Ferret and Fox Care

Ferret Care

Introduction

The domestic ferrets,  Mustela putorius furo, is a descendent of the European polecat.  Its Latin name is very descriptive.  Mustela is derived form the Latin word for weasel, and puto is Latin for “to smell bad”.  The characteristic odor of the ferret is produced form numerous glands spread throughout the skin and two main odor-producing glands called the anal glands.  Most ferrets have been “descented” prior to purchase, which means the main odor producing “glands” have been surgically removed.Ferrets tend to be very gentle and playful pets.  They are extremely curious and often get into mischief if left unattended.  Please note that juvenile ferrets can be “nippy” and should not be let alone with small children.

Although the ferret is one of the most common pets in the United States, they are still illegal in some areas.  Check with your local authorities about any legal restrictions concerning ferrets.

Nutrition

Ferrets have a very high metabolic rate and should have food and fresh water constantly available, as they require multiple meals throughout the day to sustain themselves.  Water bottles are less messy and more sanitary, and therefore are preferred to water dishes.

Ferrets are true carnivores; their diet must consist mainly of meat and animal products.  Their digestive system cannot adequately handle diets high in fiber or carbohydrates. Commercial ferret diets, formulated to meet the specific nutritional needs of the ferret, are now available, and therefore ferrets should not be maintained on mink or cat food.  Raw diets such as True Carnivore are also recommended.

Occasional pieces of cooked, boneless meat make good treats.

A quality ferret diet should be 30 – 35% crude protein and 15 – 18% fat.  When reading the pet food label, the first several items listed should be animal proteins such as chicken, poultry by-products, meat meal, liver or eggs.  Most homemade formulations should be avoided as they fail to meet the high protein, high fat and low carbohydrate requirements, while maintaining a healthy vitamin-mineral balance.

An improper diet may result in an unhealthy immune system that may predispose to poor overall health, including infections in the urinary tract, gastrointestinal system and respiratory system.

Housing

Provide the largest cage that space and budget will allow.  Ferrets especially enjoy climbing in multilevel cages.  When you are home, provide frequent supervised play outside the cage, as ferrets are very fond of chewing on plastic or soft rubber items, which if swallowed, can result in potentially lethal intestinal obstruction.  In addition to providing adequate housing, a litter box should be provided.  Since ferrets especially like to eliminate in corners, it is ideal to keep a litter box in every room that the ferret can access.  Acceptable substrates for the litter box include paper products and regular, non-clumping cat litter.  Clumping litters have a tendency to stick to the ferret’s nose and can cause respiratory distress.  Due to resins that may cause respiratory irritation, cedar or pine shavings should not be used for litter material.

Elective Surgeries

Most ferrets are de-scented (had their anal sacs removed) and neutered or spayed at a very young age before they are adopted.  Although these surgeries will decrease the ferret’s odor, it will not totally eliminate the characteristic musky smell.

If you have a ferret that has not been surgically altered, it is strongly recommended to do so to keep your ferret healthy.  Neutered males will be less aggressive.  Unspayed female ferrets may stay “in heat” for prolonged periods and develop a fatal anemia as a result of estrogen toxicity.  Even though nearly all ferrets from pet stores are neutered before puberty, doing the surgery at such an early age has been suggested to be associated with development of adrenal disease in older ferrets.  If given the choice, some feel it is better to perform the surgery after the onset of puberty at 6-9 months of age.

Preventative Medicine

All juvenile ferrets should be vaccinated against canine distemper at approximately 6, 10 and 14 weeks of age and then annually.  Ferrets should also be vaccinated against rabies at 14 weeks of age and then yearly.  These viruses are fatal, so your ferret needs to be protected.  Vaccine reactions may occur and, as a precaution, your veterinarian may request a 20 minute post-vaccination period within the hospital.

Intestinal parasites (worms) are uncommon in ferrets.  However, all ferrets should have a fecal exam for intestinal parasites performed during their initial physical exam and if the ferret develops diarrhea.  Also, all new ferrets going to homes with preexisting ferrets should be quarantined and carefully observed for two weeks before being introduced to other ferrets.  A quarantine period may help prevent the spread of epizootic catarrhal enteritis (“green slime disease”), a contagious virus that causes mucousy, green diarrhea and overall debilitation.

Just like dogs and cats, ferrets are susceptible for heartworm disease, resulting in labored breathing or sudden death.  Therefore, in areas of the country where heartworm disease is prevalent, your ferret should be placed on a monthly preventative.

