Ferret Emergencies and First Aid
What constitutes a ferret emergency?
Just like cats, if your ferret could die if not seen in the next 24 hours by a veterinarian, that is an emergency. If you are not sure if your ferret is having an emergency, call us.
Some of the more common ferret emergencies that we can see at All Feline Hospital:
- Stepped on, now can't walk.
- Male ferret trying to urinate but no urine coming out.
- Flat and unresponsive to stimulation.
- Vomiting, can't keep any food or water down.
- Post vaccination, vomiting, diarrhea, red skin, or breathing hard.
- Open mouth breathing.
These can all be indicative of life threatening issues that need to be addressed immediately. If your ferret is doing any of the things listed above, get them to a vet immediately. If you cannot get to All Feline, please see below for some of the vets that we recommend that might be able to treat your ferret.
Stepped on, now can't walk in the back legs. Ferrets are small and really good at getting underfoot. So, they tend to get stepped on now and then. Most of the time, they will be okay. But, if your ferret was just stepped on and now can't walk, you need to bring him in to the vet right away. The first thing we will do after doing an initial exam is to do an x-ray to check for spinal damage. If your ferret's spine is not broken, but they still can't walk, then we will want to keep them in the hospital and start them on IV steroids. There is significant swelling in the spinal cord and if we don't get the swelling to go down quickly, then your ferret may not be able to ever walk again. We only have an 8-12 hour window for IV steroids to be truly effective. We can still try IV steroids after 12 hours, but the longer we are away from the trauma, the less effective they will be.
Trying to urinate, but no urine coming out. This is a life threatening emergency. Much like a blocked tomcat, your ferret cannot empty his bladder. However this is almost always a result of adrenal disease rather than urinary crystals or stones. The prostate will enlarge to the point that not only does it clamp off your ferret's urethra, but is will also secrete a sludge that can block up your ferret's urethra. Treatment for this consists of emptying your ferret's bladder, either with a urinary catheter or a cystocentesis, and then treating your ferret for the adrenal disease and enlarged prostate. The most common treatments will be a Lupron injection and a medication called flutamide that reduces prostate size. You can also have an adrenalectomy surgery done down the road to try and minimize or cure the adrenal disease.
Seizuring. Ferrets do not tend to get epilepsy. But they are prone to insulinoma, and with insulinoma comes hypoglycemic seizures. If you find your ferret seizuring, the first thing you want to do it get as much sugar into your ferret as possible. This can be done using honey, karo syrup, maple syrup, or even sugar mixed in a little water to make a paste. Smear the paste on your ferret's gums or inside the mouth. Be careful though, a seizuring ferret is likely to clamp down on a finger in the mouth, and there have been cases of owners transporting their ferret to the vet with the ferret clamped onto their finger. Once you get the sugar into your ferret, you need to be on your way to the vet clinic. If you don't live somewhere where you can access a vet at all hours, then just keep pushing the sugar, and once your ferret starts to come around, switch to pure protein, something like meat baby food or lunch meat. Then take your ferret to the vet first thing the next morning. If your ferret has already been diagnosed with insulinoma and you have prednisolone on hand, you can also give your ferret a triple dose of the steroid once they are awake enough from the seizure that they can swallow.
Flat and unresponsive to stimulation. The most common reason for this is going to be insulinoma, follow the instructions listed above.
Vomiting, can't keep any food or water down. Ferrets, due to their love of chewing on things, especially rubber things, are prone to intestinal blockages. We see this more often in young ferrets, but we can see it in ferrets of all ages. Ferrets do not typically vomit, so if your ferret starts vomiting, take them into a vet immediately for an exam and an x-ray to look for an intestinal blockage. If there is a blockage, your ferret will need immediate surgery to remove it, or their intestine will start to die and they can develop peritonitis which is life threatening.
Post vaccination, vomiting, diarrhea, red skin, or open mouth breathing. This means your ferret is having a vaccination reaction, and depending on how soon after the vaccination was given, and how severe the reaction is, this can be life threatening. If you are on your way home or have already gotten back home, get your ferret back in the car and get back to your vet as fast as you safely can without putting your own life in jeopardy or breaking the law. Your ferret needs steroids, antihistamines, and potentially even more life saving care.
Open mouth breathing. Ferrets breathe through their nose normally. If they start open mouth breathing, it is generally either because they are overheated, so congested from flu or distemper that they cannot breathe through their nose, or they have fluid in their lungs or chest cavity keeping them from getting enough oxygen. Regardless of the cause, if it isn't fixed soon, you ferret could die, so get them into a vet immediately.
If your ferret is having an emergency during office hours in Lincoln, bring them into All Feline Hospital right away. Please call first though, since only Dr. Knudsen treats ferrets on the chance that she isn't on duty. If she isn't, All Feline will give you a recommendation of another vet that can treat your ferret. Our first recommendation in Lincoln is usually A-4 Animal Clinic since they treat a high volume of exotic animals. If your ferret is stable, you can also take them to The Pet Clinic in Omaha to see Dr. Carol Currry who is highly recommended by Dr. Knudsen. If it is after hours, you can also take them to Veterinary Emergency Services - they do see ferrets as well, and at the very least can stabilize your ferret until you can get them to All Feline the next morning. If you do not live in Lincoln or close to Omaha, and your ferret is having a life or death crisis, then take them to the nearest vet. They are a vet, they did learn all animals, and they can at least try to save your ferret. If it is during daytime hours, if your vet does not feel comfortable treating a ferret emergency but you cannot get to a ferret experienced vet, feel free to offer for your vet to call us - we would more than happy to talk them through what to do.