Special Needs of Older Ferrets

American ferrets have an average life span on 5 to 7 years. Ferrets start to show old age or geriatric problems after they are about 3 years of age. We feel that this is a good time to recommend some extra veterinary care as well as special home care to try to catch disease problems early, so they can be eliminated or treated. With this “geriatric program”, as we call it, we have been able to prolong life in many pets in a quality manner.

Home Care

The pads of the feet in older ferrets may become hard and dry and develop little horny growths. A small amount of Vitamin E cream or oil or Vaseline rubbed on the pads daily will help to keep them soft and remove excess tissue.

Older ferrets like to sleep for longer periods, so be sure they have a cozy spot to do so in. Please respect that they need more sleep and don’t make them play when they don’t want to. However, if you should notice a sudden change in sleep habits that seems unusual, please contract us.

The hair coat may become drier and more brittle with age. Some diseases can contribute to this, but aging can also cause it. Don’t bathe your pet frequently, as this may strip the natural skin oils and worsen the condition. Bathe your pet as infrequently as possible, but no more than once a month (unless you have medical directions to do otherwise,) and use a gentle pet shampoo. You may also use special preparations to add moisture back to the skin, such as emollient sprays (Comfi-Spray is a good choice), right after or in between baths. Using a fatty acid supplement, such as Linotone or Ferotone, can also be very helpful. Use 1/8 tsp. per ferret per day on the food. If you notice hair loss, skin changes, growths, or excessive scratching please have your pet examined by us.

Older ferrets may have less control over their bladder and bowels as they age. So make sure that the litter box or papers are easily available. Put out a few extras if they roam around so they won’t have far to go to the bathroom.

Senior citizens may become weak in the hind legs for a variety of reasons, so make sure that they can easily get in and out of their cages and litter boxes. Use ramps, if necessary to help them. Any sudden or unusual weakness or loss of balance should, of course, be brought to our attention.

We generally recommend changing your ferret to a lower protein high quality adult cat food or maintenance diet after the age of five. This puts less stress on the kidneys. The change over can be gradual by mixing the original kitten formula with the adult formula several days. Ferrets will usually convert if you use the same brand of food.

Use a cat hairball laxative at least once a week to prevent the formation of hairballs in the stomach. Use about 1 inch out of the tube. Brushing your pet will also help to cut down on the amount of hair swallowed.

Make sure that food and water are always available. Going without food for too long could cause the onset of severe symptoms if your pet is dealing with a blood sugar disorder or kidney disease.

Veterinary Care

More frequent checkups are recommended, which include a thorough physical exam. We recommend that this be done every six months. Ferrets develop disease rapidly; especially cancer, kidney and heart disease, and waiting an entire year between visits could prevent the early detection and management of these diseases.

Starting at three years of age, we prefer some additional laboratory work be done. On a healthy animal, we recommend a complete blood cell count (CBC) and fasting blood glucose as the minimum work-up (a ‘mini’ geriatric). The pet should be fasted 4 to no more than 6 hours prior to the blood tests taken. The routine laboratory work should be done at least once a year.

We may also wish to do additional laboratory work such as a blood chemistry profile and/or an X-ray for additional information, particularly if your pet is exhibiting signs of illness. Sedation may be necessary for the X-ray. We use extremely safe tranquilizers on our ferret patients, this eliminates the stress the pet may feel with these procedures.

After the age of 7, diagnostic testing may have to be done every 6 months along with a semiannual exam. These laboratory workups have been INVALUABLE in detecting many disease early and thus facilitating treatment.

Please keep up with the annual canine distemper vaccination. The older ferrets can contract distemper just as easily as the youngsters can.

Heartworm preventive should also be continued if you’re pet is kept outdoors or is taken outdoors frequently in the spring and summer.

Tartar can be cleaned off the teeth easily when the animal is anesthetized with isoflurane for any reason. This prevents gum and teeth disease.

Unfortunately, neoplasia (cancer) is the most common cause of disease and death in the older American Ferret. We estimate that well over 75% of all ferrets in our area will develop some form of cancer in their lifetime. The only way to combat all forms of cancer is with early detection and appropriate therapy. We must emphasize the EARLY detection is the key, which emphasizes the need for frequent exams and laboratory work.

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