Basic Health Check For Ferrets

Ferrets are really good at hiding their illness and injuries. Keep an eye out for evidence of injury. Here is a list of things to look out for in your ferrets. Keep in mind that some things listed may be very minor and will only need to be noted and monitored, some may be corrected at home, whereas others are more serious and require urgent veterinary attention. Use your rational judgement when taking these into consideration.

If you find something off about your ferret and your worried or in doubt, seek immediate attention from an exotic or a vet who specializes in ferrets.

Change in Behavior or Mentation
• Abrupt Personality changes, • Decrease in normal activity level, • Sudden hyperactivity, • Depressed, • Slow, inactive or unresponsive, • Unusual irritability / moodiness, • Biting that may be out of character, especially if it breaks skin and the ferret is not usually known to bite in such a manner, • Unusual Fear or a phobic reaction, • Lack of typical ferret behaviour, is not interested in playing and may stay in their cage or sleeping area. May seem unusually quiet, • Sudden [out of character] Timid or Shyness. • Weakness or Lethargy, • Pawing at the mouth, • Favouring a certain leg when walking, limping, • Screaming or vocalization which is out of ordinary.

Eyes & Ears
• Dull, lifeless eyes, • Puffiness, swelling, redness, bleeding or scabbing / crusting around eyes and/or ears, • Excessive tearing and/or discharge of eyes (Discharge for ears), • Opaque, milky appearance, • “Half-mast” eyes not related to sleep, • Twitching and/or excessive blinking, • Debris, dirt of wax in ears. • Excessive build up of wax (with or without strong odoour), or discharge in ears, • Ear mites (reddish/brown discharge in the ear, bleeding from the ear, coffee-grounds like appearance in the ear, scratch marks, odour).

Coat, Skin & Nails
• Dull looking coat, loss of sheen, • Rough looking coat (not as a result of play), • Ferret “bothering” a specific area on the coat or skin, nails (May indicate, irritation, injury or illness), • Scabbing or crusting on coat, skin or nails, • Abnormal colouring on coat or skin, • Bruising on skin, • Excessive itching (Not related to usual ferret itching or due to shedding.) • Flaky skin or dandruff, • Destructive behavior (eg. Biting self in an attempt to relieve an itch or due to behavioral issues), • Deformed, chipped, brittle or broken nails, • Overgrown nails, • Continual broken nails. •Excessive hairloss, especially beginning up along the back starting from the base of the tail. • Loss of the elasticity of the skin (Pull back the scruff, if it doesn’t automatically sink back to normal, then the ferret may be dehydrated.)

Food and Water Consumption
• Noticeable decrease or increase in amount of food or water consumed (not related to seasonal appetite changes), • No interest in favourite treats, • Regurgitation and vomiting, • Loss of appetite, • diarrhea, especially if it is persistent or excessive, • Choking from food.
Posture and Movement
• Speed bumping (laying flat) for extended periods of time (not due to play), • Head weaving or general spacing out behaviour, • Frequent loss of balance, falling over, limping, incoordination or unsteadiness and abnormal limb placement, •Inability to walk or use certain body parts, • Lack of movement, • Stiff or uncomfortable movement, • Seizure symptoms.
• Labored breathing, • Prolonged rapid breathing, • Decreased exercise tolerance, • Panting, Wheezing, rattling, whistling breathing, • Coughing, raspy sounding breathing, • Blocked nostrils and airways.

• Change in consistency, colour, odour of stool, (Can be due to diet, but excessive change brings concern, diet may need to be altered to correct, or vet treatment is in order to check for illness or parasite.) • Consistent watery stools, •Explosive Vomiting + Diarrhea, Allergic reaction from diet or other means, • Decrease in number of volume, • Undigested food, • Straining, labored breathing or difficulty in passing stools, • Anal Prolapse, • Black, Tarry stools, • Dry, Chalky stools.

Teeth, Nose & Mouth
• Nasal Discharge, • Frequent productive (wet) sneezes, • Blocked nostrils/labored breathing, • Swelling, bleeding or redness, • Broken, Chipped or loss of teeth, • Stained or discoloured teeth, • Tartar and Plaque build up, • Ulcers, sores or lesions within mouth/gums or nose, • Scabbing around mouth, and nose, • Lumps or bumps around the face, or within the mouth, • Changes in colour on the gums, eg. Red and bleeding gums, yellowing, pale to white are all worrisome.

Lumps, Bumps, Sores & Swelling
• Swelling on face, around eyes, mouth and nose, • Swelling or Lumps in chest or belly, • Enlarged or hardness in the stomach region, • Lumps or swelling on legs, necks or tail, feet region, • Lumps that are black or dark in colour, • Lumps that grow suddenly and/or may erupt and bleed. • Lumps, bumps, sores, redness, bleeding or swelling around the genital regions.
Accidents and Injuries
• Dazed, Shock, loss of balance, • Bleeding from anywhere, • Even minor cuts, scratches and abrasions should be carefully watched for infection, • Refusal to stand on one leg/foot, • Bone protruding or bent wrong, • Laying flat on the ground, unable to stand or use legs without support, • Constant “bothering” of an area, • Open sores or wounds, • Little to no stool, • Little to no food or water intake.

Keep Track of Weight
• Weights vary from male to female in ferrets and from season to season, • Seasonal weight gain or loss may be normal for your ferret as long as it is not excessive, • Weigh your ferret weekly for a bit until you get a better idea on normal fluctuations in weight, then you can weigh on a monthly basis, • Run your fingers along your ferret’s body, you should be able to feel the ribs slightly, feel the thin layering of fat over them but should not be able to visually see them. • Ferret should appear like a flat tube when dangled. Overweight ferrets may have a bulge, as would ferrets with organ enlargements (eg. Spleen.) Think ferrets may appear like an hour glass in figure.

Health concerns
• Nutritional abuse, deficient diet, • Poor Hygiene, dirty cages, • Contaminated food and water including dirty human hands, • Exposure to unknown sick ferrets, • Accidents, injuries, stress, • Foreign body ingestion – rubbery objects, fabrics, coins, anything that can and will be swallowed, etc. digestion impaction from diet. (This can happen with bone, but it is rare. Ferrets can also choke on kibble.) • Vapors, fumes, toxic substances – overheated Teflon, solvents, cleaners, • Synthetic essential oils from air freshers or human deodorants, • Poorly developed immune system.

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