Ferrets, like cats, can get hairballs.  But unlike cats, ferrets do not typically vomit hairballs.  Instead, the hairball remains in the stomach where it can cause a lack of appetite with eventual weight loss and debilitation.  Administering a feline hairball remedy a couple of times each week will help prevent this.

Ferrets over the age of three may need yearly dental scaling and cleaning to prevent periodontal disease.  Daily brushing with a feline toothbrush and enzymatic paste at home may keep this from becoming an issue.

A yearly physical exam is a must for all ferrets.  Once they reach the age of three, radiographs (X-rays) and blood work should be performed every 6-12 months to detect early signs of disease.

References

  1. Bell J:  Ferret Nutrition.  In Veterinary Clinics of North America :  Exotic Animal Practice, 2:1, 1991, pp. 169-192.
  2. Boyce, Zingy, Lightfoot.  In Veterinary Clinics of North America :  Exotic Animal Practice, 4:5, 2001, pp. 697-712.
  3. Hillyer, Quesenberry: Ferrets, Rabbits, and Rodents
  4. Ivey, Morrisey JM:  Ferrets: Examination and Preventative Medicine.  In Veterinary Clinics of North America :  Exotic Animal Practice, 2:2, 1999, pp. 471-493.
  5. Johnson-Delany C: Ferrets, Exotic Companion Medicine Handbook, 2000.
  6. Rosenthal, K: Enhancing your Practice with Small Mammals and Reptiles.  In Seminars in Avian and Exotic Pet Medicine, 9:4, 2000, pp. 204-210.
  7. Rosskopf , W: Some Important Behavioral Characteristics of Various Non-avian Pets Seen in Clinical Practice.  In Seminars in Avian and Exotic Pet Medicine, 8:4, 1999, pp. 145-153.
  8. Stamoulis, M:  Cardiac Disease in Ferrets.  In Seminars in Avian and Exotic Pet Medicine, 4:1, 195, pp. 43-48.
What Is Adrenal Disease And Why Do I Need To Know About It?

The adrenal glands are located in the abdomen of the ferret.  There is one on each side of the abdomen.  The adrenal gland’s normal function in the body is to produce hormones that help the body cope with stress (cortisol) and also to produce other hormones that help regulate functions of the kidneys, such as maintaining proper electrolyte balance and the appropriate concentration of the urine.  These glands have the potential to produce sex hormones such as estrogen, progesterone, androstrenedione and testosterone.  What we are seeing these days is that more and more ferrets have adrenal glands that have been “turned on” and are producing excessive amounts of these hormones.  These excessive amounts of hormone cause a wide variety of clinical signs in your pet ferret.  The adrenal glands themselves start out as just overproducing hormone, but they can proceed to a precancerous state, a benign cancerous state (adenoma) and then often to a malignant cancerous state (carcinoma).  You need to understand this disease process because it has become so common that approximately 80% of all pet ferrets are succumbing to this disease.

Clinical Signs

  • Alopecia (hair loss) – this often starts with the tail and then progresses up the rear end and back.  It can be seen in other presentations as well.  I had one patient that just had a bald spot as bit as a fifty-cent piece on the top of her head and that was it – she had one of the largest tumors I have ever seen.
  • Pruritis – severe itching
  • Lethargy – less energy than normal.
  • Muscle atrophy – especially over the back and rump.
  • Enlarged vulva
  • Male aggressive behavior – this can be seen in either male  or female ferrets.
  • Stranguria (straining to urinate) – This is seen mainly in male ferrets.  It is due to the prostate becoming enlarged secondary to excessive testosterone secreted by the adrenal gland(s).
  • Polyuria – excessive urination
  • Polydipsia – excessive water consumption
  • Vomiting – This is often secondary to excessive hair consumption if they are losing hair and grooming themselves.

Possible Causes

Genetics

Our pet ferrets are called Mustela putorius furo.  This subspecies of the original ferret never existed in the wild.  They were derived from M. putorius (European polecat) with possibly some M. eversmanni (Siberian polecat).  Due to overzealous breeding programs, there is not much genetic diversity among pet ferrets in the United States .  It is possible that this predisposition to this form of cancer is inherently genetic.  There are some current studies being considered to determine the cause of this disease.  One is taking a look at the human model of multiple endocrine neoplasia (cancer).  In humans this syndrome is caused by a tumor suppressor gene that gets turned off.

