home : 2. ferret care : general health
general health care
don't they smell?
grooming, nails, ears and teeth
General Health Care
Ferrets that are kept in well maintained, clean conditions are less likely to get sick.
Regardless of good living conditions ferrets must be vaccinated against canine distemper disease, with their first vaccination given between 8 and 12 weeks of age, then yearly vaccinations after that.
Many people think that vaccinations are not necessary because their ferret never goes outside. Keep in mind though, most ferrets get out at least once in their lifetime; and because distemper is an airborne virus and can be carried by wild and domestic animals, you can carry the virus inside to your ferret.
Regular preventatives against fleas, ear mites, sarcoptic mange (which causes "foot rot") and heartworm (which is fatal in ferrets) should also be used. We provide ferret-sized doses of Revolution to members at an affordable price. Please see our "revolution" page under "services" for further information.
Products such as Advantage can also be used on ferrets, but these generally only protect against one or two specific parasites (such as fleas). Ask your vet for dosage information.
Ferrets are extremely susceptible to heatstroke, and cannot handle temperatures above the high 20's. They cannot pant or sweat, giving them no way to release heat. Ferrets can die from heatstroke!
Prevention is better than cure. You can help avoid your ferret geting heatstroke by:
Ferrets with heatstroke become limp and lathargic, and may refuse water or food.
If you think your ferret has heatstroke, remove them from the source of the heat immediately. Once that is done, you need to lower their body temperature gradually. If it is lowered too suddenly, they may go into shock. Try rubbing cool water on the pads of their paws (not freezing cold). Never dip them into very cold water, as this may cause shock.
Your vet should be consulted as soon as possible, to ensure no long term damage has been done.
The importance of de-sexing?
To keep a pet ferret successfully, de-sexing is imperative. Desexing a male will greatly reduce his odor and aggressiveness, but more importantly if left un-spayed a female ferret will die of aplastic anemia or septicemia due to the prolonged periods that they remain in heat.
The only other ways to prevent this is to mate her every time she comes in season, (that can be twice in one season), which is a great strain on both her and you, or a hormone injection every time, which can become costly.
In both males and females one thing is common when de-sexed: they both get along a lot better, seem more content and do not attempt to escape (quite so much).
De-sexing is also referred to as neutering, castration or sterilisation.
It is never a question of if, but rather when you will need to de-sex.
Don't they smell?
A ferrets natural body odor is "musky" but not unpleasant, the only time their smell can become over-powering is when an un-neutered male comes into season (from about 6 months of age). De-sexing will prevent this and reduce even their natural odor considerably. In extreme cases (when threatened or injured) ferrets do have the ability to release a strong offensive smell in self defense. This smell comes from a scent gland, but it is rare and usually a last resort. This smell should dissipate quickly.
For many years now in the US and UK ferrets have been undergoing the surgical procedure of having their anal scent glands removed and many books still refer to the surgical practice known as de-scenting.
This is mostly due to the fact that there was a general misconception that the anal scent glands are responsible for a ferret's body odour. This is not true! Better education and more un-descented ferrets are proving by experience that de-sexing is all that is needed to reduce a ferret's body odour. Changing litter and bedding regularly also reduce odour.
Most ferret welfare societies and clubs classify de-scenting as cosmetic surgery and a large number of vets will now only perform the surgery for medical reasons, such as infected glands which have not responded to antibiotics. Ferrets will generally only use the glands when scared or threatened, so de-scenting only removes the ferret's greatest defense against larger predators, and removes a form of communication from the ferret.
We do not support de-scenting unless there is a medical reason to do so. It is an unnecessary surgical procedure.
Can I wash them?
Bathing is generally not necessary, unless your ferret gets into something very dirty or smelly. Ensuring your ferret is de-sexed, and changing litter/newspaper once or twice daily, and bedding once or twice weekly are much more effective ways to reduce odour.
Bathing too frequently can make your ferret smell more, as the ferret then produces more oils - and can sometimes overcompensate - to replace the oils lost during bathtime.
However, if your ferret decides that it likes rolling in mud, a bath might be necessary.
Grooming, Nails, Ears and Teeth
A ferret's fur can be brushed with a soft cat's brush, but it is not usually necessary.
Nails must be kept trimmed, as left unkept, they can grow too long and become caught. Pet or humans nail trimmers are suitable for ferrets, just be sure not to cut the quik in the nail (the white / light pink line inside the nail). If you are uncomfortable with cutting your ferret's nails, your vet is more than capable.
Ferret's teeth need to be maintained just like humans, otherwise periodontal disease is the predictable result. Eating whole fresh foods, which require ripping and tearing is the most effective way to maintain good dental health. See the "diet & teeth" page for more information.
If your ferret is not eating a diet which will keep its teeth clean, they will need daily or twice daily toothbrushing, and professional cleaning under anesthetic every 6 - 12 months. Toothpaste designed for cats is suitable for ferrets, as are any pet toothbrushes. Scruff the ferret, and massage the toothpaste onto his teeth.
Ears can become dirty very quickly and may need cleaning. Any pet ear cleaner (such as Epi-Otic) available from your vet is fine. One method of applying the liquid is to soak a cotton ball, hold it against the ferret's ear while it's head is sideways, then squeeze the cotton ball. The ferret will shake any excess liquid (along with the dirt) out.
Ferret Society of Canberra
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