one senior ferret (Bam-Bam), two young kits (Hans and Frans) and one hyperactive Rottie (Katrina).

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Is It A Ferret Medical Emergency?

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Reader Comments
this is a good article.
Rhyann, Dugald, MB
Posted: 6/7/2011 6:45:45 PM
I think this article should be posted every 6 months to remind people how carful they have to be when owning a ferret and what to look out for, some people think they can just bring the ferret home and let it run and then they wonder why it got hurt or sick. The article should also put reminders on washer/ dryers/ tiolets/ frezers, I have her horror stories on ferrets getting stuck in these and not making it out. It all comes down to the responsible owner.Thank you for reminding us on what to watch out for, very informative article.
lindalee, buffalo, NY
Posted: 6/7/2011 6:32:08 AM
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