Prepubescent spaying and neutering

Dr. Nico Schoemaker in the Netherlands is currently studying how this affects onset of adrenal disease.  When an animal is neutered, the negative feedback from estrogen and testosterone on the production of GnRh (gonadotropin releasing hormone) by the hypothalamus (an area in the brain) doesn’t exist anymore.  This results in a continuous pulsitile production of GnRH.  GnRH stimulates the production of LH (leutenizing hormone) and FSH (follicle stimulating hormone).  There are receptors on the adrenal glands for both LH and FSH.  The current hypothesis is that the LH and FSH continuously stimulate the adrenal gland.  This could be what is causing the hyperplasia formation and tumor.

Treatment Options

Surgery

Currently the one “tried and true” method for dealing with adrenal disease is to surgically excise the affected gland(s).  It is not uncommon for both glands to be affected.  Note: Remember the adrenal glands have a very important NORMAL function producing cortisol, regulating electrolytes, and urine concentration.  If both glands are taken out, your ferret may need to be on a supplement to replace those hormones for the rest of his or her life.  This supplement can be provided in a daily liquid.

Medical

The most popular alternative to surgery is a medication called Lupron®.  This drug acts by stopping the pulsitile secretion of GnRH.  The end effect is an inhibition of the production of FSH and LH.  There are two different protocols for this drug.  One involves a monthly depot injection; the other involves a depot injection once every 4 months (two different kinds of Lupron).  The cost works out to be roughly the same.  The injections do need to be repeated for the rest of the ferret’s life.  Chicago Exotics carries just the one month depot.

Also available through Chicago Exotics is the Suprelorin 4.7mg implant.  This implant was originally made for reproduction control in dogs, cats, and horses.  It has been found to work in a similar way to Lupron in ferrets.  The best part is that it lasts for a whole year.  I do not recommend using it in those ferrets with existing prostate enlargement, however.  It can cause transient enlargement of the prostate which could be fatal for those ferrets who already have some enlargement of the prostate.

Arimidex works by inhibiting the enzyme that converts androstenedione that is produced by the adrenal glands to estrogen.  This drug is potentially useful if the ferret’s adrenal tumor is over-secreting androstenedione that is being converted to estrogen.  Both males and females can have excessive estrogen production secondary to adrenal disease.  An assay of the ferret’s hormone levels is necessary to determine if this alternative therapy might be helpful for your ferret.  We do not recommend this therapy.

One other alternative supplement that has been seen clinically to help males that have stranguria secondary to an enlarged prostate is Saw Palmetto.  I have had several clients report back to me with good results with this herbal remedy.  Keep in mind though- this is not a cure.  It is just palliative treatment to keep a ferret comfortable until arrangements can be made for other treatment.  The form I recommend is the alcohol-free elixir at a dose of 3 drops orally twice daily.  It is critical that a male ferret on this supplement be observed carefully for the straining to urinate getting worse or a complete lack of being able to urinate.  More commonly prescribed for prostate enlargement is the drug Flutamide.  I have great success with this drug in controlling prostate growth.

Preventing Adrenal Disease By Exams Every January

Recent research indicates that there are annual treatments that can significantly reduce the risk of your ferret contracting this serious disease.  We strongly recommend an annual examination every January for all ferrets where we can administer the prophylactic treatments and make sure your ferret is in tip top shape!

References

  • Johnson-Delaney C: Ferret adrenal disease:  Alternatives to surgery.  Exotic DVM 1(4):19-22, 1999.
  • Johnson-Delaney C: personal communications.
  • Schoemaker N: New developments in research on hyperadrenocorticism in ferrets.  Exotic DVM 2(3):81-83, 2000.
  • Hillyer EV, Quesenberry KE: Ferrets, Rabbits and Rodents- Clinical Medicine and Surgery.  Philadelphia, WB Saunders Co, 1997.

Kristin Claricoates, DVM; Chicago Exotics Animal Hospital

Have you ever heard of doing a dental on a ferret? “Why would ferret teeth need cleaning?” “People brush a ferret’s teeth?!?”  These are all comments we have heard regularly from our clients at Chicago Exotics Animal Hospital. For many people who have never heard of dental cleanings on a pet ferret it can seem very strange that they need cleaning too.  It is our goal at Chicago Exotics Animal Hospital to make you aware of ferret dentistry and all the unique things that make ferret teeth special to them.  You can share your new expertise with your ferret owner friends and wow them!  To fully understand why ferrets need dental cleanings routinely, it’s best to learn about ferret teeth first.

