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ROUTINE EXAMS FOR FERRETS

If your ferret could talk, you would learn a lot about how she feels. Unfortunately, she can't talk and she can't tell you - in fact, like most ferrets, she will probably go to great lengths to hide signs of illness or distress. That's why it is important for you to observe your pet every day and make note of any changes: It's true - you are the best resource on your ferret's health. You know your ferret's normal behavior and appearance better than anyone, and by observing any changes in that appearance or behavior you are her first line of defense against disease.

Fortunately, ferrets are very healthy and robust animals; however, an annual veterinary examination is a must for maintaining your ferret's good health. The examination that your veterinarian gives your ferret is the best way to ensure that you catch diseases early enough for successful treatment. Your veterinarian may also notice congenital problems, and give you the best advice about caring for your ferret. However, even the best veterinarian in the world can't see in a visit what you have observed throughout the entire year.

The first time you visit a new veterinarian or take a new pet to your veterinarian, you will probably have to answer a series of questions about the pet and your household. Questions that are typically included in a routine first visit include the following:

  • What is your ferret's name? A pet's medical records are usually filed under both her name and the owner's name.
  • Where did you get her? Whether she came from a breeder, a pet shop or a shelter, your ferret may have certain medical risks that relate to her origin. The vet will understand these, and knowing your pet's origin will help her to understand what tests or vaccinations might be necessary.
  • Is the ferret male or female? Is he neutered? (Or is she spayed?) Is he or she de-scented? Often a veterinarian can determine whether an animal has been neutered or spayed if you don't know the answer. If you adopted your ferret from an animal shelter, he or she was most likely spayed or neutered before being adopted.
  • How old is she? Again, if you don't know your ferret's history, the veterinarian may try to estimate her age for you.
  • What vaccinations has she had? If you don't know the complete history of your ferret, she will most likely be in for a round of shots.
  • Have you had any problems with her? Your vet may be able to offer advice on changing your ferret's behavioral habits or may refer you to a certified animal trainer.
  • If you have more than one ferret, how is she getting along with your other ferrets (if you have more than one)? It can be tricky to bring a new ferret into a household in which another ferret runs the show, especially if the ferrets think they are in competition. The last thing you want is to have to banish one ferret from your house because of incompatibility. Your veterinarian may be able to offer advice on encouraging the ferrets to live in harmony or may refer you to a certified animal trainer.

Besides seeking the specific answers to these questions, your veterinarian may also be assessing the level of treatment that you are expecting for your ferret. Strange as it may sound, not all owners are willing to spend money on their pets, even if a medical treatment is necessary. Veterinarians know that they must weigh the benefits of a costly round of treatment with an owner's ability or willingness to pay.

In addition to this round of questions, the veterinarian may want to take your ferret's temperature, weight and a stool sample.

Even after the first visit, a trip to the veterinarian for an annual physical exam and vaccinations can be a harrowing experience. Your ferret might remember the last visit and might not be happy about another trip in a cramped carrier to stand on a cold metal table and be prodded by a stranger with all manner of instruments and needles. Can you blame her? Many owners manage to get through the visit by constantly talking to and stroking their ferrets; some ferrets, however, can only be controlled using restraints. If your ferret is transformed into a demon at the mere thought of a visit to the veterinarian, don't be embarrassed: no doubt your veterinarian has seen worse behavior, and knows just how to handle a scared or angry ferret without hurting her.

Whether your ferret is docile or enraged at the veterinarian's office, you may still need to answer some basic questions about her health and progress over the past year. Some of these questions are intended to gather standard information, while others might be asked because of something the vet notices; the questions will likely include the following:

  • Has your ferret had any problems lately such as vomiting, coughing or sneezing?
  • Is she using the litter box and passing urine and feces without problems? (Problems with urination and bowel movements can signal a number of ailments, some of them serious.)
  • Does she scratch at her ears or shake her head? (These could be signs of ear mites or other ear infections.)
  • Has she had a weight gain or sudden weight loss? How much do you feed her? What type of food? Have you changed her diet recently? Have her eating or drinking habits changed recently? Is your ferret active and getting exercise?

Since you have been working to control your ferret while the veterinarian has been examining her and giving you information on her condition and instructions on her care, you might feel a bit overwhelmed -- especially if the veterinarian has recommended specific treatment. Don't let all the information go in one ear and out the other: Ask the veterinarian to repeat the diagnosis or even to write it down if you don't recognize the words -- that way you can research more information later if you need to. Also, since you might be thinking mostly about getting your ferret home quickly, during or shortly after the exam, write down any important information or instructions you've been given, such as the following:

  • Diet recommendations, including the brand name of recommended foods and the amounts to feed your ferret.
  • If your ferret will be taking medication, how much, how often, how long and how to administer it.
  • Recommended exercise level or any activities your ferret should avoid. When to schedule a follow-up visit.

The more information you can give the veterinarian (for your ferret's history) the better she can assess the ferret's current health - both by knowing if there are specific things to look for during the physical exam and by adding to her general store of knowledge about your ferret. Make sure you notice, keep track of and report any abnormalities or changes in your ferret's behavior or physical condition.