Ferret FAQ [1/5] - About Ferrets and This FAQ

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Pamela Greene

Apr 17, 2004, 7:28:58 AM4/17/04
Archive-name: pets/ferret-faq/part1
Last-modified: 20 Jun 2002
Posting-Frequency: monthly (around the 20th)
Version: 4.0.1
URL: http://www.ferretcentral.org/faq/

Compiled and edited by Pamela Greene <pa...@alumni.rice.edu>
Additions, corrections, and suggestions for this file are welcomed!

This document is copyright 1994-1998 by Pamela L. Greene. See section
0.5 (in Part 1, About Ferrets and This FAQ) for authorship information
and redistribution rights. In short, you can give it away, but you
can't charge for it or include it in any for-profit work without

The basic Ferret FAQ has five parts, all of which should be available
wherever you obtained this one. Most people will want to look at
parts 1 through 4, and perhaps skim part 5. A complete table of
contents for all five files is given in Part 1. Please at least read
section 0 in Part 1, About this FAQ. In addition, there are separate
FAQ's for several common ferret diseases. Information about those is
given in section [1.1].

Please note: I am not a ferret expert, and I did not write, nor did I
independently verify, all the information in this file. I have done
my best to include only accurate and useful information, but I cannot
guarantee that what is contained in this file, whether written by me
or by one of the contributors, is correct, or even that following the
advice herein won't be harmful to you or your ferret in some way. For
advice from an expert, you may wish to consult one of several books
available, or, especially in the case of a suspected medical problem,
a veterinarian who is familiar with the treatment of ferrets.




0. *** About this FAQ ***

(0.1) Notes on formatting
(0.2) Where to get this FAQ
(0.3) Goal of this FAQ
(0.4) Credits and editor's notes
(0.5) Ferret FAQ copyright and redistribution information

1. *** Where to get more information ***

(1.1) Is there a shorter FAQ to hand out at meetings? Are there
FAQs for particular diseases?
(1.2) How can I find a ferret breeder/shelter/vet/catalog?
(1.3) What mailing lists are there, and how do I join?
(1.4) What about interactive online chats?
(1.5) Where can I find pictures or clip-art of ferrets online?
(1.6) Is there any other information available online?
(1.7) What are some of the books available?
(1.8) How do I start a ferret club or shelter?

2. *** Revision history of these files ***

(2.1) Revision history

3. *** Introduction to ferrets ***

(3.1) What are ferrets? Do they make good pets?
(3.2) Are ferrets wild? Why are there ferret permits?
(3.3) Are ferrets legal where I live? Do I need a license?
(3.4) I'm allergic to cats. Will I be allergic to ferrets?
(3.5) How long do ferrets live?
(3.6) How much do ferrets cost?
(3.7) Do ferrets smell bad? What can I do about it?
(3.8) Is a ferret a good pet for a child?
(3.9) What are the different ferret colors?
(3.10) What do you call a ferret male/female/baby/group?
(3.11) How can I help the ferret community?


4. *** Getting a pet ferret ***

(4.1) Which color is the best? Male or female? What age?
(4.2) Is this ferret male or female?
(4.3) How many should I get? All at once, or one at a time?
(4.4) Where can I get a pet ferret? What should I look for?
(4.5) What are these little blue dots on my ferret's ear? What's
the deal with Marshall Farms?
(4.6) How do I introduce a new ferret to my established one(s)?
(4.7) Will my ferret get along with my other pets?

5. *** Getting ready for your ferret ***

(5.1) How can I best ferretproof my home? What do I need to
worry about?
(5.2) How can I protect my carpet, plants, or couch?
(5.3) What will I need to take care of my new ferret?
(5.4) Do I need a cage? Where can I get one? How should I set it up?
(5.5) Any suggestions on toys?
(5.6) What kind of collar/bell/tag/leash should I use?

6. *** Ferret supplies ***

(6.1) What should I feed my ferret?
(6.2) Should I give my ferret any supplements?
(6.3) What are good treats?
(6.4) What kind of litter should I use?
(6.5) Pet stores use wood shavings as bedding. Should I?


7. *** Basic ferret care and training ***

(7.1) How do I train my pet not to nip?
(7.2) I'm having problems litter-training. What do I do?
(7.3) How can I get my ferret to stop digging?
(7.4) How can I stop my ferret from digging in his food or water?
(7.5) Any advice on baths, ears, and nail-clipping?

8. *** Things ferrets say and do ***

(8.1) What games do ferrets like to play?
(8.2) Can I teach my ferret tricks? How?
(8.3) My ferret trembles a lot. Is that normal?
(8.4) My ferret is losing hair!
(8.5) Is he really just asleep?
(8.6) What does such-and-such a noise mean?
(8.7) What else should I probably not worry about?
(8.8) Do ferrets travel well?
(8.9) Help! My ferret is lost!


9. *** Basic health care ***

(9.1) Do I need to spay/neuter my pet? How about descenting? Declawing?
(9.2) What vaccinations will my ferret need, and when?
(9.3) Can I vaccinate my own ferrets?
(9.4) What kind of checkups should my ferret be having?
(9.5) What should I look for when I check over my ferret myself?
(9.6) Do I need to brush my ferret's teeth?
(9.7) Is my ferret overweight (or underweight)? What can I do?
(9.8) Are ferrets really as prone to disease as it seems?
(9.9) How do I contact Dr. Williams? I hear he'll help with diagnoses.
(9.10) What special needs do older ferrets have?

10. *** Problems to watch for and related information ***

(10.1) What warning signs of disease should I look for?
(10.2) Why does my ferret scratch so much?
(10.3) What do I do for my ferret's prolapsed rectum?
(10.4) My ferret's had funny-looking stools for a few days. What's
(10.5) What is that huge bruised-looking or orangish patch?
(10.6) My ferret is going bald (tail only or all over).
(10.7) What are these little (black oily)/(red waxy)/(orange crusty)
spots on my ferret's tail/skin?
(10.8) How well do ferrets handle heat? What about cold?
(10.9) How can I get rid of these fleas?
(10.10) How do I tell if my ferret has ear mites? What do I do about
(10.11) Do I need to worry about heartworms?
(10.12) Is there an animal poison control hotline?


11. *** Common health problems ***

(11.1) Common diseases in ferrets
(11.2) Overview of common health problems
(11.2.1) Noninfectious
(11.2.2) Parasitic health problems
(11.2.3) Infectious diseases
(11.2.4) Neoplasia (Cancer)

12. *** General medical information ***

(12.1) Do I need to worry about toxoplasmosis?
(12.2) How can I get my ferret to take this medication?
(12.3) Where can I get medications at a discount?
(12.4) Can ferrets have transfusions?
(12.5) What anesthetic should my vet be using?
(12.6) How do I care for my sick or recovering ferret?
(12.7) My ferret won't eat. What should I do?
(12.8) What's Duck Soup? Anyone have a recipe?
(12.9) What are normal body temperature, blood test results, etc.?
(12.10) What tests might my vet want to run, and why?

13. *** Medical reference material ***

(13.1) Who makes this product or medication?
(13.2) What books can I get or recommend to my vet?
(13.3) Are there any other useful references?

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0. *** About this FAQ ***


Subject: (0.1) Notes on formatting

The answers in this file are given in a "digest format" which should
make it easier for you to scan through it for the information you want.
Each question begins with a line of hyphens, followed by its number and
the question itself, as given in the Table of Contents above. In many
newsreaders, including rn, trn, and strn, you can jump from one
question to the next by hitting CONTROL-G. You can also look for a
particular answer by searching for its number or for words from the

Cross-references to other questions are in square brackets; for
example, [1.2] means that more information may be found in section


Subject: (0.2) Where to get this FAQ

This FAQ is posted around the 20th of each month to the rec.pets,
alt.pets.ferrets, alt.answers, rec.answers, and news.answers
newsgroups. It's stored on various internet access systems and BBS's,
including Compuserve and (I think) AOL, and it can be found in either
English or Japanese (possibly a slightly older version) in library3
of the FPETS forum in Japan's NiftyServe system. For information about
translations of the FAQ, email me
or see the list at Ferret Central
on the WWW.

The Ferret FAQ is also available on the World Wide Web, as a fully-
indexed, cross-linked set of documents for browsing with Netscape
Navigator, lynx, or any other WWW client. Open the URL

The FAQ is available by anonymous FTP in the directory
(that is, ftp to ftp.optics.rochester.edu and cd to the indicated
directory). The files themselves are called part1.faq through

It can be found, along with hundreds of other FAQs on a wide variety
of topics, at any of the news.answers archives or mirrors; for
instance, by FTP at
or on the Web at

If you don't have access to FTP, or if the server is busy (as it often
is), you can also request the files by mail. You can receive all five
parts in separate email messages by sending a message to
with the single line (in the body of the message)
To receive only a single part, instead send a command like


Subject: (0.3) Goal of this FAQ

A number of books exist which were written by experts and are intended
to be comprehensive discussions of all sorts of ferret behavior and
medical problems. This FAQ is not intended to replace any of those.
However, there seemed to be a need for a document which covers many of
the basic questions in a fairly light way. Originally, this was
intended to be a FAQ in the purest sense of the term: a document to
answer questions which keep coming up in the newsgroups and Ferret
Mailing List.

However, over the months -- and years -- the FAQ grew, and its purpose
broadened. More general questions, and especially more medical
information, were included. Although I can't claim that this is now a
comprehensive guide to ferret ownership, it is a good source of
information and collective opinion about a wide range of subjects.
Whether you're new to ferrets or a long-time owner, chances are this
FAQ will have something interesting for you.


Subject: (0.4) Credits and editor's notes

Contributions of individual respondents are marked as such and
indented. Other sections were either written by me (Pamela Greene)
or compiled from a number of contributions.

Special thanks to Chris Lewis and Bill Gruber, moderators of the
Ferrte Mailing List; and to veterinarians Bruce Williams, Charles
Weiss, Susan Brown, and Mike Dutton, for all their efforts on behalf
of the members of the Ferret Mailing List and all "ferret friends".
Thanks also to the dedicated ferret enthusiasts who have helped to
translate the FAQ and Medical FAQs into other languages, inlcuding
Japanese and French, with others in progress.

Thanks also to the many people from the Ferret Mailing List [1.3] who
contributed (perhaps unwittingly!) responses, comments, and
corrections, too many to list here (at last count, the list included
97 different people).


Subject: (0.5) Ferret FAQ copyright and redistribution information

This compilation, which includes five main files as described
in the Table of Contents above, is copyright 1994-1998
by Pamela L. Greene. It may be freely distributed by electronic,
paper, or other means, provided that it is distributed in its entirety
(all 5 files), including this notice, and that no fee is charged apart
from the actual costs of distribution. It may not be used or included
in any commercial or for-profit work without prior written permission.
(For-profit service providers such as Compuserve and America Online
are granted permission to distribute the files provided that no
additional fee beyond standard connection-time charges is levied.)

Anyone who wishes to is encouraged to include a World Wide Web
hypertext link [0.2] to the main Index page of this document set at
wherever it might be appropriate.

"The Ferret FAQ," "Ferret Central," and the silhouette of a ferret
used in their logos are trademarks of Pamela Greene.

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1. *** Where to get more information ***


Subject: (1.1) Is there a shorter FAQ to hand out at meetings?
Are there FAQs for particular diseases?

There are five parts to the main Ferret FAQ. The contents of those
parts are listed at the top of this file.

If you're looking for something to hand out at pet stores, vets'
offices, club meetings, and so forth, you might want the Ferret
mini-FAQ, a much shorter document which covers all the basics and is
formatted to be printed out. There's also a single-page tri-fold
brochure with the most important information, ideal for vets' offices
and pet stores. They're each available as a Postscript or PDF file
(which can be read using the free Adobe Acrobat Reader, available from

There are also FAQs dedicated to several common diseases:

Adrenal disease (adenoma, adenocarcinoma)
Insulinomas (islet cell tumors)
Lymphosarcoma (lymphoma)
Skin tumors (skin and mast cell tumors)
Cardiomyopathy and congestive heart failure (heart disease)
Splenomegaly (enlarged spleen)
Epizootic catarrhal enteritis (mystery green diarrhea virus)
Gastric ulcers and Helicobacter mustelae

These FAQs are not posted to any newsgroup, but you can FTP them from
ftp.optics.rochester.edu in /pub/pgreene/ . You can also receive them
from a mailserver. To get a copy of all the files, each in a separate
email message, send email to <list...@cunyvm.cuny.edu> with the single
line (in the body of the message):

To receive only a single part, instead send one of these commands:

Finally, there is a single-part Ferret Natural History FAQ, which
contains information on ferret biology, history, domestication,
taxonomy, and so forth. It's available from Ferret Central
<http://www.ferretcentral.org/>, or from
the CUNY listserver using the command


Subject: (1.2) How can I find a ferret breeder/shelter/vet/catalog?

An extensive list of ferret clubs, breeders, organizations, vets and
catalogs is maintained by STAR*Ferrets and is available on the World
Wide Web at

It is also available from a list server. Send email to
with the line
in the body. Note that the file is rather long, which may give some
mailers problems.

The American Ferret Association (AFA) also maintains a list of
shelters, at <http://www.ferret.org/afashltr.htm>, and a local ferret
club may know about one not on either of the lists.


Subject: (1.3) What mailing lists are there, and how do I join?

The Ferret Mailing List (FML) is strongly recommended. To subscribe
to the FML, send email to its moderator, Bill Gruber, at
<ferret-...@cunyvm.cuny.edu> and ask to be added. You can
also try subscribing automatically by sending email to
<list...@cunyvm.cuny.edu> with the command
SUBSCRIBE FERRET <first-name> <last-name>
in the body of the email.

You'll get a note back detailing policies and such and explaining how
to send letters to the list. Back issues of the FML are available by
sending the command INDEX FERRET in the body of email to
<list...@cunyvm.cuny.edu>, and an unofficial WWW archive at
is also available, though not quite as complete.

The Ferret Forum mailing list tends to be shorter and perhaps more
international in flavor than the FML. To subscribe, send email to
<majo...@bolis.com> with a blank Subject
and either
"subscribe ferret-forum" (for the regular version) or
"subscribe ferret-forum-digest" (for the daily digest)
in the body of the message (no quotes in either command).

The "Ferret Tails" mailing list is a digest of ferret stories,
adventures, poems, and other entertainment. Email
<king...@northcoast.com> with
"subscribe ferret-tails <your email address>" in the body of your

There are other mailing lists, too, including several regional lists.
A list is available at
or email Christine Code at <c...@portal.ca> for information.