When ferrets are young, they have 30 teeth and as adults they have 34 teeth.  These 30 baby teeth are all present at about 3 months of age, and by 9 months of age all adult teeth should be present. You may have noticed some of their teeth look so different from one another.  There are four types of teeth in a ferret: the incisors, canines, premolars, and molars.  We, as humans, have each of these tooth types as well, although in different numbers.  The incisors, are the teeth in the front of the mouth.  They are used to pick up and gather food into the mouth.  The canine teeth are sharp needle-like teeth (see picture below) which are used to puncture food and tear it.  There are premolars which shear and cut food. Molars are utilized to grind food up to be digested and are the farthest back in the mouth.  Ferrets, like cats, dogs, and humans have teeth that stop growing.  There is enamel over the teeth and a chamber in the middle of the tooth in which there is a blood supply and a nerve supply, called the pulp.  The tooth is held in place to the gums (or gingival) by cementum and a periodontal ligament.

Like us, a ferret can crack or chip their teeth.  These fractures often happen because of fighting or trauma from chewing on very hard items such as bone or cage bars.  Sometimes these “chips” can occur where only the enamel is lost.  If this occurs, it may not be a problem and may not need orthodontic repair, but it is important for Chicago Exotics to double check.  At other times, the tooth breaks in such a way that the chamber in the middle of the tooth is exposed.  If that chamber is exposed, bacteria can get into the blood supply which is rich in nutrients.  Because the nerve is in this chamber as well, it is painful to have an exposed root.  In humans if this occurs, we know right away and so a root canal is performed.  If we notice this right away in your pets, a root canal can be performed at clinics equipped for dental surgery.   However, in pets it may not be noticed for months.  As a result, bacteria enter the tooth and can cause an abscess (an infection of the tooth and tooth root).  If this occurs, we recommend removing the tooth.

“How about braces in people? Surely ferrets don’t need those?”  While ferrets do need orthodontic work sometimes traditional braces are not an option for ferrets.  When ferret teeth point in abnormal directions, it results in trauma to the gums and/ or roof of the mouth, or creates problems for other teeth in the mouth.   There are many creative ways Chicago Exotics Animal Hospital can try to fix these problems.

The most common problem that ferrets experience related to teeth is periodontal disease- the buildup of plaque and calculus on the teeth causing irritation of the gumline.  In ferrets, a dental cleaning is recommended on an annual basis.  Brushing the teeth at home on a daily or even weekly (at minimum) basis helps prevent plaque and tartar buildup.  Cat and dog toothpaste is safe for ferret use.  If periodontal disease becomes particularly bad, the attachments that keep the tooth in place begin to erode and the tooth may loosen, and the roots of the tooth become exposed.  At that point removing that tooth may be needed.  “Why not leave the tooth instead of extracting it?”  A loose tooth is uncomfortable for your pet.  It is also a way that bacteria can enter the blood supply of the tooth and the blood stream where it can spread to other parts of the body.  This can be a dangerous situation as the bacteria can be deposited and grow in places like the heart and kidneys creating a potentially life-threatening situation.

Sometimes, owners believe ferrets need their teeth trimmed.  While this is true in rabbits and rodents, it is not true for a ferret.  Ferrets have a different type of tooth structure.  A ferret has anelodont (limited period of growth), and brachydont (short crowned) teeth.  This is in direct contrast with the elodont, or continuously growing teeth, that do not develop anatomical roots and are present in rabbits.  This is why rabbits have their teeth trimmed and ferrets do not.  If your ferret’s teeth have been trimmed in the past, consult with Chicago Exotics to determine the level of damage, and if the tooth can be saved.

Annual dental examinations and cleanings are recommended.  “What can I do for my ferret at home?”  Brushing your ferret’s teeth daily using a toothbrush designed for a cat works very well!  Work on cleaning the outsides of the teeth, where tartar builds up the most.  Brush slowly and gently.  Tooth brushing is a great way to prevent tartar from eventually building up and causing inflammation along the gumline.  Avoid feeding your ferret soft foods or sugary treats to help reduce tartar buildup.  Additionally, Maxiguard gel is a helpful product to prevent dental disease.  It reduces bad breath by killing the microbes present which create plaques and bad odor. Even with these two home prevention steps, it is natural that tartar will build up.  An annual cleaning at Chicago Exotics will remove anything you can’t at home!

September is ferret dental month at Chicago Exotics!  Call to ask for more information at 847-329-8709.

