Ferret Central has a lot of information on ferret illness. Here are also listed some things you should be aware of.
Canine distemper is a common virus with an almost 100% death rate. Once distemper symptoms appear, vaccinations are generally ineffective. Vaccination is a good way to prevent death. All unprotected ferrets are at risk. Distemper can be transmitted by dogs, ferrets, and wild animals. The virus can be carried on skin or clothing for several hours.
Ferret kits should get distemper vaccinations at 8, 11, and 14 weeks of age. The adult ferret needs an additional shot at one year and one every year after that. Adult ferrets whose protection is unclear should get two vaccinations three weeks apart. The vaccine that should be used is FERVAC-D. Do not use one cultivated in ferret tissue, that will give the ferret distemper, not protect him from it.
Ferrets also should be vaccinated against rabies if you live in the U.S. or somewhere else where rabies exist. The only current USDA approved vaccine is IMRAB-3, a killed virus vaccine. Vaccination is recommended after 14 weeks of age and annually after that. Ask the veterinarian for a certificate of vaccination. Make sure that the certificate states that IMRAB-3 has been used.
The canine distemper and rabies vaccine should not be administered in the same day. A two to three week period between these vaccinations is recommended. Allergic reactions to the vaccines sometimes (although rarely) occur. Such a reaction is life-threatening. Always remain at the veterinarian's office for at least 30 minutes, or longer, after the vaccination to make sure that your ferret does not develop such a reaction - characterized by diarrhea, retching and/or vomiting, possibly followed by a rapid drop in body temperature, shock and death.
Ferrets is one of the few animals that can catch common cold from humans. If you have a cold, try not to handle your ferret until you are well. The signs are as with humans, sneezing and a running nose. A grown, otherwise healthy ferret should be well again after a couple of days. Keep him warm, give him plenty of water and all the rest he wants. If the cold lasts more than five days or if he seems to have trouble breathing you should contact a vet, if it gets worse it could easily escalate to pneumonia.
Ferrets are sensitive to heat. Temperatures above 80 can mean death unless there is shadow and water available.
Some ferrets, mostly older ones, develop tumors on their adrenal glands. The glands produces hormones and a tumor will cause an abnormal amount of hormone production. The most common first symptom is hairloss on the body, starting at the base of the tail, progressing forward the sides to the head. Weight loss is common, and sexual behaviour may return even in neutered and spayed ferrets. The tumor needs to be surgically removed, medical treatment is also possible, but only as a relief of the symptoms.
Insulinoma is a cancer of the pancreas (on the islets of Langerhans which produces insulin). The tumors makes an excess level of insulin which drives the glucose in the blood into the cells of the body, causing hypoglycemia, which is low blood glucose (the opposite to diabetes). The signs may be weight loss, lethergy, weakness in hind legs or even seizures. Surgery is often the best treatment. If it for some reason is not an option, medical treatment can be made, but its effect is only temporary.
A ferret may vomit occasionally because of stress or eating too much or too fast, but if you see traces of blood or if this is repeated you should go to a vet, the ferret could have an intestine blockage which will be fatal unless removed.
If it is only on the tail it can be because of stress. The hair will often grow back the next time the ferret shed. If the hairloss is on the body, starting from the back you should seek veterinary help immediately. This is one symptom of adrenal disease and the ferret will need surgery.
Sometimes ferrets can get a prolapsed rectum. This might happen if the ferret is straining unusually hard when using the litterbox. A long period of giving moist food can also cause this. If it doesn't correct itself within a day or two, contact your vet.
Weakness in the hindlegs or a general loss of balance is one of the signs of tumors on the adrenal glands. It can also be caused by insulinoma or maybe simply due to high age. If your ferret is young or shows other symptoms you need to contact a veterinarian immediately.
If your ferret goes to the litterbox but doesn't produce anything there is a risk that he has an obstruction somewhere in his system. The ferret need to get to a vet quickly, if something is stuck in his small intestine he can die within 24-48 hours unless this is removed.
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Author Camilla Englund. Last updated September 1999.