Signs And Symptoms Of The Five Most-Common Ferret Diseases

This article discusses the signs and symptoms of the five most-common ferret diseases.

When you meet your new ferret it's difficult to believe it will ever get sick. Watching a six-week old kit dart around a room, burrowing behind your bookcases and finding new and exciting hiding places behind your couch, illness will likely be the last thing on your mind. Keeping track of your TV remote control and losing your keys to the critter will likely take priority in your life for the first few years of your relationship, but as your ferret friend ages it's important to understand the different diseases that afflict fuzzies.

This article will discuss the signs and symptoms of the five most-common ferret diseases. Please note that this essay cannot possibly cover all the problems you might experience as a ferret owner and should not be substituted for a good veterinarian. Use this list as a resource and if your ferret shows the symptom typical of one of the common ferret ailments, bring he or she in for a complete check up.

Adrenal Disease

Symptoms: Loss of hair, especially on or around the tail, sometimes called alopecia, swollen vulva in females (sometimes accompanied by a slight watery discharge), excessive scratching and urination, weight loss and general weakness, particularly in rear legs. Adrenal Disease usually occurs in ferrets three years old or older, but it has been known to afflict younger animals. Female ferrets appear to suffer from Adrenal Disease more than their male counterparts.

Description: Adrenal Disease is caused by tumors on the adrenal glade. The adrenal gland is responsible for production of sex hormones. These tumors may or may not be malignant.

Treatment: Adrenal Disease can be treated in a number of ways. Surgery is possible and tumors can be removed. Adrenalectomies are fairly successful and ferrets can live many years after the operation. Often veterinarians will opt to remove both adrenal glands while in surgery, since it is not unheard of for the disease to reoccur if a gland remains. In addition, Lupron can be used to alleviate some of the signs of Adrenal disease if your ferret is a poor surgery candidate.


Symptoms: General lethargy, weakness and poor health coupled with a decrease in appetite, weight loss, irritability and sometimes even seizures.

Description: Insulinoma is caused by tumors on the panaceas, which leads to artificially increased levels of insulin and lowered blood glucose levels.

Treatment: Proper diet is imperative for ferrets suffering from Insulinoma. Frequent feeding of low-sugar, quality cat food or a special ferret pudding called "duck soup" is vital for a ferret suffering from Insulinoma. Be on the look out for hypoglycemic seizures, and be prepared with honey or Karo syrup to counteract your ferret's low sugar level. Surgery is also a viable option for younger ferrets, though the disease is much more difficult to treat surgically than Adrenal Disease. Medications such as prednisone may also be used.


Symptoms: Rapid weight loss, weakness, vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty breathing and urinating, frequent and incessant thirst and itching. Occasionally red patches, flakiness and general soreness and itching can occur on the ferret's skin and the pads of its feet.

Description: Lymphosarcoma is a cancer of the lymphoid system. It is an extremely fast-moving and deadly disease that occurs in both young and old animals.

Treatment: Although chemotherapy is available for ferrets, it is extremely costly and does not cure the disease. Surgery and radiation therapy are theoretically possible if the disease is caught early and localized, but this is often not the case.

Heart Disease

Symptoms: Generalized weakness, lethargy, loss of appetite, rapid breathing, and rapid heart rate. Because the disease occurs over time, symptoms may be confused with other ferret diseases or general geriatric decline. Be on the watch out for a protracted abdomen and, occasionally, coughing.

Description: Heart Disease is not uncommon in older animals. Sometimes the walls surrounding the heart become thin and flabby, while other times they harden. In either case, unusual stress is put on the muscle.

Treatment: Diuretics are often used to reduce liquids around the heart, bloody vessel relaxers are sometimes employed, and other chemicals may be used at your veterinarian's discretion. Observe a strict and healthy diet for your ferret if he or she has a Heart Disease.

Enlarged Spleen (Splenomegaly)

Symptoms: Swelling and occasional tenderness in upper abdomen region, lethargy, and poor appetite.

Description: Splenomegaly is a mystery for ferret owners, particularly since an enlarged spleen can be a sign of other diseases such as Lymphosarcoma. It is important to note that enlarged spleens do sometimes actually rupture, endangering the life of your pet. Talk with your veterinarian concerning the pros and cons of spleen removal.

Treatment: Ferrets do not need their spleens and surgery is an option, though post-operative ferrets do require additional care, so the procedure may not always be the best option.

© High Speed Ventures 2011