Works Cited:
Bellows, Jan. “01 Ferret Dentistry – VeterinaryPartner.com – a VIN Company!” 01 Ferret Dentistry – VeterinaryPartner.com – a VIN Company! VIN, 27 June 2002. Web. 06 Feb. 2015.

Bellows, Jan. “Ferret Dentistry.” Ferret Dentistry. All Pets Dental Clinic, 31 Oct. 2000. Web. 06 Feb. 2015.
Hines, Ron. “Caring For Your Ferret ‘s Teeth – Tooth Problems In Ferrets.”Caring For Your Ferret ‘s Teeth – Tooth Problems In Ferrets. 2nd Chance, n.d. Web. 06 Feb. 2015.

A mouth with dental calculus and periodontal disease

Source: http://noahsanimalhospitals.blogspot.com/2013/10/friendly-ferrets-ferrets-are-third-most.html

A healthy ferret mouth

Source:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ferret_health

by Association of Exotic Mammal Veterinarians: aemv.org

Diarrhea or loose stools are a common diagnosis in pet ferrets.  Some ferrets may appear otherwise normal, or may experience appetite loss, weight loss, dehydration, and abdominal pain. Stools vary in character and color, and may be “seedy”(soft with a granular appearance), liquid or contain mucous or blood.

Possible causes for diarrhea and soft stools include:

  • A bacterial infection, including Helicobacter mustelae
  • A viral infection, including Epizootic Catarrhal Enteritis (ECE)
  • A hairball or other foreign material in the stomach or intestines
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
  • Lymphoma, or other gastrointestinal cancers
  • Stress from a change in the environment or other underlying medical condition

It can be difficult for the veterinarian to distinguish between the above diseases, as many will produce similar symptoms. It is important to start with a complete physical examination and history.  Symptoms appearing right after exposure to other ferrets may be caused by an infectious disease or even stress. If stools are dark and tarry and the ferret exhibits signs of abdominal pain, such as teeth grinding, gastrointestinal foreign body and/or Helicobacter should be considered. Other clues in the history and physical examination findings may suggest other causes.

Basic diagnostic tests are important to help determine the underlying cause. Specialized testis for specific viruses or bacteria may be recommended. If testing is negative and the ferret does not improve, it is often necessary to take surgical biopsies of the stomach, intestines or other organs.  These samples are sent to an experienced exotic animal pathologist for evaluation.

Treatment varies with cause. In many cases sick ferrets are dehydrated and nutritionally depleted so treatment may begin with fluid therapy and nutritional support.  Diarrhea caused by bacteria may be treated with antibiotics.  A special combination of antibiotics and other medications is used to treat Helicobacter. Gastrointestinal foreign bodies typically require surgical removal along with supportive care. Lymphoma requires chemotherapy or radiation and the prognosis varies with severity of the disease when diagnosed, the age of the ferret at diagnosis and other factors.

Prognosis for ferrets with diarrhea varies with general condition and underlying cause.  A thorough evaluation gives the best chance for finding therapy that gives the best chance of a successful outcome.

Heart disease is relatively common in middle aged to older ferrets.  Symptoms may include decreased appetite, lethargy, generalized or rear leg weakness, labored breathing, purplish or pale gums, coughing, and/or abdominal enlargement from fluid accumulation.  Either weight loss or weight gain (from fluid) can also be observed.  In the early stages of heart disease, there may be no symptoms.  As the heart disease progresses, mild signs often start to develop and then more severe signs.  The severe signs are generally seen when the heart cannot keep up with its job of circulating the blood in the body, and therefore fluid backs up in the lungs and/or abdomen.  This is called congestive heart failure.

If you observe your ferret showing any of these signs, you should bring them to your veterinarian for an examination.  The veterinarian can listen to the ferret’s heart with a stethoscope to check for an abnormal rhythm or heart murmur.  Not all ferrets with heart disease will have a detectable murmur or arrhythmia, but if present, this helps to confirm heart disease.

If heart disease is suspected, x-rays are usually the next step.  An enlarged, rounded heart and fluid in the lungs are common findings with heart disease.  If the x-rays indicate a heart problem, a cardiac ultrasound is recommended.  The ultrasound can evaluate the heart function, whether the heart wall is thickened or too thin, and how the heart valves are working.  The two tests together help to provide a picture of how severe the heart disease is and help the veterinarian decide the type and dose of medications that need to be administered.  Pictured below is an X-ray of a ferret with obvious heart failure.

