The Beast Doctor's Lair
AUTHOR: Bronwyn Dawson, D.V.M.
Dr. Domotor's Animal House Veterinary Hospital
FROM: The FerretPaw Print
It's 2 AM. You're having trouble sleeping. Porky, your four-year-old ferret seemed a lot more quiet today than usual, didn't want to play tug when you got home, didn't really eat tonight. You get up to go peek at Porky and realize something is really wrong. He's sleeping, but his eyes are partially open and he's making a funny wheezing noise. You pick him up gently from his comfy hammock, but he just lies there, not really aware of you. Porky looks skinner, as if he lost weight in the last 24 hours and he feels almost cold. By now you are really frightened about Porky and you want to do something for him. But what? Your veterinarian's office won't open until tomorrow morning and you don't think you can wait that long. Should you take him to the emergency clinic? Do they know how to treat ferrets? Do they know what a ferret is? Will they call Fish and Game? And what can you do for Porky in the meantime? He's not waking up and you're getting panicked....
This sounds like a nightmare? You are right, but this can unfortunately occur in real life, not just to ferret owners, but to all pet owners. Emergencies are by definition unexpected events which always seem to happen at the worst time. Dealing with an acutely ill or injured animal is always traumatic but there are things a pet owner can do to prepare for a potential emergency. Ferret owners in particular need to have a few essentials in their first aid kits. And everyone needs to have a plan for dealing with an animal emergency. My article will discuss both of these.
The first step in preparing for an emergency is knowing where you are going to take your ferret who becomes suddenly ill at 3 AM or in the middle of Memorial Day weekend. Some day veterinarians take their own after-hours calls and have an answering service or paging system available. Ask your regular veterinarian about this up front, preferably on your first visit. Most veterinarians refer clients to local emergency hospitals. Ferret owners should find out before hand how familiar the emergency clinic staff is with ferrets but you should never fail to take your ferret in for emergency care because the doctor is not a "ferret expert." At 3 AM you should be overjoyed to see someone who is awake and functional! Know the address and phone number of the local emergency clinic and plan your route to the clinic. It is very difficult to consult Thomas Guides or even listen to directions given by the receptionist when you are in the middle of an actual emergency. I recommend keeping a card from the clinic on your refrigerator or in your billfold. Call the clinic before setting out or have someone else call while you are getting Porky ready for the trip. This gives the staff some idea of what's going on with your ferret; they can prepare for his arrival and may be able to give you some suggestions on emergency first aid.
Most veterinary emergencies are due to either trauma (Falls, burns, attacks by other animals) or ongoing medical conditions with sudden decompensation (infections, cancers, kidney problems).
Traumatic injuries in ferrets are treated the same way as traumatic injuries in other animals and first aid recommendations are the same. If your ferret is bleeding profusely from a wound, the wound should have direct pressure applied to it via a bandage or even your hand. Burns can be treated with a cool (not ice-cold) towel application; any ferret with second or third-degree burns should see a veterinarian immediately.
Probably the most common emergency condition specific to ferrets is hypoglycemia. Other animals can become hypoglycemic as well, but it is quite uncommon. In ferrets, the converse is true and hypoglycemia is fairly often seen by emergency veterinarians. Symptoms of hypoglycemia are severe lethargy and lack of appetite, which can progress to stupor and coma. Affected ferrets often drool and have a 'glassy-eyed' appearance. Ferret owners should always have Karo syrup or Nutrical on hand. Both of these have high amounts of sugar which can help revive a ferret showing signs of hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemic ferrets also often suffer from a low body temperature. Ferret owners should also keep a digital baby thermometer on hand. This is inserted rectally (please use Vaseline or K-Y jelly first!). Healthy ferrets hate this, so a ferret who allows the thermometer without much fuss is quite a sick ferret. Normal ferret temperature is between 100 and 103 degrees.
Hypoglycemic ferrets need to be transported to an emergency clinic as quickly as possible. Karo syrup is only useful in the short-term; these ferrets often need to have sugar-containing fluids administered intravenously. Insulinoma in ferrets can be managed with medical treatment, but the ferrets need first to be stabilized.
I work in an emergency clinic and see all kinds of pets with all kinds of problems. Emergencies are neither anticipated nor desired, but your ability to respond efficiently will be greatly increase with a little preparation. Not only may you save your ferret's life, but you will decrease your own stress in these frightening situations. As the Boy Scouts say, "Be Prepared!"
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