Subject: (1.4) What about interactive online chats?

There are several interactive WWW chat/talk servers; for a list, see
Ferret Central at

Various IRC chats exist, on servers such as undernet.org,
irc.mcgill.ca, irc.quarterdeck.com, or irc.eskimo.com. Specific
server/channel combinations include
irc.dal.net #ferret_chat or #Ferrets
irc.prospero.com #GCFA or #FERRETS (Thurs. and Sun. from 8 pm Central)
irc.prospero.com #ferret (nightly from 8 pm Eastern)
undernet.org #Ferret
For more information about IRC, consult the IRC FAQ, available at

A weekly online chat also happens on AOL, Saturdays 10 pm - midnight
Eastern time. Sometimes there are guest speakers. This chat is only
accessible to AOL users: go to keyword "Petcare", then select "Animal
Talk Room 1".


Subject: (1.5) Where can I find pictures or clip-art of ferrets online?

The Ferret Photo Gallery, on the World Wide Web, has a large
collection of JPEGs and GIFs. It's located at

There are also the Equipment How-To Photos, at
which show and describe examples of cages, shoulder bags, collars, and
so forth.

The Oregon Ferret Association has a clipart archive at
and Bob Nixon maintains an archive with many ferret pictures, too, at
Files there which start with "clip-" are clip-art.

Most of the pictures at one site are also at the other.


Subject: (1.6) Is there any other information available online?

Discussions of ferrets sometimes come up in the Usenet newsgroups
alt.pets.ferrets and rec.pets. The FAQ "Fleas, Ticks and Your Pet"
[10.9] is distributed there as well, and is also available by FTP as
Several bulletin board systems keep pet FAQs and discussions, as does
the Compuserve Small Mammals forum (GO PETSTWO).

An index of ferret information is available from Ferret Central,
on the World Wide Web at

Various ferret-related information is available from the file server
at CUNY; send the command
to <list...@cunyvm.cuny.edu> for a complete list, with descriptions.


Subject: (1.7) What are some of the books available?

Lots of books have been written about ferrets, ranging from brief
treatments to extensive discussions of behavior and medical issues.
Introductory books, all most owners will ever need, are usually
available in pet stores. A few of the more popular are

Biology and Diseases of the Ferret, by James G. Fox. Lea and Febiger,
Philadelphia (1988). ISBN 0-8121-1139-7

The Pet Ferret Owner's Manual, by Judith A. Bell, DVM, PhD.
ISBN 0-9646477-2-9 PB, 0-9646477-1-0 LB.
Clear, well-written and comprehensive, with lots of color
photographs. Dr. Bell is an internationally known expert on
ferret medicine and care.

A Practical Guide to Ferrets, by Deborah Jeans. Contact the author at
Ferrets Inc., P. O. Box 450099, Miami, FL 33245-0099; fax
"Excellent, easy to read, very thorough and up to date, and
written with a lot of love and care," says Dr. Susan Brown, DVM.

Ferrets: a Complete Owner's Manual, by Chuck and Fox Morton. Barron's
Educational Series, Hauppauge, NY, 1985. ISBN 0-8120-2976-3
A relatively short, but well-written guide. Not as in-depth as
some, but a very good, friendly introduction to ferrets as pets.

Ferrets in Your Home, by Wendy Winsted. T.F.H. Publications,
Inc., Neptune City, NJ, 1990. ISBN 0-86622-988-4
Longer and more in-depth, but still very readable. Includes, for
instance, more information on reproduction and breeding, but also
more expensive.

For somewhat more in-depth medical and natural history information, Bob
Church recommends

Ferrets, Rabbits and Rodents - Clinical Medicine and Surgery, by Elizabeth
Hillyer and Katherine Quesenberry (1997)

Wild Mammals of North America, by Chapman and Feldhammer (1989)
Use the section about mink, perhaps tempered somewhat with the
black-footed ferret. Together, they are very similar to the
polecat, which is the driving force behind our ferrets.

Ethology: the Mechanisms and Evolution of Behavior, by James Gould (1982)


Subject: (1.8) How do I start a ferret club or shelter?

Extensive advice on starting a ferret club, shelter, or other service,
including sample forms and other materials, is available from
STAR*Ferrets for a nominal fee. Contact Pamela Troutman of STAR* at
P. O. Box 1714, Springfield, VA 22151-0714 or email

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2. *** Revision history of these files ***


Subject: (2.1) Revision history

The most accurate description of the version of this FAQ is the date
at the top. For really minor changes, I won't necessarily change the
version number, but I'll always change the date.

Version 4.0 - 19 Jan 1998
Added sections 1.8, 3.5, 4.2, 7.3, 9.6, 9.7, 9.10, 10.2, 10.3, 10.5,
10.12, 12.2, 12.3, 12.4, 13.1
Significant changes to sections 1.3, 1.4, 1.5, 1.7, 3.1, 3.2, 3.3, 3.6,
3.7, 3.8, 3.9, 3.10, 3.11, 4.1, 4.4, 4.7, 5.1, 5.2, 5.3, 5.4, 5.6, 6.1,
6.2, 6.3, 6.4, 7.1, 7.2, 7.4, 7.5, 8.1, 8.7, 8.8, 9.1, 9.2, 9.3, 9.9,
10.1, 10.9, 10.10, 10.11, 11.1, 12.8, 12.9, 13.2, 13.3
Smaller changes to nearly every other section (it has been 15 months
since the last update, after all)

Version 3.1 - 25 Oct 1996
This really ought to be a major revision too, but I don't like
"inflating" the revision number that much, especially since the plain
text FAQ hasn't yet had a version 3.0. Many sections were moved,
sometimes between parts, and nearly all of them had at least minor
formatting fixes. The numbers below use this new version's numbering.
Added sections 1.4, 3.5, 3.6, 3.10, 5.2, 7.3, 8.9, 9.5, 10.3, 12.2, 12.5
Significant changes to sections 1.1, 1.5, 4.4, 4.5, 5.1, 5.4, 5.5, 5.6,
6.1, 6.3, 8.1, 8.4, 8.7, 8.8, 9.1, 9.2, 10.6, 10.8, 12.1, 12.6
Smaller changes to sections 0.2, 0.4, 1.3, 1.7, 2.1, 3.1, 3.3, 7.1, 7.2,
7.4, 9.7, 10.1, 11.1, 11.2

Version 3.0 - 3 May 1996
This is a "major" revision because I've changed the format of the HTML
files for the WWW version. The changes don't make any difference in the
plain text version.
Significant changes to sections 5.2, 6.5, 7.7, 9.5, 11.3
Small changes to sections 0.4, 0.5, 3.3, 4.6, 5.6, 6.2, 6.9, 8.2, 11.1

Version 2.8.1 - 22 Jan 96; 2.8 - 16 Jan 96; 2.7 - 11 August 95;
2.6 - 5 June 95; 2.5 - 16 Mar 95; 2.4 - 7 Feb 95; 2.3 - 26 Dec 94
Version 2.2 - 1 Nov 94
Reformatted all files. First version released on World Wide Web
Version 2.1 - 28 Sept 94; 2.0 - 2 June 94; 1.2 - 3 May 94;
1.1.1 - 15 Mar 94; 1.1 - 28 Jan 94; 1.0 - 15 Dec 93; 0.3 - 7 Dec 93;
0.2 - 29 Nov 93; 0.1 - 23 Nov 93

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3. *** Introduction to ferrets ***


Subject: (3.1) What are ferrets? Do they make good pets?

Ferrets are domestic animals, cousins of weasels, skunks and otters.
(Other relatives include minks, ermines, stoats, badgers, black-footed
ferrets, polecats, and fishers.) They are not rodents; taxonomically
they're in between cats and dogs, a little closer to dogs. They are
friendly and make excellent pets. If you've never met one before, the
easiest way to think of them is somewhere between cats and dogs in
personality, but rather smaller. They can only see reasonably well,
but they have excellent senses of hearing and smell. Some are cuddly,
others more independent; they vary a lot, just like other pets.

Ferrets are a lot of fun. They are very playful, with each other and
with you, and they don't lose much of that playfulness as they get
older. A ferret -- or better, two or more [4.3] -- can be a very
entertaining companion. They are smarter than cats and dogs, or at
least they act it. They are also very inquisitive and remarkably
determined, which is part of their charm but can also be a bit of a
bother. They are friendly, and they do know and love you, though for
some of them it can take a year or so to fully bond.

They can be trained to use a litter box [7.2] and to do tricks [8.2],
and most of them love to go places with you, riding on a shoulder or
in a bag [8.8]. They sleep a lot, and they don't particularly mind
staying in small places (a cage [5.4], for instance, or a shoulder
bag) temporarily, although they need to run around and play for at
least a couple of hours a day. A "single" ferret won't be terribly
lonely, although the fun of watching two or three playing together is
easily worth the small extra trouble [4.3]. Barring accidents,
ferrets typically live 6-10 years.

Ferrets have lots of good points as pets, but there are some negatives
as well. Like kittens and puppies, they require a lot of care and
training at first. They're "higher maintenance" than cats; they'll
take more of your time and attention. Ferrets have their own distinct
scent [3.7], which bothers some people, and many of them aren't quite
as good about litter pans [7.2] as cats are. Although most ferrets
get along reasonably well with cats and dogs, it's not guaranteed, so
if you have large, aggressive pets (particularly dogs of breeds
commonly used for hunting), keep that in mind. Likewise, small
children and ferrets are both very excitable, and the combination
might be too much [3.8].

Finally, the importance of ferretproofing must be emphasized. Ferrets
are less destructive than cats, but they love to get into EVERYTHING,
so if you keep them loose you'll need to make sure they can't hurt
themselves or your possessions [5.1]. They love to steal small (and
not so small!) objects and stash them under chairs and behind
furniture. They like to chew on spongy, springy things, which must be
kept out of reach or they'll swallow bits. Accessible boxes, bags,
and trash cans will be crawled in, and houseplants within reach are
liable to lose all their dirt to joyful digging [5.2]. Finally, many
ferrets tend to scratch and dig at the carpet [5.2]. Naturally, these
traits vary from one ferret to another, but they're all pretty common.
If you're not willing to take the necessary time to protect your
property and your pet, a ferret may not be for you.


Subject: (3.2) Are ferrets wild? Why are there ferret permits?

Domestic pet ferrets, Mustela furo (sometimes called Mustela putorius
furo), are not wild animals.

They have been domesticated for a very long time, perhaps two or
three thousand years. They're not equipped to survive for very long
on their own; escaped pets suffer from dehydration, starvation and
exposure, and usually don't survive more than a few days unless
someone takes them in. Unlike cats and dogs, ferrets aren't even
large enough to push over garbage cans and scavenge.

Domestic ferrets are generally believed to be descended from the
European polecat; they were originally used as hunting animals to
catch rabbits and rodents. They weren't supposed to kill the prey,
they just chased them out of their holes and the farmers (hunters)
killed them. This practice is now illegal in the U.S. and Canada, but
it's still fairly popular in the U.K. and some other places.

A "ferret-free zone," or FFZ, is a place where ferrets are banned or
illegal [3.3]. In some other places, ferret owners are required to
have licenses or permits. States, counties, and municipalities outlaw
or restrict ferrets for a variety of reasons, pretty much all invalid,
but I'd say that the fundamental problem is that many people don't
understand what a pet ferret is.

What are some of those invalid reasons, you ask? Well, a common one
is that ferrets are seen as wild animals like raccoons or skunks,
rather than a domestic species like housecats. Of course, ferrets
have been domesticated for at least 2500 years.

Another popular misconception is that ferrets pose a serious rabies
danger; in fact, studies have indicated that it's very hard for a
ferret to catch rabies, and when one does, it dies very quickly, so
the danger is very small indeed. Besides, there's a ferret rabies
vaccine which has been shown to be effective.

A third common reason for banning ferrets is the idea that escaped
pets (nearly all of which are spayed or neutered) will form feral
packs and threaten livestock or native wildlife. There are no
confirmed cases of feral ferrets (as opposed to polecats or
polecat-ferret crosses, for instance) in the U.S., and a few
deliberate attempts to introduce domestic ferrets to the wild have
failed miserably, so this, too, is an unfounded fear -- even if one
could picture a ferret harming a cow or breaking into a commercial
poultry farm.

The only states which now ban ferrets are California and Hawaii. In
the face of overwhelming evidence, many areas are being persuaded to
change their outdated regulations.

Most of the misconceptions regarding domestic ferrets probably come
from mistaking them for their wild cousins. It's very difficult to
tell a polecat or a mink from a domestic ferret when all you've seen
is a flash of fur disappearing into a burrow, and polecats and minks
are quite common in the less-developed areas of Europe and North

Because of the similar names, domestic ferrets have also been confused
with their cousins the North American Black-Footed Ferrets, Mustela
nigripes. Black-footed ferrets (BFFs) are wild remote relatives of
the domestic ferret. They are an endangered species: the only BFFs
known to exist are in zoos or in a breeding program in Wyoming.
However, despite similar appearances, the BFF is not very closely
related to the domestic ferret.


Subject: (3.3) Are ferrets legal where I live? Do I need a license?

Depending on where you live, ferrets may be completely unregulated,
require a license to breed but not to own, require a permit to own, or
be entirely illegal. This varies by state or province, county, and

You can find out about your town by calling the local Wildlife
Department or Fish and Game Department, the humane society, or
veterinarians (recommended in that order). Note that some pet stores
in FFZs sell ferrets anyway, so the presence of one in your corner
store may not be any indication of their legality, and I wouldn't
necessarily trust the pet store to be honest about local laws.

Katie Fritz has compiled an extensive, though not complete, list of
FFZs. If you have or want more information, contact her at
<reds...@ix.netcom.com> or on CompuServe at 71257,3153.

Here's a list of some of the larger places where ferrets are illegal,
as of April 1997. A more extensive list is also available, from

California, Hawaii

Washington, DC; Dallas, Ft. Worth, Beaumont, and various other
cities in TX; Bloomington and Burnsville, MN; Tulsa, OK; Columbus,
OH; London, York, and East York, Ontario, Canada; Puerto Rico

Although ferrets aren't actually illegal in New York City or
Minneapolis, MN, they are not welcomed and may be confiscated or
ticketed. Similarly, although it's legal to own ferrets in South
Carolina, it's not legal to sell them there, and the state is
known to be pretty ferret-unfriendly.

Many military bases ban ferrets. It seems to be at the discretion
of the base commander.

Permits or licenses are required in order to own ferrets in the
following places: New Jersey ($10/year), Rhode Island ($10/year),
Illinois (free). Permits are also required in St. Paul, MN, and
may be difficult to obtain.

