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Older Ferrets' Needs and Diseases


American ferrets can now have life spans up to ten years of age.  Disease condition can begin as early as 3 to 4 years old.  It is imperative to catch problems early as a lot more can be done about them.

Routine physical exams twice a year by a Veterinarian experienced in ferret medicine would be optimal.  I have frequently found tumors and cancer early in this manner that were treatable rather than finding these when it is too advanced because the ferret is seven years old and never has been checked before.

Hind leg weakness - This can be due to insulinomas, hypoglycemia, liver disease, kidney disease, or old age.

Hair loss on tail only - This can be a seasonal hair loss that grows back or the start of an adrenal tumor if it progresses up the animal.

Hair loss on the body - Although the adrenal tumor is the most common, fleas, fungal infections, allergies, or poor nutrition can also be responsible.

Lumps, bumps, raised brown spots on the skin - Skin tumors or cancer.  Both benign and malignant forms are common.  Get a proper diagnosis quickly.

Aggressive behavior, mounting behavior, swollen vulva, or urinary/prostate problems can again be related to an adrenal tumor.  Have it removed early while it is small.

Weight loss, loss of appetite, thin sized fecal material, and debilitation - These are common to gastrointestinal tumors and cancer or something lodged in the GI system.

Diarrhea - This can be from diet, cancer, toxin exposure, viral or bacterial diseases and should be dealt with immediately.

Trouble breathing - Heart problems, liver disease, or tumors can all cause fluid build-up that may compromise breathing ability and respiratory infections can also occur.

Drooling, gagging, weakness - Insulinoma or tumors on the pancreas are again common and may be dealt with by dietary modification or surgery.

Proper nutrition - Ferrets are true carnivores like cats (dogs are omnivores) and require high quality protein diets (40% protein is optimal).  Make sure the first 2 or 3 ingredients on the food label are meat!  Commercial cat food from the grocery store is inadequate.  There are now good ferret diets that are much better such as Mazuri, Totally Ferret, and Zoopreem.

Also, remember ferrets are susceptible to heartworms and should be put on proper prevention.

Ferrets are wonderful little pets that give us much amusement and pleasure.  Return the favor by giving them proper nutrition, housing, attention, and health care.

The above is a reprint of an article written by Jack Landess, D.V.M., as a public service.  Reprint permission was obtained from the Florida Pet Pages.

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