How Can I Tell When My Ferret Is Sick?

By knowing how your pet normally looks and behaves, you'll be the first (besides your ferret, that is) to notice something out of the ordinary. If your ferret is sick, she may exhibit overt physical signs, change her behavior, or both, depending on the malady. Not all problems are emergencies. For example, if your ferret is losing small patches of fur on her head, she may have ringworm. This condition calls for a visit to the veterinary hospital, but it's not urgent. Also remember that abnormal symptoms or behavioral changes can be caused by more than one illness, or a combination of different illnesses or problems. Only your veterinarian will be able to make that determination with reliability.

If and when you do see signs of something wrong with your ferret, immediately make a note of it and check the symptoms against the common signs of a sick ferret, and read the more comprehensive articles on our site. If the problem seems urgent, or if you have ANY questions at all, phone your veterinarian, describe what's going on, and get his or her opinion on what it might be and what you should do.

Skin and Coat: Look for increased hair shedding, excessive scratching or grooming, bald patches, signs of parasites in the fur, such as black specks, fleas, or small white flecks clinging to hairs, and bumps or swellings, skin lacerations, wound infections, and matted fur with discharge from small wounds.

Eyes: Look for gummy eyes, inflamed swollen eyelids, abnormal discharge, showing of the third eyelid, noticeable vision problems or sensitivity to light, constant blinking or holding eye lids closed, a dimple or divot on the surface of eye, cloudy eyes, or red and swollen eyes (pink eye).

Respiratory: Look for labored breathing, frequent coughing, wheezing, or sneezing, or runny discharge from the eyes and nose, exercise intolerance, collapse.

Oral: Watch for drooling, pawing at the mouth, red gums, bad breath, refusal to eat, or difficulty eating, pain opening mouth.

Ears: Keep an eye out for discharge, dark wax, swelling, and excessive ear scratching, head shaking, or turning of the head to one side, foul odor from ears.

Digestive Tract Problems: Look for severe or persistent diarrhea (more than 24 hours), blood in feces, chronic constipation, straining to pass feces, excessive thirst, increased licking of genitals, or abnormal feces color.

Urinary / Genital Tract: Look for discolored urine, frank blood with urination, frequent urination of small amounts -- sometimes only drops, production of no urine, straining to urinate.

Internal Parasite Problems: Watch for worms in feces, frequent diarrhea, white rice-sized flecks on hair near anus, weight loss.

Nervous System Problems: Look for convulsions, seizures, muscle spasms, paralysis or staggering, head tilting, circling one direction, falling over, weakness, uncoordinated behavior and abnormal eye movement.

Along with the indications described above, keep a sharp eye out for any changes in your ferret's behavior -- things like depression, irritability, trembling, loss of appetite or difficulty eating. If you see something out of the ordinary going on with your ferret, it doesn't necessarily mean that she has a serious condition -- but then again she may have. The only way you can know for sure is to call your veterinarian and ask.