Medications for heart disease help to decrease the workload on the heart, control the blood pressure, and keep fluid from accumulating in the lungs. Heart disease cannot be cured, but it can be managed.  This can increase the length and the quality of the ferret’s life.  The ferret will need to be evaluated regularly to evaluate whether any adjustment is needed in the dose of medication.  The dose of medication depends on the individual ferret and the severity of the heart disease.  Bloodwork will also need to be monitored to make sure there are no adverse effects from the medications.  See this page for the vitamin supplement we recommend for your pet!

Most heart disease develops as the ferret ages and cannot be prevented.  Once heart disease is diagnosed though, the progression of the heart disease can often be slowed down with medications.  An exception to this is heartworm disease.  It is much easier to prevent heartworms than to treat them. Heartworms are spread by mosquitoes.  If your ferret goes outdoors or has exposure to mosquitoes, a monthly heartworm preventative prescribed by your veterinarian can be given.  Please refer to the Heartworm Disease page on this site for further information.

​If you have any questions, please feel free to call us at (502) 241-4117.

Kristin Claricoates, DVM

The normal heart is shown on the left compared to a heart with dilated cardiomyopathy on the right. Note the increased dimensions of the left ventricle.

A cardiomyopathy is a descriptive condition where the muscles of the heart is abnormal.  There are four types of cardiomyopathies: “hypertrophic”, “dilated”, “restrictive” and “right ventricular”.  While dilated cardiomyopathy, or DCM, has typically been recognized by its structure i.e., thinning and stretching of the heart muscle, the electrical function of the heart can also become adversely affected. When the heart chambers dilate, the heart muscle doesn’t contract normally. Also, the heart can’t pump blood very well. Over time, the heart becomes weaker and heart failure can occur. Dilated cardiomyopathy also can lead to heart valve problems, arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats) and blood clots in the heart.

The main feature of dilated cardiomyopathy is an excessive stretching of the heart muscle. The disease often starts in the left ventricle, the heart’s main pumping chamber. The heart muscle begins to dilate (stretch and become thinner). This causes the inside of the chamber to enlarge. When the heart chambers dilate, the heart muscle doesn’t contract normally. Also, the heart can’t pump blood very well and becomes unable to supply the body with enough blood. The problem often spreads to the right ventricle and then to the atria as the disease gets worse.  Over time, the heart becomes weaker and heart failure can occur. Dilated cardiomyopathy also can lead to heart valve problems, arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats) and blood clots in the heart.
The cause of dilated cardiomyopathy often isn’t known. Certain diseases, conditions and substances also can cause the disease, such as poor genetics, congenital (from birth) heart defects, infections, parasites, lead toxicity, heart attack or high blood pressure.

Normally, the heart is set up to process deoxygenated blood and make it oxygenated to send to the tissues of the body. There are four chambers of the heart and four one way valves to continue pumping blood in this uni-directional process. The right atrium receives blood from the body which is poorly oxygenated, sends it to the right ventricle, where it is then transferred to the lungs.  Blood becomes oxygenated and carbon dioxide is expelled.  From there, the blood goes to the left atrium, then to the left ventricle, which pumps it to the body.  This cycle is continuously repeated as the heart beats. Every heartbeat results from an electrical signal starting at the right atrium and travels down through the heart through special conducting tissue which starts a contraction. In a heart with DCM, not only are the muscles of the heart stretched, but this change can sometimes interfere with this normal electrical signal.  Some of the different types of electrical signal malfunctions are arrhythmias of differing severities.  These electrical malfunctions can even cause a cardiac arrest.

When a heart is in DCM, the heart contracts (pumps blood) poorly because the muscle is over-stretched.  The amount of blood which the heart can hold is therefore increased.  Since it is so stretched, a large amount of blood is able to fill each chamber, but the heart’s ability to pump the blood from each chamber is reduced.  Enlargement of the left ventricle may make it harder for your heart valves to close, causing a backward flow of blood and making your heart pump less effectively. This can sometimes result in backflow of the blood from one chamber to another (heart valve regurgitation), against the uni-directional valve.  Changes in heart structure and changes in pressure on the heart’s chambers can lead to an abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia).  Unfortunately, dilated cardiomyopathy can cause your heart to suddenly stop beating, or blood clots (emboli) because there is pooling of blood (stasis) in the left ventricle due to the large volume of fluid in that chamber.  This can lead to blood clots, which may enter the bloodstream, cut off the blood supply to vital organs, and cause stroke, heart attack or damage to other organs. Arrythmias can also cause blood clots.