These lists are by no means complete, so check locally before you buy
a ferret.


Subject: (3.4) I'm allergic to cats. Will I be allergic to ferrets?

There's really no way to tell. You could be highly allergic to some
other animal and have no problems at all with ferrets. If you think
you might be allergic, visit a pet store, breeder or friend who has
one and check. Allergies might make you sneeze, or you might have a
skin reaction from touching or being scratched by a ferret. One
person wrote me to say he was allergic only to intact males, so you
may want to try contact with females or neutered males as well. Also
note that some people are allergic to the perfumes pet stores often
put on animals, but not to the animals themselves.


Subject: (3.5) How long do ferrets live?

Ferrets typically live 6 to 10 years, with 6 apparently more common
than 10. The oldest ferret I know of is 15.


Subject: (3.6) How much do ferrets cost?

Prices for ferrets vary widely from place to place, and depending on
where you get the ferret [4.4]. Prices for stores and breeders are
usually in the US $75-$250 range, typically around $100. Plan on
another $100-$250 for a cage [5.4] and supplies [5.3], plus around $75
for the first batch of vaccinations [9.2].

Of course, there are also regular costs of caring for the ferret.
They don't eat much, so food and litter aren't a huge expense, but
there are also treats [6.3] and hairball remedies, plus the annual
checkups [9.4] and vaccinations [9.2]. In addition, though it might
not happen, you should be prepared to pay for at least one $300 vet
visit in each ferret's 6- to 10-year lifetime, from his getting sick,
being in an accident, or eating something he shouldn't [11.1].


Subject: (3.7) Do ferrets smell bad? What can I do about it?

Ferrets have an odor all their own, just like any pet. Some people
like the musky scent, a few can't stand it, and most are in between.
(Personally, I think it's much better than wet doggy smell or cat box
stench.) If the ferret isn't yet altered [9.1], having that done will
cut down on the odor a lot; whole (un-neutered) males, particularly,
have a very strong smell. Young kits also have a peculiar, sharp
scent which they lose as they get a bit older.

Descenting a ferret [9.1] doesn't change the day-to-day smell. Only
the scent glands near the tail are removed, which prevents the ferret
from releasing bad-smelling musk if it's frightened, but doesn't stop
the normal musky oils which come from glands throughout the skin.

The two big things you can do to cut down on your ferret's odor are to
bathe him less -- yes, less -- often and to clean his bedding more
often. Most of the musk stays in the cloth, on the litter or paper,
and on your floors and furniture, not on the ferret himself. Cleaning
them can be a big help. Also, right after a bath the ferret's skin
glands go into overdrive to replenish the oils you just washed away,
so for a few days the ferret will actually smell worse. Foods
containing fish may make your ferret, or his litter pan, smell worse
than those with chicken, lamb, etc.. You may also find that your
ferret smells more during shedding season in the spring and fall.

Some people have had good luck with Ferret Sheen powder and various
air filter systems.


Subject: (3.8) Is a ferret a good pet for a child?

Many people have both children and ferrets without problems, but
there's a difference between having both children and pets, and
getting a pet for your child. It's important to remember that a
ferret is a lot like a cat or dog, and will require the same kind of
attention and care. It's not at all like keeping a pet hamster or
guinea pig. If your child is responsible, careful, and not too young,
and you're willing to supervise and help out with the care, a ferret
will be a great pet. Otherwise, consider getting a low-maintenance
pet you can keep in a cage instead.

It is definitely necessary to monitor interactions between young
children and ANY pets closely, and to make sure children know the
proper way to handle pets. A living creature needs, and deserves, to
be treated with more care than a toy. Ferrets in particular love to
pounce and wrestle when they play, which may frighten children, and
children tend to play rather roughly, which may prompt a more vigorous
response from an active ferret than from a typical cat.

Just as some very friendly dogs become nervous around children because
they don't look, smell, or act like adults, some ferrets who aren't
used to kids don't quite know how to behave around them. Make sure
both your child and your ferret understand what's expected of them,
and what to expect from the other one. At least one person suggests
that ferrets brought up around other animals, including other ferrets,
will adjust to a child better than ones only used to adult humans.

There are several stories floating around about ferrets attacking
babies, some more true than others. Ferrets are unfamiliar to most
people, so it's easier for them to make sweeping statements on the
basis of a tiny amount of information. Some of the reports are simply
rumor, or the result of confusing another animal with a ferret.
Others are based in fact, but omit important information (for
instance, that the child and pets had clearly been neglected or abused
prior to the attack). A small number are unfortunately true.

However, plenty of children have been attacked and even killed by dogs
and cats. The number of people injured by ferrets each year is a tiny
fraction of the number wounded or killed by dogs. People don't claim
that all dogs and cats are too dangerous for pets, but rather that
more responsible parenting and pet ownership is needed.

According to Chris Lewis, former moderator of the Ferret Mailing
List [1.3]:

The FML has carried confirmed reports of two, possibly three,
cases where an animal identified as a "ferret" has seriously
injured, and in one case, I believe, killed, infants. One in the
UK, and one or two in the US. In none of these cases has it been
proven that the animal was a ferret - particularly in the UK, it
is quite possible that the animal was actually an European polecat
which are raised for fur and sometimes for hunting (in the UK).
And in each case gross child and animal abuse is well documented.
But it's important to remember, that even the most pessimistic
statistics on ferrets show that a ferret is about a thousand times
*less* likely to cause injury than a dog. Indeed, every year
there are hundreds of very serious or fatal dog attacks in the US
alone. Worst case statistics show approximately 12 ferret attacks
ever recorded in the US.

Dr. Bruce Williams, DVM, adds:

I can say from personal experience that there are many, many more
bite incidents with the household dog or cat, and that either of
these species tend to do a lot more damage. I have seen children
require over a hundred facial stitches from getting between the
dog and its food, but never anything like this with a ferret. But
I've also been nailed by my share of ferrets too.

Personally, I don't recommend ferrets for people with children
under 6 or 7 - either the child or the ferret ends up getting


Subject: (3.9) What are the different ferret colors?

Ferrets often change colors with the seasons, lighter in the winter
than in the summer, and many of them lighten as they age, too.
Different ferret organizations recognize different colors and
patterns, but unless you're planning to enter your ferret in a show,
the exact label isn't particularly important. Some of the more
commonly accepted colors are described in general terms below, adapted
from summaries written by William and Diane Killian of Zen and the Art
of Ferrets and Pam Troutman of STAR*Ferrets.

The albino is white with red eyes and a pink nose. A dark-eyed
white can have very light eyes and can possibly be confused with
an albino. These can actually range from white to cream colored
with the whiter the color the better. A dark-eyed white (often
called a black-eyed white) is a ferret with white guard hairs but
eyes darker than the red of an albino.

The sable has rich dark brown guard hairs with golden highlights,
with a white to golden undercoat. A black sable has blue-black
guard hairs with no golden or brownish cast, with a white to cream

The chocolate is described as warm dark to milk chocolate brown
with a white to golden or amber undercoat and highlights.

A cinnamon is a rich light reddish brown with a golden to white
undercoat. This can also be used to describe a ferret with light,
tan guard hairs with pinkish or reddish highlights. Straight tan
is a champagne.

A silver starts out grey, or white with a few black hairs.
The ferret may or may not have a mask. There is a tendency for
the guard hair to lighten to white evenly over the body. As a
ferret ages each progressive coat change has a higher percentage
of white rather than dark guard hairs. Eventually the ferret
could be all white.

White patches on the throat might be called throat stars, throat
stripes, or bibs; white toes, mitts (sometimes called silver
mitts), or stockings go progressively further up the legs. A
blaze or badger has a white stripe on the top of the head, and a
panda has a fully white head. A siamese has an even darker color
on the legs and tail than usual and a V-shaped mask; and a self is
nearly solid in color.


Subject: (3.10) What do you call a ferret male/female/baby/group?

A male is called a hob, and a female is a jill. To some people,
neutered males are gibs and neutered females are sprites , but these
are new terms and aren't as commonly used. A baby ferret of either
sex is a kit.

The most commonly accepted phrase for a group is "a business of
ferrets". Some people spell it "busyness" instead. Another
possibility, "fastening" or "fesnyng," is thought to be due to a
misreading of "bysnys" long ago.


Subject: (3.11) How can I help the ferret community?

There are lots of ways you can help the ferret community at large. If
your ferrets are very trustworthy and have had their vaccinations,
[9.2] take them with you to the park or pet store and show people what
wonderful pets they are, to counteract all the false rumors. (Be very
careful, though: if your ferret should nip or scratch someone, even by
accident, some states will kill him for rabies testing, even if he's
been vaccinated. You may want to only let people pet his back.) Give
good ferret information, perhaps a copy of this general FAQ and the
Medical FAQs [1.1], to your vet.

Adopt, foster, or sponsor a ferret from a local shelter, or donate old
towels, shirts, food, litter, cages, money, or time. Many shelters
could use help with construction projects, computer setup and use,
recordkeeping, etc., as well as day-to-day ferret care, cage cleaning,
and trips to the vet. (However, shelter directors are very busy
people, and may have established routines they'd rather not have
disrupted, so don't be offended if your offer of help is refused. Ask
if there's something else you could do instead.) To find a shelter
near you, see the STAR*Ferrets list of clubs, shelters, etc. [1.2]
or contact a local ferret club.

Participate in the "Support Our Shelters" coupon book program, in
which you send $25 and receive a book of grocery store coupons of YOUR
choice worth at least $200. More information is available by sending
the command
in the body of email to <list...@cunyvm.cuny.edu>.

== End of Part 1 ==

- Pamela Greene
Ferret Central: http://www.ferretcentral.org/
Clan Lord (online game) FAQ: http://faq.clanlord.net/
This sentence would be seven words long if it were six words shorter.

Pamela Greene

Apr 17, 2004, 7:28:59 AM4/17/04
Archive-name: pets/ferret-faq/part3
Last-modified: 10 Feb 1998

Posting-Frequency: monthly (around the 20th)
Version: 4.0.1
URL: http://www.ferretcentral.org/faq/


Compiled and edited by Pamela Greene <pa...@alumni.rice.edu>
Additions, corrections, and suggestions for this file are welcomed!

This document is copyright 1994-1998 by Pamela L. Greene. See section
0.5 (in Part 1, About Ferrets and This FAQ) for authorship information
and redistribution rights. In short, you can give it away, but you
can't charge for it or include it in any for-profit work without

The basic Ferret FAQ has five parts, all of which should be available
wherever you obtained this one. Most people will want to look at
parts 1 through 4, and perhaps skim part 5. A complete table of
contents for all five files is given in Part 1. Please at least read
section 0 in Part 1, About this FAQ. In addition, there are separate
FAQ's for several common ferret diseases. Information about those is
given in section [1.1].

Please note: I am not a ferret expert, and I did not write, nor did I
independently verify, all the information in this file. I have done
my best to include only accurate and useful information, but I cannot
guarantee that what is contained in this file, whether written by me
or by one of the contributors, is correct, or even that following the
advice herein won't be harmful to you or your ferret in some way. For
advice from an expert, you may wish to consult one of several books
available, or, especially in the case of a suspected medical problem,
a veterinarian who is familiar with the treatment of ferrets.




7. *** Basic ferret care and training ***

(7.1) How do I train my pet not to nip?
(7.2) I'm having problems litter-training. What do I do?
(7.3) How can I get my ferret to stop digging?
(7.4) How can I stop my ferret from digging in his food or water?
(7.5) Any advice on baths, ears, and nail-clipping?

8. *** Things ferrets say and do ***

(8.1) What games do ferrets like to play?
(8.2) Can I teach my ferret tricks? How?
(8.3) My ferret trembles a lot. Is that normal?
(8.4) My ferret is losing hair!
(8.5) Is he really just asleep?
(8.6) What does such-and-such a noise mean?
(8.7) What else should I probably not worry about?
(8.8) Do ferrets travel well?
(8.9) Help! My ferret is lost!

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

7. *** Basic ferret care and training ***


Subject: (7.1) How do I train my pet not to nip?

Like kittens and puppies, ferret kits must be taught not to nip. A
ferret which has been bred to be a pet shouldn't be vicious or bite,
but ferret play does include mock combat, and young ones won't know
how hard they can put their teeth on you without hurting you. A
playing ferret may run at you with his mouth open or even put his
teeth on your hand, but if he presses down hard enough to hurt, you
need to discipline him. Just remember, ferrets aren't malicious, they
just need to learn what behavior is acceptable.

A very few otherwise calm, gentle ferrets will react in an extreme way
to a high-pitched noise such as a squeaky toy (perhaps only one
particular toy) or the sound of rubbing fingers on a window or a
balloon. Nobody's quite sure why that sets them off, though it seems
to be a protective instinct of some sort. If your ferret is one of
those few who bites wildly at the source of such a sound, my best
advice is, don't make that sound around them.

Sometimes a ferret which has been mistreated will bite out of fear, or
an older ferret might bite because of pain, either in the mouth or
elsewhere. In either of these cases, strict discipline isn't going to
do any good. For an animal in pain, of course, take it to the vet.
For an abused ferret, try one of the alternatives mentioned below, and
have a lot of patience: the ferret has to learn to trust someone when
all it has known before is abuse. Regina Harrison has created a Web
page about caring for and rehabilitating such "problem" ferrets at

In all cases, positive reinforcement (giving treats [6.3] and lots of
praise when the ferret does well) works much better than punishment,
but if you need one, use a "time out" for a few minutes in a cage or
carrier. Similarly, don't set the ferret down when he struggles and
nips -- you'll be teaching him that that's the way to get what he
wants. Finally, whichever method you use, consistency and immediacy
are very important.

Flicking the ferret's nose while his teeth are on you is a pretty
common form of discipline, but it might not be the best. Your ferret
might end up associating you with bad things rather than good ones.
Also, it's a very bad idea to use nose-tapping or other physical
discipline on a ferret who has been mistreated or who acts unusually
aggressive or frightened. There are several alternatives, which you
might want to try in combination:

If the ferret is biting too hard in play, try using a signal he
already understands: a high-pitched "Yip!" (or "Hey!" or whatever),
like the noise one kit makes when another is playing too roughly.
On the other hand, if the ferret seems to interpret that as a sign
of weakness, switch to a deep, commanding voice and act as stern as
you can.

Stopping the game by gently pinning the ferret down until he gets
bored can work well, too.

Confining the misbehaving ferret to a cage [5.4] and ignoring him
for a few minutes can be very effective, especially if there's
another ferret wandering around conspicuously having fun.

