Signs of a Sick Ferret

There are many different symptoms for different ferret diseases. Knowing the symptoms and the diseases they indicate will make it vastly easier for both you and your veterinarian to get your ferret back to health.

Diarrhea or Vomiting

Either diarrhea or vomiting in your ferret can be a sign of a significant problem. Vomiting could be a symptom of infections with the bacterium Helicobacter mustelae, gastroenteritis (inflammation of the stomach or the small intestine) or intestinal blockage. Diarrhea could be a symptom of inappropriate diet, hairball, foreign body ingestion or infection. Diarrhea in ferrets can be life-threatening; ferrets dehydrate very quickly (because they are so small), and can die. If the vomiting or diarrhea continues, have your pet examined by your veterinarian.

Your ferret requires medical attention if he:

  • has blood in the feces, or if there is a strong, bad odor, or green, mucoid diarrhea;
  • is grinding his teeth; or
  • is listless, dull, or lethargic.

    Scratching, Licking or Chewing with Hair Loss

    Your ferret doesn't even have to go outside to get fleas; if you have a dog or a cat, and you let him outside, he will soon acquire fleas, which will quickly infest your ferret. If your ferret has fleas, ticks, or other parasites, he may scratch or lick the area occasionally, or even bite himself. Examine the coat for parasites, and treat fleas or ticks with products safe for use on cats (at doses safe for cats), as recommended by your veterinarian. Lufenuron (Program, Ciba Animal Health, Ciba-Geigy Corp., Greensboro, NC) is suitable for fleas. Any organophosphate flea compound must be used with extreme caution; there is no safe level for them established for ferrets. Ticks can be removed by extracting the whole organism (don't leave the head) with a forceps. Other diseases can show as excessive scratching or hair loss, including fungal infections and adrenal disease.

    The condition is urgent and requires immediate medical attention if:

  • your ferret's scratching, licking or biting comes on suddenly and severely.

  • there is alopecia (hair loss), especially on the upper back or neck.

  • your ferret has other symptoms, such as severe anemia (seen in severe flea infestations).

  • hair loss on your ferret goes past the tail and up the spine (adrenal disease).

    Coughing, Wheezing or Panting

    If your ferret coughs or wheezes frequently, he could be suffering from a respiratory infection, or worse. Ferrets can get colds, flu, pulmonary mycoses (fungal infection of the lungs), and even canine distemper, all of which can cause coughing or wheezing. Depending on the disease, treatment ranges from supportive care (colds and flu), to antifungal medication (pulmonary mycoses) to euthanasia (canine distemper). Ferrets pant when they are overheated -- that is, when they are in environmental where temperatures are too hot for them.

    The condition is urgent and requires immediate medical attention if your ferret has:

  • rash and encrustation around the chin and lips (canine distemper).

  • sneezing, nasal discharge and anorexia (flu).

  • enlarged lymph nodes, wasting, anorexia or ocular discharge (pulmonary mcyoses).

  • started panting and is lethargic (hyperthermia and deyhdration).

    Pain, Stiffness, or Difficulty Moving

    If your ferret seems stiff or lame or if he is limping on one leg, examine the area for signs of injury, including swelling, cuts, bites or protruding bone. You may also need to refer to the records you keep on your ferret -- including regular weighing, frequency of eating and drinking, diet and medication -- to be able to know the cause of your ferret's symptoms.

    The condition is urgent and requires immediate medical attention if your ferret:

  • is unbalanced, staggering, or falling down.

  • hops on three legs or won't put weight on one leg.

  • has any obvious fracture, especially a compound one (broken bone protruding).

  • has rear limb weakness or paralysis (includes neurological problems, poisoning, and diabetes).

    Bowel or Urinary Problems

    Ferrets are susceptible to intestinal blockages from eating things like foam rubber, soft plastic, nuts or turkey bones; also, hairballs from grooming can block the intestinal tract. If your ferret appears fairly normal but has not passed any stools in at least 12 hours, or passes only pencil lead thickness stools, then your ferret's intestinal tract may be blocked. If your ferret is drinking or urinating more than usual, consider his activity level and diet; diabetes can show as increased urination. Decreased urination could be from cystitis or urinary tract obstruction. Any of the previous conditions requires advice from your veterinarian.

    The condition is urgent and requires immediate medical attention if:

  • Your ferret is straining to pass urine or passes only drops or dribbles.

  • he is vomiting as well as having bowel or urinary problems.

  • he has blood in the feces (may appear as black, tarry stools).

    Eye and Ear Disorders

    Ferrets produce a lot of earwax, and it must be cleaned out regularly, or it accumulates. Earwax buildup will usually show as "coffee grounds" on the fur around your ferret's ears. However, ear mite infections also show as accumulations of brown ear wax on your ferret's fur.

    Eye disorders can also show in your ferret, especially as he ages, but you will have to be a bit more observant than with ear or other kinds of disorders. Ferrets don't depend much on their eyesight even when it's at its best, so losing it doesn't make them act much differently. Still, other kinds of eye problems can be cause for concern, and their symptoms are below.

  • Cataracts will show as increasing cloudiness or milkiness of the eye; simply keep in mind that your ferret's vision has probably largely disappeared.

  • Retinal degeneration shows as abnormally dilated pupils; depending on the cause, retinal degeneration and vision loss can be stopped.

  • Puss-like discharge from the eye, a pink appearance to the conjunctiva, or crusted eyelids usually indicate eye infection.


    Your ferret should always have a healthy appetite, and he will eat at least half a dozen small meals through the day. If your ferret doesn't eat, that's almost always a sign of illness. However, the anorexia can be worse than the illness itself; once a ferret has stopped eating, it may be difficult to convince him to eat again. Because of your ferret's small size and high metabolism, starvation can occur in a few days. Anorexia, even if it is not life threatening, can be a symptom of different illnesses, including those listed below.

  • Depression or frustration; if a sudden change in your ferret's environment has been made it doesn't like, including moving to new quarters, or being paired suddenly with a new ferret, it can stop eating.

  • Intestinal blockage can cause anorexia.

  • Ulceration can cause anorexia.