Keeping Your Ferret Healthy
AUTHOR: Dr. Jeffrey R. Jenkins, D.V.M, Diplomat, American Board of Veterinary Practitioners
FROM: The FerretPaw Print, November/December 2000
When they are very youngVaccinations
Kits (young ferrets) should be vaccinated for distemper at 8*, 12, and 16 weeks of age then at one year of age. Reactions to the licensed distemper vaccine are common. Discuss the benefits and risks of vaccination and observe your ferret in the veterinarians' office for at least 20 minutes following distemper vaccines given to ferrets over one year of age. Rabies vaccination should be given at 16 weeks and then annually.
*The great majority of ferrets we see today are from large farm operations (such as Marshall Farms). These kits have been spayed, castrated, descented and have had a single distemper vaccination at 5 to 6 weeks of age. Because they are so young at the time they are vaccinated, these ferrets still require the same number of vaccinations as other ferrets.
Annual Examination and Vaccination
It is very important to have your ferret examined on an annual basis. The importance increases with age. The majority of ferret diseases are treatable when detected early. Rabies vaccinations are repeated annually. We are working with laboratories to provide a test for the level of protection a ferret may have for distemper. If and when this test is available, we may recommend that your ferret be tested and vaccinated only if its level of immunity is low. If you chose not to vaccinate your ferret for distemper after it is one year of age, do not neglect the annual examination.
Litter box / Litter
We recommend the use of paper bedding products. These products are absorbent and inhibit bacterial growth. A few brand names are Care Fresh and Yesterday's News. There are many more.
Care of the older ferret
Ferrets have an average life span of 5 to 7 years. Some "record breakers" may live as long as 10. Ferrets start to experience middle age problems as early as 3 years of age. With a good "geriatric program," we have been able to prolong the quality of and quantity of life in many pets.
More frequent checkups, every 6 months are recommended for older ferrets. Ferrets develop disease rapidly, especially cancer, kidney and heart disease, and waiting an entire year between visits could prevent the early detection and management of these disease. Starting at four years of age we recommend laboratory work be done. On an healthy animal a complete blood cell count and a fasting blood glucose test should be given as the minimum work-up. The pet should be fasted 2 to 3 hours prior to the blood tests being taken. This routine laboratory work should be done once a year. Addition laboratory work, a blood chemistry profile, and an x-ray, particularly if your pet is exhibiting signs of illness, may be recommended. Anesthesia may be necessary for the x-ray. We use isoflurane gas anesthesia on our ferret patients, which is very safe and eliminates the stress the pet may feel with these procedures.
After the age of 7, diagnostic testing may have to be done every 6 months along with the biannual examination. These laboratory work-ups have been invaluable in detecting many diseases early and thus facilitating early treatment.
Dr. Jeffrey R. Jenkins, D.V.M.
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