You can cover your hands with Bitter Apple, either the spray or the
paste, so nipping tastes bad.

Some people have had good luck with either pushing a finger into
the ferret's mouth (sideways, behind the back teeth) or holding the
mouth open from behind (being careful not to choke the ferret)
immediately after a bite. Most ferrets find either of these
uncomfortable, and it associates the unpleasant feeling with the
taste of finger.

If you need the ferret to let go, try covering both his nostrils
with your fingers. If he still hangs on, don't keep them there long,

If the ferret isn't one of those who absolutely hate to be
scruffed, that can help. You might also shake the ferret gently by
the scruff, or drag him along the floor while you hiss. Both these
mimic the way mother ferrets reprimand their kits. Obviously,
don't be so rough that you hurt him. You can also cover his face
with your hand, which he probably won't like.


Subject: (7.2) I'm having problems litter-training. What do I do?

Ferrets can be trained to use a litter pan, but unlike cats, they
don't take to it automatically. To litter-train your ferret, start
him out in a small area, perhaps his cage [5.4], and expand his space
gradually as he becomes better trained. If it's a big cage, you might
need to block off part of it at first.

Fasten the litter pan down so it can't be tipped over. Keep a little
dirty litter in it at first, to mark it as a bathroom and to deter him
from digging in it [7.3]. Don't let it get too dirty, though; some
ferrets can be pretty finicky about their pans. Likewise, ferrets and
cats often don't like to share pans with each other. Most ferrets
won't mess up their beds or food, so put towels or food bowls in all
the non-litter corners until your ferret is used to making the effort
to find a pan. Bedding that has been slept in a few times and smells
like sleeping ferret will be even better than clean bedding for
convincing a ferret that a corner is a bedroom instead of a bathroom.

Ferrets generally use their pans within fifteen minutes of waking up,
so make sure yours uses the pan before you let him out, or put him
back in the cage five or ten minutes after you wake him up to come
play. When he's out running around for playtime, keep a close eye on
him, and put him in his litter pan every half hour or so, or whenever
you see him "pick up a magazine and start to back into a corner" (as
one FML subscriber put it).

Whenever your ferret uses a litterpan, whether you had to carry him to
it or not, give him lots of praise and a little treat [6.3] right away.
Ferrets will do almost anything for treats, and they're fast learners.
Within a few days, your ferret will probably be faking using the pan,
just to get out of the cage or get a treat. That's okay; at least it
reinforces the right idea.

Positive reinforcement (treats and praise) are usually much more
effective than any punishment, but if you need one, use a firm "No!"
and cage time. Rubbing the ferret's nose in his mess won't do any
good. He can't connect it to it being in the wrong place, and ferrets
sniff their litter pans anyway. As with all training, consistency and
immediacy are crucial. Scolding a ferret for a mistake that's hours
or even a few minutes old probably won't help a bit.

If your ferret's favorite corner isn't yours, you have a few choices.
could put a pan (or newspaper, if it's a tight spot) in it; ferrets
have short legs and attention spans, so you'll probably need several
pans around your home anyway. Otherwise, try putting a crumpled towel
or a food bowl in the well-cleaned corner, making it look more like a
bedroom or kitchen than a latrine.

"Accident" corners should be cleaned very well with vinegar, diluted
bleach, or another bad-smelling disinfectant (don't let your ferret
onto it 'till it dries!), specifically so they don't continue to smell
like ferret bathrooms but also as a general deterrent. For the same
reason, you probably shouldn't clean litter pans with bleach,
certainly not the same one you're using as a deterrent elsewhere.
Urine which has soaked into wood will still smell like a bathroom to a
ferret even when you can't tell, so be sure to clean it very well,
perhaps with Simple Green or a pet odor remover, and consider covering
wooden cage floors with linoleum or polyurethane.

Although almost every ferret can be trained to use a litter pan, there
is individual variation. Ferrets just aren't as diligent about their
pans as most cats, so there will be an occasional accident. Even
well-trained ferrets tend to lose track of their litter pans when
they're particularly frightened or excited, or if they're in a new
house or room. In general you can expect at least a 90% "hit" rate,
though some ferrets just don't catch on as well and some do
considerably better. At least ferrets are small, so their accidents
are pretty easy to clean up.

Finally, if your ferret seems to have completely forgotten all about
litter pans, you might need to retrain him by confining him to a
smaller area or even a cage for a week or so and gradually expanding
his space as he catches on again.


Subject: (7.3) How can I get my ferret to stop digging?

Many ferrets love to dig. They'll dig in their litter pans, under the
cushions of the couch, and at the carpet near closed doors.

To get your ferret to stop tossing litter all over, start out by
putting less in the pan, and keep it just clean enough that there's a
dry layer on top. Litter digging tends to be a kit behavior, perhaps
because kits have so much energy and are often cooped up in cages, so
with time and luck your ferret will grow out of it.

It's nearly impossible to train a ferret not to dig at all, so you're
better off protecting your property [5.2] and removing the temptation.
Some digging, especially in the litter pan, can be out of boredom, so
playing with the ferret more can help, too. You can also help control
your ferret's digging by giving her somewhere approved to dig. A box
filled with dirt, sand and gravel, then set into a larger box to
contain the mess, can be great fun to a ferret. Your ferret may also
enjoy digging outside, closely supervised of course.


Subject: (7.4) How can I stop my ferret from digging in his food or water?

A lot of ferrets like to dig in their food or water bowls. If the
bowls are in contained areas and the ferrets are willing to eat off
the floor, the easiest solution is to provide a back-up water bottle
and ignore the digging. You can also put the bowls in larger pans to
contain the mess; use separate pans for the food and water, so the
spilled food doesn't get soggy and spoil.

Heavy bowls that angle inward can help, or for more diligent
water-bowl diggers, you can switch to a bottle. Likewise, some people
find that a J-type rabbit feeder works well for food, though others
find that just gives their ferrets a lot more food to joyfully spread
around the room. At least one person used a PVC p-trap with a smaller
opening instead. Another nearly dig-proof design is to put the food
in a covered plastic Tupperware-type container and cut a hole in the
top just big enough for the ferret's head.


Subject: (7.5) Any advice on baths, ears, and nail-clipping?

First of all, unless your ferret goes snorkeling in butterscotch
pudding or has a bad case of fleas, you really don't need to bathe her
very often at all. It doesn't affect the odor much; in fact, many
ferrets smell worse for a few days following a bath. The best
thing you can do to control your ferret's scent is to change her
bedding every few days and keep the litter pans clean.

The problem with frequent bathing is that it can cause dry skin,
especially in winter. There's nothing wrong with bathing your ferret
only once a year. Once a month should be okay, but switch to less
often if you have problems with dry skin. Most ferrets don't seem to
mind baths much. Some ferrets enjoy a bath quite a bit, swimming
around in the tub and diving for the drain plug.

The first step in bathing a ferret (well, after catching her) is to
check her nails and trim them if necessary.

Jim Lapeyre describes the recommended procedure like this:

Thus saith the Wise:
"When Haz-Abuminal saw that clipping the claws of the domestic
ferret was grievous, he pondered day and night for a year and a
day. After the year and the day had passed, he rose, and, taking
the ferret in his lap, dropped three drops of Linatone [6.2] upon
the belly [of the ferret], which, perceiving that its navel had
Linatone, turned to lick. Thus distracted, the ferret heeded not
that the claws were being trimmed, and there was much rejoicing.
And when the claws were all neatly trimmed, the people were amazed
and astonished, saying, Who is this who, alone among mankind, has
tricked a ferret?"

If you have trouble even with this method, and you have a helper, have
the helper hold the ferret by the scruff of the neck and put Ferretone
on one of his fingers. Scruffing a ferret will generally make her
calm down and possibly even go limp, and if not, the Ferretone should
keep her distracted.

Cut the nail just longer than the pink line inside it. Place the cut
parallel to where the floor will be when the ferret stands, to prevent
the tip from breaking later. (A drawing is available at
<http://www.alfaskop.net/~griffon/ferrets/images/kloklipp.gif>.) Be
careful not to nick the line or the toe, since in either case it'll
bleed a lot and your ferret will decide nail clipping is not a good
thing. Kwik-Stop or some other styptic powder is good to have around
in case this happens, to stop the bleeding quickly, or you can hold a
piece of tissue or paper towel over the nail and elevate the foot for
a few minutes until it stops.

Next you should check your pet's ears. They shouldn't need cleaning
more than once a month at most, but if they seem unduly dirty, dampen
a cotton swab with sweet oil (made for cleaning babies' ears) or an
alcohol-based ear cleaner (only if dry skin is not a problem) and
gently clean them. Peroxide, water, and ointments are not
recommended, because wet ears are much more prone to infections.
Hold the swab along the animal's head rather than poking it into the ear,
to avoid injuring the ear. Yellowish or brownish-red ear wax is
normal, but if you see any black substance your pet probably has
ear mites, which should be taken care of [10.10].

There are also several excellent products made for cleaning cats'
ears, which you just squirt in and they shake out. They're just fine
for ferrets, and your vet should be able to tell you about them.

Now fill a tub or kitchen sink partway with warm water. Many people
have found that ferrets prefer their baths warmer than you'd expect,
probably because their body temperatures are pretty high [12.9]. You
don't want to scald your ferret, but if you can put your hand or foot into
the water and feel comfortable right away, it should be okay.
If you want to let your pet play in the water, fill a tub just deeper
than the ferret is tall, and provide some sort of support (a box in
the tub) in case she gets tired of swimming. You can also take her
into the shower with you; many ferrets who don't like baths are
perfectly happy being held in a shower.

Finally, bathe the ferret. Ferret shampoos are available, or no-tears
baby shampoo works fine too. Some people like Pert for Kids if the
ferret has dry skin. Wet the ferret completely, either in one half of
a double sink or in a tub. Lather her from head to tail. Our ferrets
both start to struggle at this point, so we let them put their hind
legs on the side of the tub while they're being washed. Rinse the
ferret thoroughly in clear, warm running water. For dry skin, some
people then dip the ferret in a dilute solution of moisturizer in
water, being careful to keep her head out.

Older, sick, or weak ferrets can be gently cleaned using baby oil,
which can also help get gooey things out of fur.

Drying a wiggly, dripping ferret can be a lot of fun. Some people put
a couple of towels and the ferrets together in a cardboard box or
small, clean garbage can and let them dry themselves. I find it's
easiest to keep the ferret in a towel at chest-level, holding her head
and torso in one hand while drying her with the other. Wearing a
terry bathrobe is helpful here too. You could also put your ferret on
the floor in a towel and rub her dry, but she'll probably think you're
playing a rowdy game of tousle and try to run away. Once you've got
her mostly dry, put her somewhere warm with a dry towel to roll in and
she'll finish the job, although it's been mentioned that a damp ferret
seems to lose all sense of judgment, suddenly thinking that walls,
cage floors, milk cartons, and everything except the towel must be
remarkably water-absorbent. You can also try using a hair dryer on
its coolest setting, but many ferrets won't stand for that.

Immediately after a bath, many ferrets pretty much go nuts, thrashing
and bouncing from side to side and rolling against everything in
sight. Mainly they're trying to dry themselves, with a good bit of
general excitement from the bath and drying process too.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

8. *** Things ferrets say and do ***


Subject: (8.1) What games do ferrets like to play?

Most ferrets enjoy mock combat, chase, tug-o'-war, hide-and-seek, and
so forth, with each other or with you. Ours love to bounce around on
our fluffy comforter, swat at us from behind the bookcases, and attack
each other through the throw rugs. They like to explore new things
and places, sniff new smells, dig and roll in the dirt. Most of them
love human interaction and will gladly include you in their play if
you make the time for them. It may take you a little while to learn
what each ferret's favorite games are, but soon you'll be one of their
best playmates. Ferrets also love to swipe things and drag them into
the most inaccessible location possible. Protect your keys and

If your ferret jumps back and forth in front of you or tugs on your
pants leg, he wants to play. An appropriate response would be to get
down on your hands and knees and chase him around, or to dangle a
washcloth in front of him and start a tugging game, for instance. If
he dances around, chuckling and dooking and bouncing off the walls,
he's having fun.

Here are a few more specific game suggestions, from the fertile
imagination of "Mo' Bob" Church. Note that many of these games need
you to supervise (or join in!), to make sure the ferrets don't get
hurt or stuck or swallow anything they shouldn't.

Bowl Me Over Game: Buy one of those $2 plastic bouncing balls
(like at K-mart) and cut a couple of ferret-sized holes in
it. [Use more than one hole, so there's no chance the ball could
roll onto its hole and trap a ferret inside to suffocate.] Fill
the ball with plastic bags or gift-wrapping cellophane, and watch
the fun. Watch for chewing the materials, otherwise quite safe.

Suction-cup Chase: Use two large suction cups (about $1 each), and
stick one to each side of a room. Thread a washer or ring on a
string, then tie the string from one suction cup to the other.
Tie a string to the washer and the other end to a toy or
waffle-type practice golf ball. They will go nuts trying to get
the ball in a hidey-hole.

Maze: Use a large cardboard box. Fold scrap cardboard into
triangular shapes, tape, and fill the box with as many as
possible. Put one treat in each triangular tube. Cut several
holes in the side, and allow the ferts access. Hours-0-fun!

Slip Sliding Away: Cut a 1 ft wide by 3-4 ft long piece of Masonite
($5), and prop it smooth-side up on a bench or sofa. Place a
drop of Ferretone [6.2] in the middle. A drop of ice cream is also

Smokey the Bear: This is Bear's favorite game. Fill a file-
storage box about 1/3 with sand mixed with potting soil about 4
to 1. Pour in 1/4 bottle of liquid smoke, and mix well. They
might be dirty afterwards, but they actually smile! I have
watched Bear roll in the dirt for hours, snorting and snorkeling,
and anything else you can imagine. It's one of the few things he
will run across the floor for. I place it in the kitchen for
ease of cleanup later. Keeps them from digging in the litter

The Weasel Wonder Tube: Cut a piece of 2inch PVC pipe ($2) about 8
inches long. Place into the hole treats so they have to figure
out how to get the treat out. Make sure the ferret's heads don't
get stuck.

Carpet Fishing: Use a ice-fishing pole with 20 lb test line. Tie
3-4 red/white bobbers and cast across the room. Reel the babies
in at about the speed a mouse would run if it was stupid enough
to be in the room at the time. If you don't have the pole, use
the string only; the pole makes it much easier, but is not

Crinkle: Fold an old sheet in half and lay slightly crinkled
newspaper or cellophane in the middle. Makes cool sounds. Mine
love to wardance on the pile.