Dilated Cardiomyopathy may be suspected because of symptoms, a murmur, or an abnormal radiograph. Because such symptoms could be caused by a large number of other conditions, an ultrasound is required to officially diagnose dilated cardiomyopathy.  If an arrhythmia is heard, an ECG may be recommended as well.  An ECG records the electrical signals from the heart and is performed by placing electrodes in the armpits and inner legs.  In Dilated Cardiomyopathy the ECG usually shows an abnormal electrical signal due to muscle stretching. Some patients may only show minor changes or be normal on an ECG.  Because ECG abnormalities are not specific to Dilated Cardiomyopathy and may be found in other heart conditions, an ECG may or may not be done depending on the stress level of your pet.

If there is a suspicion of DCM, there are a few recommended tests that a veterinarian may advise.  First, your veterinarian may order blood tests which help with information about your pet’s heart and also may reveal if your pet has an infection, a metabolic disorder or toxins in the blood that can cause dilated cardiomyopathy.  Next, a chest X-ray is important to check your pet’s heart for abnormalities in the structure or size and the lungs for any sign of fluid in or around your lungs.

To diagnose DCM, your veterinarian will want an ultrasound of the heart.  The ultrasound of the heart is sometimes an echocardiogram, or an ECHO.  An ECHO produces a picture of the heart, and if excessive stretching of the muscle can be seen, DCM is diagnosed.  During the test the entire heart is measured including the walls, valves and other structures within the heart. Therefore ECHO provides a very thorough assessment of Dilated Cardiomyopathy, and it can differentiate DCM from other heart conditions that may be suspected.

Because DCM develops over a period of time, your pet may not be exhibiting any signs of DCM because the change in the heart began slowly.  Signs and symptoms of DCM Dilated cardiomyopathy can appear along a spectrum of no symptoms, subtle symptoms or, in the more severe cases, congestive heart failure (CHF), which occurs when the heart is unable to pump blood well enough to meet the body tissue needs for oxygen and nutrients. Things that may indicate DCM in your pet, or a worsening of DCM can be shortness of breath (dyspnea), lethargy (tiredness), swelling of abdomen (ascites), swelling of limbs (edema), syncope (fainting), seizures (convulsions), or even sudden cardiac arrest (heart stops beating effectively requiring resuscitation). These symptoms can occur at any age and with any stage of cardiomyopathy, even if other more severe symptoms of congestive heart failure have not yet appeared.

Drug treatment or medication is given when some or all of the symptoms listed above are present.  These medications must be given for the remainder of your pet’s life, and the heart will be evaluated by alternating bloodwork and radiographs every 3 months.  Increasing, decreasing or discontinuing medication should only be done with consultation with your veterinarian.  The choice of treatment will vary from individual to individual but the common drug groups used for treatment medications are listed below:

Drugs that have proved useful in the treatment of dilated cardiomyopathy and heart failure include:

Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
ACE inhibitors are a type of drug that widens or dilates blood vessels (vasodilator) to lower blood pressure, improve blood flow and decrease the heart’s workload. ACE inhibitors may improve heart function.  An example of this type of drug is enalapril.
Side effects include low blood pressure, low white blood cell count, and kidney or liver problems.

Angiotensin II receptor blockers
These drugs have many of the beneficial effects of ACE inhibitors and may be an alternative for people who can’t tolerate ACE inhibitors.

Beta blockers
A beta blocker slows your heart rate, reduces blood pressure and prevents some of the harmful effects of stress hormones, substances produced by your body that can worsen heart failure and trigger abnormal heart rhythms. Atenolol and propranolol are some examples of this medication type.  Beta blockers may reduce signs and symptoms of heart failure and improve heart function.

Diuretics
Often called water pills, diuretics remove excess fluid and salt from your body. The drugs also decrease fluid in your lungs, so you can breathe more easily. Common diuretics include furosemide and spironolactone. Common side effects of diuretics include dehydration and abnormalities in the blood chemistries (particularly potassium loss), which is why it is important for regular blood rechecks when your pet has DCM.

​Inotropic agents
Digoxin. This drug, also known as digitalis, strengthens your heart muscle contractions. It also tends to slow the heartbeat. Digoxin may reduce heart failure symptoms and improve your ability to be active.

