Want to know how to keep your ferret at his healthiest best, then this page is for you. It includes some notes on ferret hygiene and cleanliness. For serious illness or for more indepth health information, go here.
For a record of problems we've had with our ferrets, read the following sections of our website. For biting, enlarged spleen and cystitus, see Bailey's Bit. For treatment of Adrenal disease in the UK, see the section on Willow.
Tilbury also has a problem with IBD, which we treat with controlling his diet, Willow bark powders and when his condition went downhill, a course of anti-biotics really helped.
1. My ferret smells, can I bathe it?Photo left: Don't expect your ferret to thank you for bathing him!
Believe it or not, bathing a ferret will actually make it smell MORE...yes...more. This is because when you wash your ferret it strips the coat of oils which will be replaced, hence making it smelly again. If you do this very frequently, the oils secrete in overdrive mode, so hence a smellier ferret. Washing can also make his coat too dry.
However, saying that, I personally don't think there's anything wrong in bathing your ferret occasionally, especially if they're house pets too. I always bathe each rescue ferret we've had and the water has been black - the ferret had to have felt better. But saying my ferrets would only be bathed perhaps twice a year. Do use a special ferret shampoo as this is kinder to their fur and skin.
To stop your ferret smelling too much like a ferret, it isimportant to keep the cage clean and to change bedding frequently.
2. Do you need to clip their claws, and if so, how frequently?Photo right: Be careful not to clip claws too short.
Unless your ferret exercises on hard ground, their claws will not wear down. My ferrets exercise on paving slabs, but they are covered in straw, hence, long claws.
It is important to trim them, because if they get too long, it can affect the way the ferret walks and the claws can get caught, tear or break. If you handle your ferrets frequently long claws also scratch.
The frequency depends on how fast your particular ferret grows them! Honest. Willow, aka Grappling Claws, needs her claws trimed every 2 weeks without fail, whilst the boys seem to be able to go 3 weeks or more before needing a trim.
Trimming claws is probably easier as a 2 person job. One to hold the wriggling ferret and bribe it to be still and the other to trim using dog or cat claw scissors. Front claws need trimming more frequently than back ones.
We tried some dainty scissors for small cats or rabbits, but they weren't butch enough to cut through the boys strong claws. So don't waste your money on these. Buy dog ones with a little bit at the back to prevent you trimming off too much.
3. Do I need to clean their ears?
In America, the answer if a resounding yes. In the UK, it seems the jury is out. I have heard that supposedly if the ferret is kept on a 'proper' diet in the 'proper' way then there's isn't the need to clean it's ears. However, I question this - and think that if they looked down their ears they would be surprised. Ferrets suffer from the same ear mites as cats and dogs, but tolerate the symptoms extremly well. You may not notice any scatching or head tilting at all.
We occasionally clean our ferrets ears using a cotton bud dipped in ferret ear cleaner. We swab around the flap of the ear and NOT inside the canal. Even doing that it is surprising how much muck comes out.
Every ferret we've had has had ear mites - some of these were fed a whole carcass diet before we had them, so once again I question the above statement. This diagnosis has always been vet led. Since we've had our ferrets, I presume that they've always had mites to a greater or lesser extent, because we have added new ferrets which would carry the parasites. If one ferret needs treating, then all the rest will too.
Previously, when we only had 2 ferrets the vet has given us a solution for cats and dogs which had to be administered 3 nights consecutively over a period of 2/3 weeks. Now if you think cutting claws is tricky, you've seen nothing until trying to clean or put cold drops down your ferrets ears. They detest it.
4. What medicines can I use if my ferrets have ear mites?
If you notice your ferret scratching its ears a lot, or if there seems to be a lot of dark, crust emmanating from the ears it is likely they have ear mites. If you are unfamiliar with this, do check this condition with your vet as it may also be connected with a bacterial infection which may require antibiotics too.
2007 - New laws in the UK have relaxed flea and mite preparations to be sold in pet shops. Recently I have used Beaphar Small Animal anti-parasite drops which contain ivermectin.
Alternately, if you get prescription drops from your vets. You can treat ear mites, after cleaning ears, with one drop of Ivomec injectible (Ivermectin) in each ear and one drop rubbed into fur at the base of the tail, repeated in two weeks, with excellent results. It does take some practice to get ONLY one drop in a wiggly ferret ear, so practice over a paper towel first. Holding the syringe so that the plunger is sliding against your fingers helps, as does having a second person holding the ferret.
In 'overdose' cases of two or three drops, we have not observed any ill effects. In such cases, we swab the ear with a dry cotton swab. The dose range is 0.2mg/kg up to 0.5mg/kg. High doses of ivermectin (1mg/kg) are apparently safe.
After checking it seems that Revolution can also treat mites and earmites. Frontline will only treat mites and earmites by killing them from being on the body ie. stop them spreading, but not from the ears.
5. My ferret is scratching lots, what can I do to make it stop?
I have noticed that ferrets do naturally scatch a lot. I suppose if you were covered in thick fur, you too would need to groom it regularly and have a good scratch now and again. They also scratch more when moulting, presumably it's an itchy business.Photo left: A selection of store bought parasite rememdies.