Chase the old man: I chase them on my hands and knees, then let them
chase me back. You will tire before they do. Watch for
carpet-mines [those things which should have gone into the litter

Snake!: Old pant legs are cut from the old pants and just thrown on
the floor. They will know what to do. Sometimes I stick one end
of a dryer tube into the pant leg.

Box-O-Balls: I fill a cardboard box about 1/3 up with plastic whiffle
balls (golf-size) or crumpled paper balls.

Fingers: Cut mucho finger-sized holes in a cardboard sheet. Dip
your fingers in Ferretone or liquid smoke. Stick you finger
through the hole, and as they try to sniff, move it to another
hole. Stay fast or risk nips. All of mine love this game.

Webmaster: Take your hanging plant off the hook, and hang a basket so
it is about 2 feet from the floor. Staple cheesecloth or other
open weave fabric to the edges of the basket so the free end
drags on the floor. Watching them climb up and swing back and
forth is a hoot. [A basket hanging a bit lower down, without the
fabric, can also be great fun.]

Submarine: Fill the bathtub with 3 or 4 inches of water. Float a
dozen or so ping-pong balls; each lightly wiped with Ferretone [6.2].
(Those tiny plastic footballs work well also.) I put a homemade
pine and Masonite ladder over the tub so the beasts can easily
climb in and out.

Pickle Race: Dampen crushed chow, mix in a little peanut butter
(or some other treat), and mold tiny pickles about 1 inch long.
After oven drying, I spray on some Ferretone for that wonderful
odor. I call the beasties, let them sniff the "pickles" until
they are frothing at the mouth, then toss the treats one at a
time across the room At first they will wonder where it
evaporated to, but time and odor will teach them to do what my
fuzzballs do--run, en masse, after the pickle. Clue: Always use
the same sound to call them, and as soon as they get across the
floor, use the sound and all but the one with the pickle will
return. Throw another pickle. I do this until everyone has a
pickle; usually Bear gets the first one, and then crawls all over
me until I throw him a second one.

Turtle: I cut up cardboard boxes and assemble new boxes that are
about 6in by 8 in, no tops, and a U-shaped cut-out at one end. I
put one over each fuzzy, and they run around like turtles.

Sliders: Buy a 5 ft section of while PVC pipe, 4-5 inches in
diameter ($2-3). Prop one end up on the sofa, and watch them
slide down the tube.

Freak-Out: Fill a paper bag with all the crumpled paper balls it
will hold, and then dump them on a playful ferret.

Melissa Litwicki adds these suggestions:

The towel game: Ferrets love towels. Take one corner of a towel,
sit on the floor, and swirl it around and over your ferret - they
usually go nuts. This can be low-impact or raucous tumbling fun
for ferrets of all sensibilities. [Try dragging the towel around
on the floor, too, and letting your ferrets take rides on it.]

Dryer hose under a bean bag: one of our all-time favorites. Better
than just dryer hose - stretch the hose out so both ends are
sticking out either side of the bag. Keeps up to five ferrets
busy at once! They go over, under, to either side of the hose
under the bag, around, and through. Killer amusement to watch,
too. :)

The ping-pong ball: take strong thread and fasten a ping-pong ball
to the end. Tie the thread to the ceiling, leaving the ball
about two inches above the floor. For most amusing results, if
you can spare the room, hang it in a doorway - it bounces off the
door to hilarious effect.

The ping-pong ball in a stewpot: Fill pot halfway with water, drop
the ball in. Hint: put a towel under the pot. Ferrets get
frustrated fast trying to get the ball out, but have fun getting
wet. [Various other toys also work well, and ice cubes in a pot
or shallow dish are very popular, too.]

Other ideas, from various sources:

Tunneling to Alaska: Fill the bathtub or a big bowl or pot full
of snow, put it somewhere that can get wet, and let your ferrets
dig in it. Warmer than standing outside watching them tunnel in
the drifts there. Try burying a few toys or raisins as you fill
the bowl.

Making the bed: Put the ferrets on the bed and watch them dance
and tunnel as you shake out the sheets, toss on a few blankets,
and fluff the pillows. A good game for busy mornings.

Unpacking game: Whenever coming back from a trip, put your
luggage on the bed and the fuzzies next it it as you unpack.
They monsters will be of great assistance in helping open up all
the zippers, pockets, etc. and dragging out the neat stuff.

Hidden in the Pillow: Pick up fuzzie and stick him/her in the
bottom of your pillowcase and watch them explore, turn the pillow
over or around in circles periodically to confuse them.

Bag O' Ferrets: Put several ferrets in a large bag: a trash
bag, canvas tote bag, duffel bag, whatever. Play peek-a-boo,
opening and closing the top. Rattle the plastic, gently poke the
outsides, drag the bag around on the floor... just watch out for
nips through the bag from overexcited woozles.

Semi-truck: With ferret's back on carpet, drive him around like
a toy truck, making truck noises if you are not too proud. Note:
some ferrets love this, some don't like it a bit. On hardwood
floors, you can slide ferrets on their backs, or spin them around
with a finger on the chest. Some like this more than others.

Knit a Sweater: Take a ball of yarn. Keeping one end near you,
toss it toward a group of ferrets. Many of them will have a
great time rolling in it and trying to unwind it all. When
finished, simply roll it back up; don't worry about the knots.


Subject: (8.2) Can I teach my ferret tricks? How?

Yes, ferrets are plenty smart enough to learn to sit up, turn around,
roll over, stay on your shoulders or in a hood, and perhaps even walk
on a leash. To train your ferret to stay on your shoulders, for
instance, stand over a pile or basket of crumpled newspaper, and when
she falls into it, shout, "No!" The combination of the fall, the
noise, and your shout should persuade her to pay more attention to
staying on. Give her a treat when she does, and she should learn

The trick to all of these is getting your pet's attention while you
teach her. Don't try teaching tricks, or even trying to get a ferret
to perform, in an unexplored area -- it's nearly futile.

Unlike dogs, ferrets generally won't do a trick for the sheer joy of
it, or simply to please you. Usually there must be some kind of
reward expected [6.3], though that could be anything from a lick of
Ferretone to a bite of apple to a good head-scratching.

One very good trick to teach your ferret is to come when you make a
particular noise (for instance, whistle loudly) or squeak a particular
toy. Just make the noise each time you give the ferret a treat for a
while, then make it when your ferret isn't nearby and give the treat
as a reward when he comes to you. Ferrets often won't respond to their
names, and it's enormously helpful to have a way to call your pet when
he has escaped or is lost somewhere.


Subject: (8.3) My ferret trembles a lot. Is that normal?

Generally, yes. Ferrets normally tremble for two reasons. First,
they often shiver right after waking up, in order to raise their body
temperatures. Second, they shake or quiver when excited or
frightened. For a young kit, this could well be all the time, since
everything is new and interesting. For older ferrets, a bath or even
a good scolding could prompt trembling.

If your ferret's trembling persists with no apparent cause, first make
sure there's no cold draft around. (Ferrets can live fine outdoors,
with blankets and shade, but indoor lighting can cause their winter
coats not to come in until long after it's gotten cold enough outside
to need one.) If that's not the problem, check with a vet.


Subject: (8.4) My ferret is losing hair!

Ferrets shed their coats twice a year, in the fall and spring. The
times for these changes vary somewhat for ferrets kept in indoor
lighting conditions. Fur will come out by the handful, all over the
ferret, and his coat may look a bit sparse before the new one grows

If it's obviously not just normal shedding, see the information about
bald tails [10.7] and other kinds of hair loss [10.6], some of which
can be very serious.


Subject: (8.5) Is he really just asleep?

In general, ferrets sleep quite a bit, even adults. A two- to four-
hour playtime followed by a several-hour nap is typical. Ferrets
sometimes appear to be sleeping with their eyes partly open, and they
sleep very heavily, often not waking even when picked up. You can
take advantage of this and try to cut their nails while they're
asleep. It means you have to be especially careful where you walk and
sit, though.


Subject: (8.6) What does such-and-such a noise mean?

Most ferrets don't make much noise. This doesn't mean they're
unhappy, it just means, well, they're quiet.

Clucking, "dooking," or chuckling
Indicates happiness or excitement. Often uttered while playing or
exploring a new area.

Kits, especially, do this as a general excitement noise. It can
also be uttered by the loser in a wrestling match.

Frustration or anger. Ferrets often hiss while they're fighting,
even if it's just in play.

Screeching/loud chittering
Extreme fright or pain. This is your cue that it's time to go
rescue your pet from whatever it's gotten itself into. It can also
be a sign of anger.


Subject: (8.7) What else should I probably not worry about?

A happy ferret will "dance," flinging himself about on all fours
with an arched back. Clucking is common too. Dancing or just
careening into walls or bookcases is not at all uncommon, but
ferrets seem to just bounce off of such obstacles. Unless they
actually injure themselves, don't worry about them; they're having

Occasional sneezes
If you crawled under bookcases and couches, you'd sneeze too. Also,
ferrets have a pair of scent glands near their chins, and sneezing
can be a way of forcing some of the scent out so it can be rubbed on

"Reverse sneezes"
These sound almost like asthma, about the same duration as a sneeze,
and often occur several in a row, maybe after the poked her nose
somewhere dusty. They don't look or sound like a cough. You might
see the ferret's rib cage or body move once or twice a second with
the force of the inhalation.

Sniffing/wiping/licking the rear
This is a normal thing to do, especially after a bath. It helps
spread the ferret's scent around.

Licking urine
It's not uncommon for a ferret to take a few laps of urine, its
own or another ferret's. Nobody's really sure why they do it, but
it won't hurt them.

Hiccups are not uncommon, especially in young kits, who sometimes
seem alarmed by them. A comforting scritch, a drink of water, or a
small treat [6.3] can help.

For some reason, many ferrets wag their tails quickly when they have
their front ends in a tube or under a rug and they see something
interesting (a toy, a sock, another ferret) at the other end. It's
a normal sign of excitement.

Tail puffing
A ferret's tail will bottle-brush when he's excited or upset.
He's not necessarily frightened. He'd have to be really
worked up for the hair on the rest of his body to stand up, though.

Ear suckling
Often ferrets will suck on each others' ears, and sometimes even
cats' or dogs' ears, especially when they're sleeping. It's
probably a lot like thumb-sucking in humans, and nothing to worry
about as long as the one doing the sucking is eating well and the
other one's ears aren't getting sore.

Licking soap
For some reason, many ferrets love to eat soap, stealing it from
the bathroom or even licking the tub. A little bit of soap won't
hurt your ferret, though it may give her diarrhea. Don't give it to
her as a treat, of course, and try to keep it out of her reach, but
it's nothing to panic about unless she manages to eat a lot.

Summer weight loss, in males
Normally, weight loss is something to be concerned about [9.7], but
many males lose a fair bit of weight, even as much as 40% of their
bulk, in the summer and gain it back in the fall. It's mainly
preparation for breeding, but it's common in neutered males, too.
If your ferret seems otherwise healthy and happy, don't worry.


Subject: (8.8) Do ferrets travel well?

In general, yes.

Around town
Ferrets love going places. You can fix up a shoulder bag with a
litter pan and space for a water bottle and food dish and carry them
with you wherever they're welcome. Be careful not to let them get
too hot [10.8] or cold, though.

Automobile travel
Car trips don't seem to bother ferrets, although being closed up in
a travel cage may irritate them -- and you, if they scratch to get
out. Keeping them loose in the car is not recommended, since they
could get under the driver's feet or through some undetected hole
into the engine compartment or onto the road. You can use a water
bottle in a car, but fasten a deep dish or cup underneath it, since
it will drip, and put down a towel to soak up the inevitable spills.

Airplane travel
Only a few airlines allow ferrets on board their planes, in
under-seat carriers, for an additional charge. (America West, Air
Canada, and Delta do, and I once got a special exception from
Continental after talking with their customer service folks for a
while. Any others?) Sending your ferret in the cargo area is not
generally recommended, largely due to problems people have had with
temperature, pressure and general handling of pets who travel this
way. If you make any travel arrangements for your ferrets, whether
it's in the cabin, as baggage, or as freight, get them in writing.
Several people have reported experiences in which one person at an
airline said ferrets would be fine only to have another person
prohibit them, sometimes on very short notice.

Tranquilizing the ferret isn't recommended -- it'll disorient him
and may affect his ability to keep his body temperature regulated.
Medications can also be affected by altitude, leading to a risk of

Several people have been able to sneak their ferrets aboard aircraft
by carrying them through security, then transferring them to a
duffel bag in a restroom, but I have no experience with that.

If you have to fly your ferrets somewhere and no airline will take
them, a courier service such as Airborne Express or FedEx might be
able to help. This might be the only way to fly your ferrets to
some international destinations.

Many hotels allow pets in cages, although it's a good idea to
call ahead and make sure. Also leave a note to reassure the maids.

Canada/U.S. border crossings
As of January 22, 1997, an import permit is no longer needed to
bring a ferret into Canada, whether it's a Canadian or U.S. ferret.
Ferrets are now treated like dogs and cats, and only require proof
of rabies and distemper vaccinations. However, if you do not have a
residential address in Canada, a quarantine period may be imposed,
apparently at the discretion of the agent at the border.

Bringing ferrets from Canada into the U.S. is much the same. All I've
ever needed was a rabies certificate. Proof that the ferrets came
from the U.S. in the first place might also be helpful (a NY state
license, in my case; if you don't have one, register your pets with
U.S. Customs before you enter Canada). I don't know much about
Canadian residents bringing ferrets into the U.S., but I wouldn't
expect it to be any different.

Legal issues
You should also check with the Wildlife Departments of any areas
you'll be passing through or staying in to make sure that ferrets
are allowed, and carry documentation of the vaccines your pets have
had, just in case.


Subject: (8.9) Help! My ferret is lost!

[This section was written by Bev Fox, with additions by Carla Smith,
and has been edited slightly.]

The most important things to do only work if you do them before one of
your ferrets makes a break for the big outdoors.

Teach your ferrets to come to a sound (a word, squeaky toy, whistle,
etc.) and reward them with their favorite treat when they do. Deaf
ferrets can be trained to come by using a flashlight and blinking it
off and on rapidly for a strobing effect. (Hearing ones too, for that
matter.) Introduce your ferret to your neighbors so they will be
familiar with what a ferret is and what it looks like. Put a collar or
harness with a bell and name tag on your ferret whenever it is out of
the cage. This way if somebody sees it they will know that it is a pet
and not a wild animal.

