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Pet Ferret Health


Introduction Ferrets (Mustela putorius furo) belong to the Mustelidae family, and date back as far as 40 million years. They are carnivores that have adapted to a wide range of ecosystems; from the artic to the rain forests. They are small in size, have short stocky legs, five toes per foot. Ferrets are related to weasels, minks, and martens.

Ferrets have been domesticated for more than 2000 years, and probably originated in North Africa, and originally used for rabbit hunting.

Sources

Commercial farms have been raising ferrets for almost 50 years. They are available in several coat colors. The fitch color is the most commonly recognized by yellow-buff fur with patches of black or dark brown on the tail or limbs. Other colors include albino, sable, Siamese, silver mitt, and Siamese-silver mitt. There has been some concern about commercial breeders inbreeding these animals making them more susceptible to disease like endocrine disorders.

Ferret Care

Ferrets can tolerate a wide range of temperatures. But they lack sweat glands so are easily susceptible to over heating. Ferrets can be loose in your house, housed singly or in groups. Males should not be kept with females after 12 weeks of age.

Ferrets can be trained to use a litter box because like rabbits they repeatedly urinate and defecate in one corner of the cage. Clay litter should be avoided with ferrets. Also ferrets prefer a soft place to sleep so providing a blanket would be good.

Ferret Cages

You can buy cages made specifically for ferrets. Rabbits cages also work well for ferrets if they are available. The key should be that the cage is easily sanitizable.

Ferret Food

There are currently only general complete life cycle diets available for ferrets. There are no specific diets that are specific for growth or reproduction.

Ferrets are strict carnivores that have a requirement for high fat and protein. The use of raw meat is discouraged due to potential bacterial contamination. Ferrets drink about 75-100 mls daily. Water should be provided free choice

Biology

Ferrets have paired anal scent glands that are well developed. Many people have ferrets descented to decrease the odor. This is done by a veterinarian by removing the glands. These animals often tend to still have a musky odor even after descenting.

The average life span is 5-11 years and reach sexual maturity at 4-12 months.The normal heart rate is 200-400 beats/min. Also the respirations are 36/min. Normal temperature is 38-40 degrees.

Reproduction

Ferrets are seasonal breeders and induced ovulators. Gestation lasts 42 days. The average litter size is 8 kits. Eyes open at 34 days, and they can hear at 32 days.

Estrus and pregnancy

Lighting can be used to control the breeding cycle and bring jills into estrus. Breeding or lactating jills should be exposed to 16hr of light daily. Females are brought to the males cage and are left together for two days. Pregnancy may be detected as early as day 12 with ultrasound, palpation by day 14, radio graphically by day 30.

Parturition

Pregnant jills close to parturition should be housed by themselves in a secluded place. Nest boxes should be provided with several inches of bedding. Parturition lasts from 2-3 hours. Gestation is from 41-42 days. Signs of impending parturition include abdominal enlargement, and mammary development.

Baby ferrets

Kits weigh 6-12 grams at birth, and will reach 400gm by the age of 8 weeks. Weaning should take place between 6-8 weeks. Kits should start eating solid food before 3 weeks.

Some Ferret Diseases

Canine distemper

This is caused by a paramyxovirus and is related to measles. Canine distemper is the most serious viral infection of ferrets. Mortality reaches 100%. Vaccination is a must! Signs include anorexia, fever, nasal discharge, skin rash, and affects the nervous system. Death results in 12-16 days. The virus spreads easily by secretions between ferrets. Unvaccinated dogs and wild ferrets can serve as reservoirs of infection. Affected ferrets should be isolated. Talk to your veterinarian about vaccination of ferrets. The good news is the virus is easily inactived by cleaners.

Heartworm Disease

Heartworm disease caused by Dirofilaria immitis, which is a nematode transmitted by mosquitoes. The primary reservoir for infection is the dog. The disease is similar in dogs, for more information check the web.

Pregnancy Toxemia

This disease occurs in jills carrying large litters. Up to 75% of jills carrying more than 8 kits will develop pregnancy toxemia if subjected to a 24 hr food withdrawal late in gestation. This is a disease of the animal not taking in enough energy to be able to support a pregnancy.

Insulinoma

This is the most common neoplasm diagnosed in ferrets. It typically affects older ferrets. Clinical signs are non-specific. Weakness, and weight loss, and excessive salivation are common. The diagnosis is done by measuring the blood glucose level. This is a tumor of the pancreas which results in a release of too much insulin, therefore causing a lower glucose level. Surgical removal maybe curative, some are malignant.

Are Ferrets Illegal?

Yes, in some states like California, and some individual cities across America, ferrets are illegal to have as pets. So before you buy yourself a ferret, be sure to check with your local government.


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