Call 01327 350239
Call 01327 811007

Ferrets

Got a new ferret or want to find out more about your pet? This page tells you a bit more about ferrets.

Ferret basic facts

  • Life span average 8-10 years
  • Weight: males (hobs) 1200g, females (jills) around 600g
  • Seasonally polyoestrous – generally from March to August
  • Gestation 39-42 days
  • Sexually mature around six months of age

Ferrets are obligate carnivores and have a short non-specialised gastrointestinal tract. They rely heavily on a high protein diet so high carbohydrate based treats as well as fruits and vegetables should not be fed.

Neutering

There are many things to consider when deciding if you wish to have your ferret neutered. Historically ferrets have been neutered early. However a large proportion of neutered ferrets regardless of neutering age or sex exhibit adrenal gland disease later in life.

There are two adrenal glands present in the body. These sit near the kidneys and are responsible for producing a variety of hormones.

Adrenal disease varies from enlargement of the adrenal glands through to the development of tumours which can ultimately lead to a shorter lifespan of your pet.

In addition to this female ferrets who are allowed to continue in oestrous for prolonged periods of time may develop a severe anaemia which can be fatal.

So what are the options?

Ideally a vasectomised male should be kept with an entire female. This means that mating will occur to bring the female out of season but no kits would be produced from this mating. However, for many people for a variety of reasons this is not possible.

At Towcester Veterinary Centre we offer castration, vasectomisation and spaying of ferrets. However, complete neutering also has consequences, particularly relating to adrenal disease. Please read the information below relating to neutering of ferrets and please take a moment to consider the further options available to you and your pet.

Adrenal disease in neutered ferrets

Why do ferrets get adrenal disease if they are neutered?

Ferrets are seasonal breeders. During the breeding season a gland within the brain called the pituitary gland is responsible for producing sex hormones. Neutering does not stop the production these hormones as it does in other species.

In the absence of reproductive organs to act upon, the hormones produced by the pituitary gland act on receptors induced in the adrenal gland. This stimulates the adrenal glands to produce one or more sex steroids, which unused in reproduction cause secondary sexual changes (both appropriate and inappropriate) which is seen as clinical disease in neutered ferrets.

This essentially means that cellular changes occur within the adrenal gland varying from the gland growing in size to turning into an invasive tumour (adenocarcinoma).

Signs commonly noted due to adrenal disease include:

  • hair loss over the body and tail
  • vulval swelling in females
  • gynaecomastia (growth of breat tissue in males)
  • prostate enlargement leading to dysuria (painful urination) in males.

How do we help prevent adrenal disease in ferrets?

Current recommendations are that entire ferrets (if not to be bred with) or neutered ferrets have a deslorelin implant. This implant acts on the pituitary gland in the brain and reduces the production of sex hormones. This therefore means that not only will an entire ferret become sexually inactive, but in neutered ferrets there is a reduced effect on the adrenal glands during the breeding season, helping to prevent the development of adrenal gland tumours.

The implant lasts approximately 18-24 months depending on time of insertion.

If you have any questions or which to discuss this further, please contact the surgery.

Jill jab

Female ferrets are induced ovulators. This means that those female ferrets which are not mated (with an entire or vasectomised hob) will have prolonged periods of oestrous and this can cause oestrogen-related anaemia. In severe cases this can be fatal.

If entire female ferrets are not being kept with an entire or vasectomised male, have not had or are not to have their reproductive cycle controlled with a deslorelin implant female ferrets should be given the ‘Jill jab’ which is an injection to bring the period of oestrous to an end.

Vaccination

Ferrets are susceptible to canine distemper and should be vaccinated annually.

Ferrets are also eligible to travel under the PETS passport scheme. A rabies vaccination is necessary to fulfil the terms of the passport. For more details, please contact the surgery.

Microchipping

Microchip implantation occurs between the shoulder blades as in cats and dogs. This is another requirement for the PETS passport scheme. For more information, see Microchipping.

Parasite treatment

Ferrets should have regular treatment for both internal and external parasites, particularly if being used as working animals. For more details, please contact the surgery.