Check through your house carefully, including places where your ferret
"couldn't possibly go." Look inside drawers, under dressers, in
hampers, under and inside refrigerators, etc. Check your backyard,
bushes and garage. Most ferrets when exploring a new area will cling
to the side of a building or structure before venturing out into an
open area. Put food and water out, preferably in a familiar cage or
carrier with a blanket or shirt that has your scent on it. Place food
on the front and back porch. You may also want to sprinkle the area
with flour to make it easier to identify tracks left by any animal
coming up to eat and drink.

Use your word processor or graphics program and design a missing
ferret poster now before you need it and have it on file so specific
information can be added and copies can be printed up in a short
period of time. The poster should include your phone number, the
ferret's name and picture, a description of any collar or harness he
was wearing, date missing, last known location, and mention of a
reward. (Never place how much money offered on the poster as some
people may not think the amount offered is worth their effort.) Some
people suggest that you say that the ferret is ill and needs
medication (even if it's healthy). (This little white lie might make
someone who finds your ferret and is thinking of keeping it for
themselves have second thoughts and call you to come get it.)

Call your local police, animal control authorities, ferret club,
ferret shelter, pet stores, veterinarians and radio stations. Get the
word out. Canvass your neighborhood door to door and let your
neighbors know to watch for a missing ferret in the area, perhaps in
their garages or dryer vents. If you have another ferret, take it
along to show them what one looks like. Ask your neighbors,
especially children, if they will help you look around. Hand
volunteers a noise maker that you use to call your ferret or tell them
your call sign. Also hand out treats so if the ferret is spotted by
someone they can keep it in sight until it can be retrieved. Alert
your mailman, newspaper boy, and anyone else who passes through your
area often. Post signs everywhere and place ads in your local
newspapers. Don't limit it to your immediate neighborhood. Ferrets
have been found many miles from home after crossing major highways and
busy streets.

If you own more than one ferret, take one with you. It can show you
small openings that you may otherwise overlook and may also draw the
missing ferret out into the open to see its friend.

Remember, look low. Ferrets love dark places so check under porches,
shrubs, dumpsters and cars. Ferrets also like small places so check
behind trashcans and any little nook and cranny you find. Look for
the telltale " a ferret has been here" signs. (Leaves, dirt and grass
that have been dug at and little piles of poop that we all know so

Don't give up hope. Missing ferrets have been found days, weeks and
occasionally even months after their great escape.

== End of Part 3 ==

Pamela Greene

Apr 17, 2004, 7:29:00 AM4/17/04
Archive-name: pets/ferret-faq/part5
Last-modified: 19 Jan 1998

Posting-Frequency: monthly (around the 20th)
Version: 4.0
URL: http://www.ferretcentral.org/faq/


Compiled and edited by Pamela Greene <pa...@alumni.rice.edu>
Additions, corrections, and suggestions for this file are welcomed!

This document is copyright 1994-1998 by Pamela L. Greene. See section
0.5 (in Part 1, About Ferrets and This FAQ) for authorship information
and redistribution rights. In short, you can give it away, but you
can't charge for it or include it in any for-profit work without

The basic Ferret FAQ has five parts, all of which should be available
wherever you obtained this one. Most people will want to look at
parts 1 through 4, and perhaps skim part 5. A complete table of
contents for all five files is given in Part 1. Please at least read
section 0 in Part 1, About this FAQ. In addition, there are separate
FAQ's for several common ferret diseases. Information about those is
given in section [1.1].

Please note: I am not a ferret expert, and I did not write, nor did I
independently verify, all the information in this file. I have done
my best to include only accurate and useful information, but I cannot
guarantee that what is contained in this file, whether written by me
or by one of the contributors, is correct, or even that following the
advice herein won't be harmful to you or your ferret in some way. For
advice from an expert, you may wish to consult one of several books
available, or, especially in the case of a suspected medical problem,
a veterinarian who is familiar with the treatment of ferrets.





Subject: (11.1) Common diseases in ferrets

Once again, I'm not a vet or even a ferret expert, but here's a list
of several of the most common medical problems in ferrets.

Intestinal blockages
Caused by eating something indigestible, such as an eraser, a
rubber band, some fabrics, or even a good-sized hairball
(accumulated from grooming), which gets stuck. Symptoms may
include (one or more of) lack of bowel movement, constipation,
bloating, vomiting or heaving, drooling, and others. Blockages may
occur at any point in the digestive tract, from the throat through
the lower intestine, even in the stomach where the object may move
around and produce only intermittent symptoms. Blockages are
serious and occasionally fatal; the most important immediate
concern is to keep your ferret hydrated, which you can do by giving
him 5 cc of water every 4 hours from a baby feeding syringe. You
can try giving your ferret large doses of hairball remedy every 30
minutes for an hour or two to see if the blockage passes, but if
not, take him to a vet right away for an X-ray, barium study,
and/or surgery to remove it. Laxatone or a similar hairball
remedy/laxative can help prevent this [6.2].

Tumors or lesions of the adrenal glands
Symptoms vary, including hair loss spreading from the base of the
tail forward [10.6], lethargy, loss of appetite, and loss of
coordination in the hindquarters. In females, often the most
prominent sign is an enlarged vulva as in heat. Often, however, a
tumor will be present without showing any signs at all, so if your
ferret is going in for any surgery, the vet should take a look at
the adrenal glands as well (if time permits -- ferrets lose body
heat very quickly in surgery). The left gland seems to be affected
more often than the right. More information is available in the
Ferret Medical FAQ on Adrenal Disease [1.1].

Islet cell tumors (insulinoma)
These are tumors of insulin-secreting cells in the pancreas. Their
main effect is a drop in the blood sugar level, and they are also
common enough in older ferrets, even without symptoms, that if your
pet is having surgery for something else, a quick check is
worthwhile. Symptoms include lethargy, loss of appetite, wobbly
gait, and pawing at the mouth; in more severe cases attention
lapses (staring into space) or seizures may also occur. If you're
more than a minute from your vet and your ferret has a low enough
blood sugar level to be having seizures, call the vet and ask if
you should rub Karo (corn sugar) syrup or honey on your pet's gums
to raise it just enough to bring him out of the seizure. More
information is available in the Ferret Medical FAQ on Insulinoma

Lymphoma or lymphosarcoma
This is a cancer of the lymphatic system. There are two main
types, "classic" and juvenile. Classic lymphoma occurs in older
ferrets and causes enlarged lymph nodes and irregularities in the
blood cell count, but often the ferret doesn't show any outward
signs until the disease has progressed pretty far, at which point
the ferret suddenly gets very sick. Conclusive diagnosis is by
aspiration or biopsy of a lymph node, and treatment is
chemotherapy. Juvenile lymphoma is completely different. It
affects ferrets under 14 months, doesn't generally cause
enlarged lymph nodes, and hits very hard and fast. Also see
the Ferret Medical FAQ on Lymphosarcoma [1.1].

Splenomegaly [enlarged spleen, usually a swelling in the upper abdomen]
In situations where a neoplasm is not present [this is a common
symptom of lymphosarcoma], the pros and cons of splenectomy should
be discussed with your veterinarian. If an animal simply has a
large spleen, but shows no signs of illness or discomfort, it is
safer for the animal to leave it in. However, if the animal shows
signs of discomfort, such as lethargy and a poor appetite, or a
decrease in activity, the spleen should probably be removed. These
animals also need good nursing care [12.6] care to get them back on
their food. Often caused by H. mustelae infection (see below).
With proper care - recovery rates are over 90%. Also see the
Ferret Medical FAQ on Splenomegaly [1.1].

Helicobacter mustelae infection
A bacterial infection of the stomach lining, Helicobacter
mustelae is extremely common in ferrets. Animals with
long-standing infections (generally older animals), may develop
gastric problems due to the bacteria's ability to decrease acid
production in the stomach. Signs of a problem include repetitive
vomiting, lack of appetite, and signs of gastric ulcers (see
above). Helicobacter infection and gastric ulcers often go hand in
hand - the relationship between infection and gastric ulcer
formation has not been totally worked out, although there is
currently a lot of research in this area. Also see the
Ferret Medical FAQ on Gastric Ulcers / Helicobacter mustelae [1.1].

Cutaneous vaccine reactions
Subcutaneous vaccination with rabies or other vaccines may, over
a period of weeks, cause a hard lump [10.1] at the site of
vaccination. The lump simply consists of a large area of
inflammation and most commonly are seen around the neck. The lumps
can be removed, and generally do not cause a major problem for your
pet. Similar lesions may be seen in vaccinated dogs and cats.

Urinary tract infections and prostate trouble
Signs include frequent urination, straining to urinate, and
possibly funny-looking or smelly urine. Un-spayed females in heat,
and spayed females with swollen vulvas due to adrenal disease
[1.1], are particularly prone to UTIs. Treatment generally
consists of a course of antibiotic (usually Amoxicillin); if the
ferret doesn't respond to that, the possibility of bladder stones
[11.2.1] should be considered.

In males, what looks like a UTI may be (or be aggravated by) an
inflamed prostate, also generally caused by adrenal disease. In
this case the prostate, which is normally tiny, can be palpated,
and a greenish goo can often be expressed from it. Taking care of
the adrenal problem should clear up the prostate trouble too.


Subject: (11.2) Overview of common health problems

All of this section was written by Susan A. Brown, DVM.

Most common health problems of the pet ferret


Subject: (11.2.1) Noninfectious

by Dr. Susan Brown, DVM

A. GI Foreign Bodies [11.1]

This is the MOST COMMON cause of wasting and acute abdominal
disease in the ferret under 1 year of age. It occurs with less
frequency in older ferrets.
Ferrets love to chew and eat rubber and "sweaty" objects. The
most common foreign bodies we remove are latex rubber pet toys,
foam rubber, insoles and soles of shoes, pipe insulation, chair
foot protectors, along with towels, cotton balls, plastic, metal,
and wood.
Hair balls are VERY COMMON particularly in the ferret 2 years
of age and older.
Most foreign bodies remain in the stomach if they are too large
to pass and cause a slow wasting disease that may last for months.
(This is the way that most hairballs present.) However, if the
foreign material passes out of the stomach and lodges in the small
intestine, then the pet becomes acutely ill, severely depressed,
dehydrated, in extreme abdominal pain and finally coma and death
within 24 to 48 hours if surgery is not performed.
Other signs that your pet may have a foreign body are pawing at
the mouth frequently, vomiting (although remember that many pets
with foreign bodies do not vomit), appetite that goes on and off,
black tarry stools that come and go.
Prevention is by use of a cat hairball laxative [6.2] either every
day or every other day (about 1") and ferret proofing [5.1] your
house on hands and knees for potential foreign body items.
Treatment is generally surgery, because if it is too large to
leave the stomach, it has to come out somehow!

B. Aplastic Anemia

A common cause of death of unspayed breeding females.
The cause is a condition caused by high levels of the hormone
estrogen that is produced during the heat period which in turn
suppresses the production of vital red and white blood cells in the
bone marrow. This suppression is irreversible as the disease
advances and death occurs from severe anemia, bleeding (because the
blood can't clot properly), and secondary bacterial infections
because there aren't enough white blood cells to fight.
Signs are seen in animals in heat 1 month or longer (they can
stay in heat up to 180 days if unbred), and include general
depression and hind limb weakness that seems to occur suddenly and
sudden loss of appetite. Additionally there may be marked hair
loss and baldness on the body.
Upon closer exam the gums appear light pink or white, and there
may be small hemorrhages under the skin. A complete blood count
should be done to determine the severity of the damage to the bone
If the condition is advanced, there is no treatment as it is
irreversible, and euthanasia is recommended. If the disease is
caught early, treatment may include a spay, multiple transfusions
[12.4] and other supportive care.
Prevention is by having animals not designated for breeding
spayed by 6 months of age. Those to be used for breeding should
use the hormone HCG for taking them out of heat during cycles when
they will not be bred. The use of vasectomized males can sometimes
be unreliable, and we do not recommend it.

C. Anal Gland Impaction

Caused when the animal has a blockage to the outflow of anal
gland secretion or abnormally thick anal gland material.
Signs are few, doesn't seem to cause them much pain. If the
gland ruptures, a draining hole will be seen near the anus, and the
pet may lick at the area frequently.
Treatment is by surgical removal of the anal glands. Even if
only one is affected now, remove both as the other may become
affected later.
There is no prevention, and this disease does not occur with
sufficient frequency to warrant routine anal gland removal in all

D. Cataracts

Caused when the lens of the eye becomes opaque. Light can no
longer reach the retina and the animal becomes blind. In ferrets
it is primarily seen in animals under one year of age and is
considered to be hereditary. In other cases it may be caused by
aging of the eye in very old animals or as a result of injury to
the eye.
Signs are almost nonexistent. Ferrets have very poor eyesight
and do not depend on it for much. Many people are surprised to
find that their ferrets are blind. They eyes will have a whitish
blue cast to the area of the pupil.
Treatment is unnecessary.
Prevention of hereditary cataracts is by not repeating the

E. Cardiomyopathy
There is a separate FAQ devoted to cardiomyopathy; see section [1.1].

Seen generally in animals over 3 years of age, rare in young.
Caused by an abnormal thinning or thickening of the heart muscle
which interferes with blood flow through the heart.
Signs include a marked decrease in activity, the need to rest
in the middle of the play periods, great difficulty in awakening
from sleep, and as the disease progresses one may see coughing,
difficulty breathing, fluid build-up in the abdomen and a general
loss of condition.
Diagnosis is by x-ray and EKG.
Treatment is dependent on which type of heart muscle
abnormality is present. There is no cure for this disease,
treatment helps to alleviate symptoms and reduce he work load on
the heart and attempt to prolong life.

F. Urolithiasis (Bladder Stones)

The cause is not completely understood. A high ash content of
the diet and possible underlying bacterial or viral infections, and
even some genetic predisposition may all play a part. This
condition is rarely seen in animals on a low ash cat food.
Signs include blood in the urine, difficulty in urinating (may
be accompanied by crying when urinating), "sandy" material being
passed in the urine, and in the most severe cases there may be a
complete blockage leading to no urine being passed and eventual
depression, coma and death.
Treatment depends on the size of the stones. Surgery may be
indicated or a change to a special diet may solve the problem.
Prevention is by feeding a low ash diet.


