Like all living things, ferrets get sick on occasion; much of the time, the illness isn't serious and will pass on its own or with care from a veterinarian. For example, the appearance of a sneeze or cough is not necessarily an indicator of dire illness and may be self-limiting or curable under the care of a veterinarian.
However, there are some illnesses that afflict ferrets that are life-threatening, and they represent a true veterinary emergency as a result. Below are the symptoms of some of the most common serious illnesses, and these symptoms should not be ignored. Contact an emergency veterinarian immediately if your ferret develops any of the following signs of serious illness.
Inability to Urinate
An inability to urinate, especially in male ferrets, is a sign of serious illness and may result in the death of the ferret if not treated immediately. In male ferrets, the most common cause of urination difficulty is an enlarged prostate gland; this is secondary to adrenal gland disease, which represents a relatively common illness among ferrets.
If you notice your ferret frequently moving to and from its litter box and it appears to be anxious or restless, then it may be having difficulty urinating. Some ferrets will squeal if they are unable to urinate. Don't delay if you see this symptom, as it should be addressed as soon as possible by a veterinarian.
Breathing from the Mouth
Mouth breathing in ferrets is a sign of possible respiratory illness. It can also occur if a ferret is overheated; if the animal is able to cool down within a short period and resume normal breathing, then it probably isn't an emergency.
However, if mouth breathing continues, then the ferret is either severely congested or is unable to obtain an adequate amount of oxygen due to respiratory disease. The ferret may suffocate due to lack of sufficient oxygen intake, if it does not receive prompt treatment from a veterinarian.
Healthy ferrets are incredibly active, and this provides them the opportunity to get into trouble and possibly get hurt. Not all injuries are life-threatening, of course, and simple scrapes or minor cuts can wait for a regular visit to the veterinarian or be cared for by the owner.
However, other injuries that are more severe, such as paralysis, dislocated joints, deep cuts and bites from other animals should be immediately addressed by an emergency veterinarian. Without prompt treatment, conditions such as these can either result in massive infection and death or could also end in permanent paralysis or disability.
Intestinal obstruction is a life-threatening condition for ferrets and occurs whenever a ferret has eaten something that can't be passed through its digestive tract. The primary symptom of intestinal blockage is vomiting.
Since ferrets don't often vomit otherwise, this is a telltale indicator of blockage and signals the need for an emergency trip to the veterinarian. Surgery is the usual remedy for a blockage and must take place quickly before irreparable harm is done to the animal.
Unfortunately, ferrets are particularly prone to develop tumors of the pancreas known as insulinomas. These tumors cause the ferret's body to produce an excess of insulin, thus resulting in the rapid depletion of blood sugar. These tumors are not malignant, but a lack of malignancy does not minimize the critical nature of the disease.
One of the most serious symptoms of insulinoma, among many others, is the development of seizures. A ferret in the middle of a low blood sugar seizure will present by drooling, staring into space, locking its jaws and convulsing. Without a fast infusion of sugar, the ferret will die soon.
Once the ferret is treated for the immediate problem, the veterinarian will then develop a plan for the long-term treatment of the insulinoma; such treatments can include surgery, drugs and/or special diets.
24 hour emergency vet care can be your hero if your pet experiences any of the above.