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Ferret Vaccinations: Description and Schedule


Ferret vaccinations, as with human vaccinations, introduce an antigen into the body, most commonly by injection but sometimes by mouth (pills) or through the nasal passages (sprays). The antigen, a substance made from the virus of a specific disease, stimulates the body to produce antibodies that provide immunity to that disease.

Vaccinations usually require a first dose to stimulate an immune response followed by a "booster" three to six weeks later to establish a longer-lasting response, up to a year in some cases. Some vaccinations are good for a year with a single dose. Rabies shots last one year.

Injections are usually given just under the loose skin at the back of the ferret's neck or under the skin along her back. The small bump of liquid under the injection site is absorbed within an hour or so.

The cost of vaccinations varies depending on the type of vaccination, where you live (it may include a license fee), the cost of any additional veterinarian examination associated with the shot, and the office or hospital costs. In general, these treatments can range from $10 up to $55 or more.

Important Vaccinations for Your Ferret

Vaccinations are commonly given to ferrets to prevent the following diseases:

  • Canine Distemper. Distemper is one of the leading causes of death in kits who have not been vaccinated. This is a highly contagious virus related to the human measles virus which can affect the respiratory, gastrointestinal and nervous systems.

  • Rabies. Rabies is a fatal disease contracted primarily through bite wounds. This disease affects the brain causing seizures, aggressiveness, disorientation, respiratory failure and death.

Vaccination Schedule

The following vaccination schedule is for general use only and not intended to replace your veterinarian's recommendations. It is wise to inform your pet's doctor of any circumstances which may affect your pet's ability to tolerate vaccinations, such as exposure to ill animals, changes in eating habits, and stressful situations.

Age of Ferret Vaccination
6 weeks Temporary vaccination for kits that did not nurse from their mother during the first hours after birth or kits from a mother that is not current on her vaccinations
8 weeks Canine Distemper
11 weeks Canine Distemper booster
12 weeks Rabies
14 weeks Canine Distemper booster (annual booster thereafter)
15 months

Rabies (annual booster thereafter)

Possible Problems

Some ferrets react to vaccinations by appearing sick and lethargic for a day or two, but usually your veterinarian will warn you about this. If your ferret already has a disease or is incubating a disease, a vaccination will likely have no effect because it can't prevent what is already there.

On rare occasions, a vaccine fails to work. This may be because the vaccine wasn't stored properly, it contained a strain of antigens different from the disease-producing one, the manufacturer made an error such as not putting enough antigens into the vaccine, or the shot was administered incorrectly. If you use a qualified veterinarian who purchases vaccines from responsible manufacturers, you are not likely to encounter such problems.

With any ferret, there is no guarantee that a vaccination will work since the physiology of each kit and ferret is different. Most ferrets will have average protection, a few will have excellent protection, and a few will have poor protection and could become infected if exposed to the disease.

When Not to Vaccinate

You should not vaccinate a pregnant dam except during the last stage of pregnancy, if recommended by your veterinarian, to give passive immunity to the developing kits. Most kits under the age of eight weeks should not be vaccinated because they still have some passive immunity from their mother and the vaccination won't take effect.

Don't vaccinate kits or ferrets that are not completely healthy or that have been exposed to an infected ferret; wait until your ferret is healthy and you know she is disease-free.