Subject: (11.2.2) Parasitic health problems

by Dr. Susan Brown, DVM

A. Ear Mites [10.10]

Caused by a small mite that lives in the ear and sucks blood
and is picked up from other animals with mites (including dogs and
Signs are very minimal to none. Ferrets seem to tolerate mites
very well. Occasionally there may be an excessive amount of ear
wax produced, extensive scratching of the ears, and small black
pigmented areas that appear on the ear.
Treatment is with Ivermectin at 1 mg/kg divided into two doses
with each dose dropped into each ear. This is repeated in two
weeks. All the animals in the house should be treated. Wash
bedding the same day as treatment and a bath for the pet wouldn't
hurt, either. They also may be treated with Tresaderm daily for 14

B. Fleas [10.9]

Caused by an insect that spends a small portion of its life on
the animal and lives in the surrounding environment laying eggs the
rest of the time.
Prevented by spraying or powdering your animals 2 times a week
with a pyrethrin product if they go outside. If you already have
them, the house must be treated also.


Subject: (11.2.3) Infectious diseases

by Dr. Susan Brown, DVM

A. Influenza virus

Caused by the same complex of viruses that cause disease in
humans. They can catch it from humans or other ferrets.
Signs include a runny nose (clear discharge), runny eyes,
sneezing, coughing, decrease but not total loss in appetite,
lethargy and occasionally diarrhea. In newborns it may be fatal.
Treatments is generally nothing specific except rest and loving
care. They generally get over it in 3 to 7 days (recall how long
your flu lasted, and they will generally be the same), The
antihistamine product Chlor Trimeton may be used at 1/4 tablet 2
times daily for sneezing that may interfere with sleeping or
eating. If the appetite is totally lost or if any green or yellow
discharges appear or if there is extreme lethargy, these animals
should be seen by a veterinarian.
Prevention is washing hands and no kissing when you are dealing
with a cold. Also remember, they can give the flu right back to

B. Canine Distemper

A 100% fatal disease that is still very much out there! It is
caused by a virus that attacks many organs in the body. The virus
can stay alive for a long time on shoes and clothes that have come
in contact with infected material. (Such as from walks in parks or
other areas where animals roam).
Signs range from acute [quick] death to a slow progressive
disease which usually starts as an eye infection and progresses to
a rash on the chin and lips and abdomen, and thickened hard pads on
the feet. Diarrhea, vomiting, severe lethargy are other possible
signs. The disease may be very drawn out with seizures and coma at
the end.
There is no treatment for distemper. Euthanasia is the kindest
solution as it is a long and painful way to go.
Prevention is by vaccination with the Fromm-D [or Fervac-D]
distemper vaccine [9.2]. Use of [some] other vaccines have
occasionally caused cases of distemper in ferrets. The schedule
would be the first shot at 6 weeks of age then 8 weeks, 11 weeks,
14 weeks and annually thereafter. The vaccine WILL NOT last for 3
years in the face of an outbreak. Ferrets do not need vaccines
containing leptospirosis, hepatitis, parainfluenza or any other dog


Subject: (11.2.4) Neoplasia (Cancer)

by Dr. Susan Brown, DVM

Each of these four cancers has its own FAQ; see section [1.1].

A. Lymphosarcoma

This is a disease of the lymphatic system of the body which is
an important part of the immune system. The cause is unknown but
investigation is being done to determine if there is a virus
involved. It can occur in ferrets of any age.
Signs are very variable, and many animals show no outward signs
until they are very ill, or changes are picked up on a routine
veterinary exam. Changes may include enlarged lymph nodes anywhere
in or on the body, a greatly enlarged spleen, wasting, difficulty
breathing, and extreme lethargy. A complete blood cell count may
indicate abnormal (cancerous) cells present, although this occurs
in a very small percentage of cases.
Diagnosis is generally by biopsy of a lymph node, spleen or
fluid from the chest.
Treatment is by chemotherapy of the animal fulfills certain
criteria that would make it a good candidate, Chemotherapy has been
successful in about 75% of our cases, allowing life to be prolonged
in a quality way for 6 months to 2 years.

B. Insulinoma

This is a tumor of the pancreas leading to a high insulin
production and a low blood sugar.

C. Adrenal Adenoma or Adenocarcinoma

This is a tumor of the adrenal gland.

D. Skin tumors

There are a variety of skin tumors occurring in the pet ferret.
The most common are sebaceous gland adenomas, and mast cell tumors.
Most of these should be removed particularly if they are ulcerated,
bleeding, or have a rough surface.
Chondromas occur with some frequency on the tip of the tail as
a hard round lump. They are generally benign, but may become large
and bothersome and can easily be removed.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

12. *** General medical information ***


Subject: (12.1) Do I need to worry about toxoplasmosis?

Toxoplasmosis is a disease which is sometimes spread through animal
feces, especially cats'. It's nothing to worry about, unless you're
pregnant, have a very young child, or have a weakened immune system --
it's very dangerous to a human fetus in the first stages of
development, it may be dangerous to infants and toddlers, and it's a
concern for those who are HIV+. Ask your doctor if you think you
might be susceptible.

Dr. Bruce Williams, DVM, says:

Toxoplasmosis has been reported twice in ferrets. Ferrets will
not shed the toxoplasma organism to the extent that cats do, but
if they are exposed to cat feces, they may contract the disease
and shed very low amounts of oocysts.

Here's the bottom line. Because of the devastating effects that
Toxoplasma can have on a developing human fetus in the first
trimester - you don't want to take ANY chance at all on exposing
[a pregnant woman] to Toxo. So [someone in the household who
isn't pregnant] inherits all litterbox duties for the next
nine months. Actually, she probably stands a higher chance of
getting Toxo from poorly cooked beef. The doctor says - if she's
a carnivore - better get used to well-done steaks....


Subject: (12.2) How can I get my ferret to take this medication?

If your ferret is just starting long-term medications and you're not
looking forward to an hour-long struggle twice a day forever, take
heart. Most of them resign themselves to the routine after a couple
of weeks. If you only have to give your ferret medication for a week
or two, at least there's an end in sight!

The method Rick Beveridge has used, with pictures, can be found at

If you're really lucky, your ferret will like the taste of the
medication. In that case, either hold the dropper in front of the
ferret or empty it into a spoon and let him lick it. If you squeeze
the medication into his mouth, be sure not to squirt it down his
throat, since he may inhale some and get pneumonia. Putting the
dropper behind his back teeth and aiming in from the side helps.

If he doesn't like the medication, you'll want to mix it with
something that tastes better, such as Ferretone, Petromalt, Pedialyte,
or apple juice. Check with your vet to find out what won't interfere
with the medication or its absorption. Some can't be given with oils,
others with sugary foods, others with dairy products, and so on. You
might be able to just mix the medication and the bribe on a spoon and
get your ferret to lick it that way.

If not, suck the medication into a small feeding syringe, the kind
without a needle, draw in a few cc's of the bribe, and shake it to mix
them. Put a big old towel on a table or the floor, put the ferret on
it, and see if he'll lick the mixture willingly. Be warned, ferrets
can spit several feet. Don't wear your nice clothes.

If you have to force the mixture in, hold the ferret's head and
shoulders with one hand so he can't back away. Put the syringe tip in
on the side of his mouth and slowly squirt the stuff in, being careful
not to aim it down his throat (or he might inhale some) and making
sure to give the ferret enough time to swallow. You may need to hold
the ferret's head up and his mouth closed, and rub his throat so he
swallows. Once the medication is gone, give the ferret another small
treat and tell him what a good ferret he was.

Some people have good luck with crushing a pill or pill piece and
mixing it with a liquid treat, after checking with a vet to see which
ones are all right. Otherwise, try completely covering it with
something gooey such as Petromalt or peanut butter, then holding it on
the tip of one finger. Gently pry the ferret's mouth open with a
finger on one side, and scrape the goo and treat onto the ferret's
tongue. Get it pretty far back if you can, but don't gag him. Hold
his mouth closed so he can't push the pill out with his tongue, and
rub his throat to get him to swallow. If he manages to spit out the
pill, just keep trying.


Subject: (12.3) Where can I get medications at a discount?

A fairly new company called PetMed Express offers common veterinary
medications at a discount. Flea treatments, prednisone, and so on are
available. The require a faxed prescription or the phone number of
your vet's office so they can call for the prescription information.
Call 1-888-233-PETS for information.


Subject: (12.4) Can ferrets have transfusions?

Yes. Ferrets have no apparent blood types, so if your ferret needs a
transfusion any other ferret can be a donor -- the bigger, the better.
Dr. Susan Brown writes, "Approximately 20 ml of whole blood can be
removed by cardiac puncture from a healthy male ferret weighing 1 kg
[2.2 lb] with no side effects; it can then be used immediately for
transfusing. 12 cc may be removed from a female weighing .75 kg [1.6

If your ferret is going in for extensive surgery, ask your vet whether
it might be a good idea to also bring along a big, healthy ferret as a
potential blood donor, just in case it's needed.


Subject: (12.5) What anesthetic should my vet be using?

Isoflurane, an inhalant. Dr. Bruce Williams, DVM, says:

The only acceptable type of anesthetic agent for general
anesthesia in the ferret is gas, and preferably a gas anesthetic
called isoflurane. Most vets use it, but other types of gas
anesthetics, such as halothane are still in use. Isoflurane
currently is the safest, with the least chance of generating a
life-threatening cardiac arrhythmia or causing liver disease, both
of which may be seen (rarely) with halothane. Most
ferrets, even with severe disease, will go down quickly with
isoflurane, and come up within 5-10 minutes. No other
premedications are necessary [unlike for the injectable ketamine].

I would not use a vet who used injectable anesthetic for surgery -
chances are much higher for overdosing. The effects of injectable
anesthetics are extremely unpredictable in the ferret, and older
ferrets are at risk for arrhythmia and cardiovascular shock.


Subject: (12.6) How do I care for my sick or recovering ferret?

The following information comes from Sukie Crandall, who generously
sent an account of her experiences with Meltdown and Ruffle, two of
her ferrets with heart disease.

At first, your sick or recovering ferret will be a big drain on your
time, energy, and humor. It's amazing how stubborn a sick ferret can
be. If you're unfortunate enough to have a chronically ill ferret,
you may find that she becomes easier to deal with after a while, as
you both get used to her new routine and limitations.

You may have an assortment of medications for your ferret, whose
schedule and doses might change according to her health. It's very
important to keep a complete and accurate chart. Note how and when
medicines must be given, and whenever you give medicines write them
down and note the time. Keep information on side effects, when to
skip doses, how to deal with missed doses or accidently doubled doses,
which medicines should not be given close together, which must be
shielded form light, and all other related information. Do not keep
medications in a room which gets too hot, too cold, or too humid.
Never give a laxative close to when you give a medicine. Be aware of
side-effects and interactions; for instance, some medicines increase
the chance of sunburn.

Pill cutters work much better than scalpels or other things, and a
tweezers will also be handy. Keep in mind how different medicines
must be given, and find the best way for each to minimize the stress
to you and your ferret. Some must be given in ways which minimize the
exposure to water or saliva. They are most easily given with a narrow
pill gun such as your vet will probably carry, or mixed with a fatty
gel like Nutrical. Liquids are pretty straight forward, but some
ferrets get good at bring those up or spitting them out. If your vet
or the manufacturer's research pharmacists say they may be given with
fats try putting some Linatone or Nutrical on the ferret's nose and
while she is licking that off squirting in the dose at the posterior
side of the mouth. (Do not use a laxative such as Petromalt for

You may need to cut down the sides of a litter pan for easy access,
and folded towels can be used to make gentle ramps. For recovering
ferret who is ready for play but isn't quite up to speed yet, put
extra ramps, pillows, and climbing boxes around the room she'll be
playing in, to make it easier for her to get into and out of boxes and
jump down from furniture. (Be careful not to let her be more active
than is safe, and always supervise her in play.)

Weak ferrets can't play normally, but they still enjoy encountering
new things. Ruffle loved being carried for walks, being given herbs
to smell (especially mints and basil), having the sun on her belly
for short periods, listening to music (especially songs with her
name), hugs and kisses, and other peaceful entertainments.

If your ferret has a reduction in smell try moistening a cotton puff
or swab with a bit of perfume and putting it on the lower back above
the tail, and behind the ears. That will keep it from sensitive areas
but let the ferret enjoy the comforting status of having a
ferret-proper level of smell.

If at all possible cancel your trips away. If not possible have a
familiar, friendly, knowledgeable pet sitter such as a vet tech. Have
a schedule, with some minor variations for interest, so that your pet
knows what to expect. When your ferret has to be at the vet's office
bring along a favorite toy or blanket which smells like home.


Subject: (12.7) My ferret won't eat. What should I do?

If your ferret gets sick, chances are your vet will tell you to feed
him softened food for a time while he recovers. Even so, sometimes an
upset or recovering ferret will simply refuse to eat on his own. If
that happens, a good thing to try is Gerber's Second Meals chicken baby
food. It's full of nutrients and water (though it's not a good
full-time food [6.1]) and most ferrets love it. Put a little on your
finger and let your ferret lick it; if he won't try it, carefully
smear a little on his nose. He should lick it off and eat the rest
from your fingers eagerly. In general, ferrets like attention, and
they love to be hand-fed. For a stubborn case, try letting another
ferret "raid" the sick one's food bowl in front of him. Sometimes
there's nothing like competition to get a ferret to eat.

You can add Nutri-Cal, Pedialyte, medications, and so forth to the
baby food if your vet recommends them, and as your ferret's recovery
progresses, you can mix in portions of his regular food, moistened
somewhat, to gradually work him back to eating dry food on his own.

Sustacal and Ensure are sometimes recommended as short-term diets for
very sick ferrets, possibly in a mixture such as "Duck Soup" [12.8]
but they aren't nutritionally complete and should never be used as the
only long-term food for a non-terminal ferret. According to one
report, Ensure has the preferred flavors, but is also more likely to
cause diarrhea. The best solution seemed to be combinations of the


Subject: (12.8) What's Duck Soup? Anyone have a recipe?

Duck Soup, also called Ferret Soup and similar things, is a
high-calorie, high-protein concoction meant to be fed to old or sick
ferrets in order to fatten them up and help them regain their health.

To really get the weight back on a sick ferret, some people have
suggested giving him whipping cream. It doesn't have much nutrition,
but it is full of calories and can help an underweight ferret gain
some back.

The following comes from Ann Davis:

ACME Ferret Company --- The Original DUCK SOUP

For years, we have been trying to find a super formula to fatten up
sick ferrets, oldsters and ferrets with ulcers. We have been looking
for something high in calories and protein, with added vitamins. After
trying just about everything on the market for pets, we had just about
given up, and were making do with some things that were not quite
perfect for the little guys, because everything made for cats that we
could find had a condensed milk base.

