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Your Healthy Ferret

Ferrets are a mischievous bunch, but that's what makes them so fun to watch. As a pet parent, the best thing you can do when welcoming a ferret into your home is to understand how to keep him as happy and healthy as possible. Annual checkups with an exotic animal veterinarian are a must, but it's also good to know the telltale signs of a healthy ferret so you can help ensure your pet lives a long, healthy, happy life.

Looks can be deceiving, and that's especially true with a ferret's eyesight. Although they have big, bright eyes, their eyesight is typically very poor and they are prone to a variety of problems with their vision. Ferrets do not see colors the way we do and they have a hard time seeing in bright light. Where a ferret's eyesight falls short, their other senses pick up the slack. In fact, hearing, smell and touch are so acute in ferrets, that it can be hard to tell the difference between a blind and sighted ferret. Despite the low functionality, a laceration or scratch to the eye should always be considered an emergency.

Ferrets have excellent hearing. To help them maintain this ability, their ears need regular cleaning, as they tend to develop a wax build-up. If you notice that a dark, waxy build-up reappears after you clean their ears, have your ferret checked by a veterinarian as they may have ear mites.

Ferrets genuinely "follow their nose" and use this keen sense for exploration. They are very curious creatures and will sniff everything they come into contact with. A healthy ferret should have a moist nose, free of scales or discharge. A runny nose can be a symptom of a serious condition and should be checked by a veterinarian immediately. Ferret's noses can become dry after burrowing during naps, but it's usually nothing to worry about.

Like a hockey player, ferrets will sometimes break or chip their teeth. A veterinarian should always be consulted if you notice a chipped or broken tooth. However, tooth loss in baby ferrets is common. As carnivores, adult ferrets have 40 teeth to help them chow down, and as they get older, their teeth begin to yellow. If you notice a foul odor or tartar build-up on your ferret's teeth, a veterinarian can provide needed cleanings to ensure proper oral health.

Ferrets twist and turn so freely, it's hard to imagine that they have any bones. Flexibility is one of the ferret's many strong suits and proof of their talent can be seen when they turn their head 180 degrees (a very unusual ability among vertebrates). Such flexibility gives ferrets the ability to crawl into tight spaces—ferrets can fit through openings that are the same size as their heads. A full-grown ferret weighs between three and five pounds; males typically weigh more than females and their average length is 14 inches long. Check your ferret's body regularly for lumps, bumps or anything else that seems unusual.

While a ferret's body may be thin, their hair is the definition of thick. When healthy, a ferret's coat should be soft and glossy from head to tail. No two ferrets have the same hair color or markings, and that is something that can make your ferret endlessly unique and admirable.
Some ferrets' markings include facemasks, which fits, considering how mischievous and sneaky these little ones can be. Ferrets shed their coat twice a year, and their coat colors often change slightly from season to season, so don't be concerned when noticing such changes. To help keep your ferret's skin and coat healthy, weekly brushing with a soft brush is recommended. Your ferret’s fur should also be soft and free of bald spots.

Another interesting characteristic among ferrets is the absence of sweat glands. This little quirk makes ferrets likely to overheat in temperatures over 85 degrees Fahrenheit, so be watchful in warm climates. Although ferrets don't have sweat glands, they have many scent glands that produce a natural musky odor. Monthly bathing using a ferret shampoo can help keep this odor under control. Also, removing feces daily and changing your ferret's bedding once a week can help with odor control. Some ferrets can suffer from scaly, itchy skin. If you notice this condition, consult with your veterinarian. Also, check your ferret regularly for fleas, injuries and other signs of trouble on their skin.

Skunks and ferrets are relatives, and it just so happens they share one unwanted characteristic—an anal scent gland. Ferrets only release their scent when scared; however, most ferrets meant to be pets have already been de-scented.

A Healthy Ferret Checklist
Healthy ferrets are active and curious animals. A happy ferret is one that stays alert and playful. Knowing what physical characteristics are normal for your ferret can help keep your little friend happier and healthier. Knowing more also enables you to act faster should any health issues arise.

  • Eyes: Should be big, clear, bright, even in size and free of discharge.
  • Ears: Should be pink and clear of debris or dirt.
  • Nose: Should be moist, smooth and free of scales.
  • Whiskers: Should be soft, long and full.
  • Fur: Should be clean, shiny and completely covering the body, and be free of fleas, bald spots or sores.
  • Skin: Should be smooth, not scaly, and free of lumps, bumps or sores.
  • Body: Should be firm with muscle evenly distributed. A healthy ferret feels muscular and athletic.
  • Genitals/anus: Should be clean and healthy looking, not prolapsed or protruding, with no signs of feces or discharge.
  • Feces: Healthy ferret feces should be tubular in shape, smooth and firm in consistency and is tan to brown in color. Runny and/or discolored feces could be an indication of indigestion or serious illnesses like ECE which should be diagnosed and treated by a veterinarian.
  • Behavior: Ferrets are usually alert and curious. Your ferret should always be playful, gentle and with a good attitude. Like puppies, young ferrets like to teeth. This behavior should be discouraged and should subside as your ferret ages. A healthy ferret will display a confident attitude and appear happy. Healthy ferrets generally sleep about 18–20 hours per day.

By getting to know your ferret and observing his normal daily behavior, you'll be able to spot when something is wrong. Finding a health problem early can help your ferret receive prompt treatment and will ensure that he is happy and healthy for many years to come.