As my ferrets are kept outdoors and on straw, I do get worried out mites and things. As a preventative, I use a cage and hutch anti-parasite spray, which is sprayed around at each cleaning. So far on the ferrets, I have only used is a pyrethrin based insecticide spray, again from Johnsons meant for rabbits and small animals. Be careful not to use anything too strong on your ferret. The idea is to kill the parasite and not the ferret with it! Do not use products for cats or dogs.
If you have a serious outbreak of nasty, crawly things a trip to the vet is in order. However, I think unless you need to use the following, then don't - although proved safe in the US, the products are still very strong. Be careful, because many vets are not ferret savy, and do not know what is safe or not to be prescribed for ferrets in the UK - you may have to advise your vet! Veterinary care and knowledge is much better in the US. The following products can be used:
It comes in a spray bottle that is dosed at 1 spray per pound of body weight. The spray form is the most cost effective if you have a lot of animals. The cat monthly top spot or the cat size of the new Frontline plus can also be used. For ear mites apply the tube on the neck between the ears. Some people use just 1/2 of the tube per ferret. This product remains on the skin and in the hair follicles for 30 days even with baths.
Notes on "Fipronil spray (Frontline)
1.5) BEAPHAR SMALL ANIMAL ANTI-PARASITE DROPS
2) ADVANTAGE is another great flea product, but it only does fleas. The cat size tube can be used. Some use just 1/2 of the tube per ferret. This product remains on the skin for 30 days, but some will wash off if the animal gets a bath.
3) REVOLUTION is the newer flea product. It is a once a month topical liquid in a tube also. In addition to fleas, it also kills ticks, ear mites, and skin mites. Plus it is also a heartworm preventative. Revolution is absorbed into the bloodstream. It also last for 30 days. The 5-15 pound cat size is recommended at this time. It is bathproof also.
4) PROGRAM was the first big flea product, but it is my least favorite one now. Basically Program kills the flea eggs, so the fleas cannot produce more fleas. It does not kill the adults fleas. They will die after 2-3 months from old age. The flea must bite the animal to get this product. It last for 30 days also and is bathproof. (This product at a higher dose can also be used for ringworm.)
6. Do you need to vaccinate a ferret, and if so, how often?
Ferrets are susceptible to Canine Distemper and should be vaccinated against it. Although you may not take your ferret from your house, canine distemper is an airbourne disease and can be carried on your clothes, your shoes, your hands. All it takes is one exposure for your ferret, if not protected and distemper is 99% fatal.
In the UK, ferrets should be innoculated with a canine distemper vaccine, as a ferret licensed one does not exist. The general rule is a half to one vial per ferret. The usual brands are Nobivac and Vanguard.
As no licence exists in the UK for a ferret distemper vaccine, there are no trials as to what is safe or the for the frequency of re-innoculaton. Many vets, as with cats and dogs, will suggest that an annual booster is required. However, there is much evidence due to new research and by vets themselves, especially in the US, to suggest that annual boosters can be detrimental to an animals health. See the following link for further information on this. However, current thought is that the minimum revaccination time is now 3 years, if not 7 years or the lifetime of your ferret. Generally, vets charge about £8 - £15 per ferret.
I would always vaccinate once - I'm not sure about revaccination. Generally, the vaccination is safe - I stay for between 20-30 minutes at the vets after my ferrets have been vaccinated in case a severe reaction occurs. Hershey was very lethargic after his injection which lasted a day or two, but he was fine after that.
Contraindications: In the US there has been a lot of bad press regarding ferret distemper vaccines, we generally don't see this in the UK. There are no certified ferret only vaccines and here in the UK, we use dog vaccines -these are thought to be safe. It is best to wait 20/30 minutes after the injection at the vets just in case a reaction occurs. I have noticed that after a vaccination my ferret are quite lethargic which was extremely noticeable in Hershey. But he was ok in the end.
5 Feb 2005: An interesting point to note, is that 2 weeks after re-vaccinating Willow for distemper, she started showing major signs of adrenal disease. Did the vaccine bring on these symptoms which were until then lurking?
7. Do you need to clean their teeth?
Well, this is another tricky question. If you feed your ferrets on a commercial kibble diet their teeth will probably build up a layer of tartar over a matter of a few years. Even feeding our ferrets a mixture of kibble and mince muscle meat they started to have tartar and we did end up having a couple of tooth absesses occur.
Trying to be good ferret parents we did think about scaling their teeth, but our vets charge was prohibitive for 5 ferrets, so we thought about the pet toothpaste route, but god...have you have tried to brush a ferrets teeth...mad wriggling feral pictures jump into my head...we'd even bought a couple of pet toothbrushes with all good intentions, but never really used them with much success.
In the end, we went back to nature. Forgetting how unpleasant it is, but knowing it would be good for our ferrets we started to feed them on day old chicks rather than the minced turkey/rabbit and they've done even better on it.
The chicks bones and feathers and the chewing motion cleaned all the tartar off their teeth and continue to keep them pearly white. Also the chicks being a whole food keep our ferrets healthy and Tilbury with his IBD seems to do better on them too.
So the answer is, no forget about cleaning their teeth, vets, toothpaste etc. Just feed them a natural diet.