[If your ferret is really sick, you may have to work your way through]
all the steps, from full Sustacal to Duck Soup in caring for a sick

We have heard of many miraculous recoveries attributed to Duck Soup.
It has helped old ferrets, ferrets with insulinoma, ferrets with hair
loss, and ferrets who are just plain too sick to eat.


1 can Sustacal (8 oz., or about 230 ml; it comes in a larger size too)
1 can water (8 oz., or about 230 ml)
2 scoops puppy or kitten weaning formula -- OPTIONAL
4 oz. (110 g? or ml?) dry kitten or ferret food, soaked in enough water to
cover and soften it completely

[Sustacal is meant for humans; look for it by baby formulas or in the
pharmacy section of your supermarket. Debbie Riccio says you can also
use Ensure, Discover 2.0, or Just Born (puppy/kitten milk replacer).]

Mix thoroughly. We always nuke it for them to the temperature of baby
formula. We serve about 4 fluid ounces at a time twice a day for
maintenance; if your little guys eat too much and you feel they are
getting fat, you can increase the amount of water. We have tried
increasing the amount of dry food, but if it gets too thick some of
them won't eat it. This formula also freezes well -- the Sustacal must
be used within 48 hours if left only in the fridge.


Subject: (12.9) What are normal body temperature, blood test results, etc.?

Rectal temperature 100-103 F (37.8 - 39.4 C), 101.9 average
Heart rate 216-250/min (225 average)
Respiration 33-36/min
Urine pH 6.5-7.5; mild to moderate proteinura is common and
Blood volume 60-80 ml/kg

The following information comes from "Normal Parameters and Laboratory
Interpretation of Disease States in the Domestic Ferret," an article
written by Dr. Tom Kawasaki around 1994. Your veterinarian might find
this information helpful.

mean acceptable range
sodium (mmol/L) 153 143-163
potassium (mmol/L) 4.47 3.2-5.77
chloride (mmol/L) 116 105-127
calcium (mg/dl) 8.8 7.5-10.1
inorganic phosphorus (mg/dl) 5.5 3.7-7.4
glucose (fasted) (mg/dl) 110 65-164
BUN (mg/dl) 21 8-37
creatinine (mg/dl) 0.5 0.16-0.84
BUN/creatinine 42
total protein (g/dl) 5.8 4.4-7.3
albumin (g/dl) 3.3 2.5-4.1
globulin (g/dl) 2.2 1.8-2.9
total bilirubin (mg/dl) 0.2 0.1-0.5
cholesterol (mg/dl) 174 76-272
alkaline phosphatase (IU/L) 37 15-75
ALT (IU/L) 95 13-176
AST (IU/L) 61 23-99
CO2 22 14-30
A/G (g/dl) 1.3 1.0-2.3
LDH 274 101-498
triglycerides 98 31-101
GGT 4.8 1-13
uric acid 2.2 1.4-3.3
PCV (%) 45.4 38-54
hemoglobin (g/dl) 13-18
RBC (X10^6/mm3) 9.0 7.0-11.0
platelets (X10^3) 400 350-600
reticulocytes (%) N/A
WBC (x10^3/mm3) 5.22 2.8-8.0
neutrophils 3017 2329-5700
(59%) (39-85%)
lymphocytes 1157 525-3500
(35%) (11-55%)
monocytes 119 52-177
(2.6%) (0.76-4.4%)
eosinophils 133 29-432
(2.8%) (1-8%)
basophils 0 0
MCV (um3) 51 46-65
MCH (pg) 17.7 15.5-19.0
MCHC 33 29-36 *

Dr. Susan Brown also notes that the normal insulin level is 0-20, but
that insulin may appear normal even in animals with insulinoma [1.1].

There are, of course, dozens of components in your ferret's blood
which can help your vet determine what's wrong. Here are some of the
ones people ask about most often, and normal ranges. If you want to
know more about what your ferret's tests mean, don't hesitate to ask
your vet.

The following information is extracted from an article in
The FAIR [Ferret Adoption, Information & Rescue Society] Report,
Vol. II, No. 2, by Mary Van Dahm, with a few additions.

Blood glucose
Glucose is a sugar, the main energy source for the body. Its level
varies through the day, higher just after a meal, lower when the
ferret is hungry, but the body keeps it fairly constant mainly by
controlling the amount of insulin in the blood. A non-fasted blood
glucose test might give values up to 207 mg/dl, depending on when
the ferret last ate. Testing the blood glucose after withholding
food from the ferret for 6 hours (fasting blood glucose) eliminates
the variation and gives you a more definite number to judge it by.
A low reading (hypoglycemia) may be a sign of insulinoma (see the
Ferret Insulinoma FAQ [1.1]). A high reading (hyperglycemia) is
rare, but might be a sign of diabetes. However, insulinoma can
also cause a high glucose reading, and since diabetes is extremely
rare in ferrets, you should double-check any diabetes diagnosis by
looking for sugar in the urine as well.

Pack cell volume/hematocrit (PCV/HCT)
This is the percentage of red blood cells in the blood. Low
readings indicate anemia; high readings are usually a sign of

Red blood cells (RBC)
Red blood cells carry oxygen to the body's tissues and carbon
dioxide back to the lungs. Low readings show anemia.

White blood cells (WBC)
Part of the immune system. Readings over about 7000 may mean
the ferret is fighting off an infection, cold or flu. Readings over
10,000 may be early signs of lymphoma (see the Ferret Lymphosarcoma
FAQ [1.1]) or another cancer. Unusually low readings indicate anemia
and a bone marrow problem.

Another type of white blood cell. High readings can indicate a
"smoldering" infection, possibly Helicobacter mustelae (see the
Ferret Gastric Ulcer/ H. mustelae FAQ [1.1]). Many, but not all,
cases of lymphosarcoma also show elevated lymphocyte levels (see the
Ferret Lymphosarcoma FAQ [1.1]).

Another type of white blood cell. Often an indicator of intestinal
disorders, infection, or cancer. Other parts of the blood profile
must also be considered for a diagnosis.

Protein, Albumin and Globulin
Albumin is a kind of protein, and globulin is a general term for all
proteins that aren't albumin, so protein - albumin = globulin. The
numbers indicate the ferret's general health and nutrition, and
albumin also helps show how well the liver and kidneys are working.

BUN and Creatinine
The job of the kidneys is to filter out impurities, so if they
aren't working well, these levels will be high.

Alkaline phosphatese
This is an enzyme found in the liver and bone. When bones are
growing or the liver is damaged, lots of this is released into the

Total bilirubin
A by-product of the normal breakdown of hemoglobin in red blood
cells. Helps diagnose liver disease and bile duct obstruction.

Sodium, Potassium and Chloride
Controlled by the kidneys, these are commonly called blood
electrolytes. They are involved in water balance, acid/base balance,
and the transmission of nerve impulses, especially to the heart.

Calcium and Phosphorus
These minerals are controlled by the parathyroid glands and the
kidneys. The levels show possible problems with bones, blood
clotting, and nerve, muscle, and cell activity.

1. Wellness, Inc. How to Read Your Report, 1993
2. Finkler, M. Practical Ferret Medicine and Surgery for the Private
Practitioner, 1993
3. Brown, S. Ferret Medicine and Surgery, 1992
4. Fox, JG. Biology and Diseases of the Ferret, 1988 *


Subject: (12.10) What tests might my vet want to run, and why?

Dr. Michael Dutton, DVM, writes:

There is no one test for a general check-up. There are not even
tests that are specific for some certain diseases. The following
is a list of some example tests for common ferret diseases, but in
case of some multi-systemic diseases (such as heart disease), they
may not show all the abnormalities.


insulinoma - resting blood glucose and insulin level
(see the Ferret Insulinoma FAQ [1.1])
hyper adrenal disease - the Univ. of Tenn. ferret adrenal panel
(see the Ferret Adrenal Disease FAQ [1.1])
ovarian remnant - estrogen
urinary tract infection - urinalysis
urinary bladder stones - x-ray
bone fractures - x-ray

(may not be specific to cause, prognosis, etc.)

heart disease - auscultation, x-ray, ultrasound
(see the Ferret Cardiomyopathy FAQ)
malignant lymphoma - physical exam, biopsy
(see the Ferret Lymphosarcoma FAQ)
masses - physical exam, biopsy
spleen masses - physical exam, biopsy
(see the Ferret Splenomegaly (Enlarged Spleen) FAQ)

The problem with biopsies is that you need to biopsy the correct
tissue. That may not be possible such as some type of spinal cord
or brain lesion. Intestinal diseases are easy to biopsy by
surgical methods but that entails anesthesia (which may be risky
to an ill ferret) and major abdominal surgery. So... you have a
number of difficulties from the medical side to run a test for
general health. Even if you can target a specific area, there may
not be a definitive test and the owner needs to agree to costs,
risks, etc.


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

13. *** Medical reference material ***


Subject: (13.1) Who makes this product or medication?

(This list was provided by Dr. Susan Brown.)

Alkeran - Burroughs-Wellcome Co.

Cytoxan - Bristol Meyers

Fervac D vaccine - United Vaccines Madison, Wisc. 53713 (608) 277-3030

Fromm D vaccine - Solvay Animal Health, Inc. Mendota Heights,
Minn. 55120

Keflex Pediatric Suspension 100 mg/cc - Dista Products Co. Division of
Eli Lilly, Inc. Indianapolis, Ind.

Lasix - Taylor Pharmacal Co. Decatur, Illinois 62525

Lysodren - Bristol Meyers

Nutrical - EVSCO Pharmaceuticals Buena, N.J. 08310

PDS II - Ethicon, Inc. Somerville, N.J. 08876-0151

Proglycem - Baker Cummins 800-347-4774


Subject: (13.2) What books can I get or recommend to my vet?

One excellent medical reference is

Ferrets, Rabbits and Rodents - Clinical Medicine and Surgery, by
Elizabeth Hillyer and Katherine Quesenberry (1997)

Another good reference work, a bit outdated but still worthwhile for
both vets and others, is

Biology and Diseases of the Ferret, by James G. Fox. Lea and Febiger,

Philadelphia (1988). ISBN 0-8121-1139-7.

There is also a series out by the

American Animal Hospital Association
12575 West Bayaud Ave.
Lakewood, CO 80228
tel. 800-252-2242

for practitioners on exotic pets. There are five books in the series.
Dr. Jeff Jenkins and Dr. Susan Brown produced the one on Rabbits and
Ferrets (he did the rabbit part). Many people feel that it is
practical and useful; it has drug dosages, treatments, husbandry,
normal clinical pathology values, and diagnostic techniques that might
be useful for your vet.


Subject: (13.3) Are there any other useful references?

Dr. Bruce Williams, DVM, recommends these references on cancers:

Lawrence HJ et al. Unilateral adrenalectomy as a treatment for
adrenocortical tumors in ferrets: Five cases (1990-1992). JAVMA
203(2): pp 267-270, 15 July 1993.

Marini, RP et al. Functional islet cell tumor in six ferrets. JAVMA
202(3):430-434, 1 February 1993.

Rosenthal KL et al. Hyperadrenocorticism associated with
adrenocortical tumor or nodular hyperplasia of the adrenal gland
in ferrets: 50 cases (1987-1991). JAVMA 203(2):pp. 271-275, 15
July 1993.

Dr. Susan Brown recommends these, on a variety of subjects:

Blancou J, Aubert MFA, Artois M. Experimental rabies in the ferret
(Mustela [putorius furo] Susceptibility - Symptoms - Excretion of
the virus. Rev Med Vet 1982; 133(8-9): 553 557. (Translation by

Daoust PY, Hunter DB. Spontaneous aleutian disease in ferrets. Can Vet
J 1978; 19: 133-135.

Forester, U., The adaptability of two rabies virus strains isolated in
central Europe to one domesticated and two wild-living species. A
contribution to the Epidemiology of rabies. Part 4: Transmission
studies on ferrets with a rodent isolate. Zbl Vet Med B 1979;
26: 26-38. (Translation by NIH).

Fox JG, Murphy JC, Ackerman MS, Prostak KS, Gallagher CA, Rambow VJ.
Proliferative colitis in ferrets. 1982; 43: 858-864.

Garibaldi ME, Goad P, Fox JG, Sylvina TJ, Murray R. Serum cortisol
radioimmunoassay values in the normal ferret and response to ACTH
stimulation and dexamethasone suppression tests. Lab An Sci 1988;
38: 452- 454.

Hoover JP, Baldwin CA, Rupprecht CE. Serologic response of domestic
ferrets (Mustela putorius furo) to canine distemper and rabies
virus vaccines. J Am Vet Med Assoc 1989; 194: 234-238.

Johnson-Delaney C, Nelson W. A Rapid procedure for filling fractured
canine teeth of ferrets. J of Small Exotic Animal Medicine 1992;
3: 100-102.

Kawasaki, T. Retinal Atrophy in the ferret. J of Small Exotic Animal
Medicine 1992; 3: 137.

Kociba GJ, Caputo CA. Aplastic anemia associated with estrus in pet
ferrets. J Am Vet Med Assoc 1981; 178: 1293-1294.

Kreuger KL, Murphy J C Fox J G. Treatment of proliferative colitis in
ferrets. J Am Vet Med Assoc 1989; 194: 1435-1436.

Liberson AJ, Newcomer CE, Ackerman JI, Murphy JC, Fox JG. Mastitis
caused by hemolytic Escherichia coli in the ferret. J Am Vet Med
Assoc 1983; 183: 1179-1181.

Luttgen PJ, Storts RW, Rogers KS, Morton LD. Insulinoma in a ferret. J
Am VetMed Assoc 1986; 189: 920-921.

Mainka CH, Heber L, Schneider W. Studies on rabies of ferrets after a
singleantibodies vaccination, J Vet Med B 1988; 35: 24-28.

Manning D, Bell J. Lack of detectable blood groups in domestic
ferrets: Implications for transfusion. J Am Vet Med Assoc 1990;
197: 84-86.

Nguyen HT, Moreland AF, Shields RP. Urolithasis in ferrets (Mustela
putorius). Lab An Sci 1979; 29: 243-245.

Rupprecht CE, Gilbert J, Pitts R, Marshall KR, Koprowski H. Evaluation
of an inactivated rabies vaccine in domestic ferrets. J Am Vet
Med Assoc 1990; 196: 1614-1616.

Stauber E, Robinette J, Basaraba R, Riggs M, Bishop C. Mast cell
tumors in three ferrets. J Am Vet Med Assoc 1990; 196: 766-767.

== End of Part 5 ==

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