​Blood-thinning medications

Your veterinarian may prescribe drugs, such as warfarin (Coumadin), to help prevent blood clots. Side effects include excessive bruising or bleeding. This is not commonly prescribed
There are a variety of drug treatments currently used in Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM). The need for any treatment and choice of that treatment has to be made on an individual basis and may change in each patient over the years. It is very important to discuss your pet’s symptoms with the veterinarian and develop a treatment plan for your pet, as each patient with DCM is different. Medication should NEVER be stopped without first consulting with your veterinarian.  While medications can be stopped some drugs can have a serious complication if stopped abruptly, please work with your veterinarian to manage all medications.  You will be doing follow up examinations every 3 months.

Kristin Claricoates, DVM

A cardiomyopathy is a descriptive condition where the muscles of the heart is abnormal.  There are four types of cardiomyopathies: “hypertrophic”, “dilated”, “restrictive” and “right ventricular”.  While hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, or HCM, has typically been recognized by its structure i.e., thickening of the heart muscle, the electrical function of the heart is also adversely affected.
The main feature of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is an excessive thickening of the heart muscle (hypertrophy literally means to thicken). The distribution of muscle thickening or hypertrophy is variable, but the left ventricle is almost always affected and in some patients the muscle of the right ventricle also thickens.  In HCM, the walls of the heart or the septum separating left from right chambers of the heart are thickened.  HCM can sometimes be confused with a heart that appears similarly, but is a normal change in the heart in individuals with high blood pressure (hypertension).

In Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM), the muscle thickening occurs without an obvious cause.  Examination of the heart muscle in Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy under a microscope shows that the normal parallel alignment of muscle cells has been lost. The cells appear disorganized. This abnormality is called “myocardial disarray”. It is probable that myocardial disarray interferes with normal electrical transmission and predisposes to irregularities of the heartbeat.

Myocardial Disarray

These diagrams contrast the regular, parallel alignment of muscle cells in a normal heart with the irregular, disorganized alignment of muscle cells or “myocardial disarray” found in some parts of the heart in hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.

When a heart is in HCM, the thickened muscle usually contracts (pumps blood) well and ejects a higher than normal amount of the blood from the heart.  However, the muscle in HCM is stiff, so it is unable to relax completely. As a result, higher blood pressures compared to normal are required to fill the heart. The amount of blood which the heart can hold is therefore reduced.  This in turn will limit the amount of blood which can be ejected with the next contraction.  While the heart itself has problems with thickening of the musculature, the heart valves and arteries are normal.  Normally, the heart is set up to process unoxygenated blood and make it oxygenated to send to the tissues of the body. There are four chambers of the heart and four one way valves to continue pumping blood in this uni-directional process. The right atrium receives blood from the body which is poorly oxygenated, sends it to the right ventricle, where it is then transferred to the lungs.  Blood becomes oxygenated and carbon dioxide is expelled.  From there, the blood goes to the left atrium, then to the left ventricle, which pumps it to the body.  This cycle is continuously repeated as the heart beats. Every heartbeat results from an electrical signal starting at the right atrium and travels down through the heart through special conducting tissue which starts a contraction. In a heart with HCM, not only are the muscles of the heart thickened, but this change can sometimes interfere with this normal electrical signal.  Some of the different types of electrical signal malfunctions are arrhythmias of differing severities.  These electrical malfunctions can even cause a cardiac arrest.

In an HCM heart sometimes the “plumbing” in the heart can cause the fluid (in this case blood) to get blocked temporarily while attempting to leave the heart (obstruction).  This type of a “plumbing” problem should not be confused with blocked arteries in the heart – that is coronary artery disease and NOT HCM.

Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy may be suspected because of symptoms, a murmur, or an abnormal radiograph. Because such symptoms could be caused by a large number of other conditions, an ultrasound is required to officially diagnose hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.  If an arrhythmia is heard, an ECG may be recommended as well.  An ECG records the electrical signals from the heart and is performed by placing electrodes in the armpits and inner legs.  In Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy the ECG usually shows an abnormal electrical signal due to muscle thickening and disorganization of the muscle structure. Some patients may only show minor changes or be normal on an ECG.  Because ECG abnormalities are not specific to Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy and may be found in other heart conditions, an ECG may or may not be done depending on the stress level of your pet.

To officially diagnose HCM, an ultrasound of the heart is needed.  This is sometimes an echocardiogram, or an ECHO.  An ECHO produces a picture of the heart, and if excessive thickness of the muscle can be seen, HCM is diagnosed.  During the test the entire heart is measured including the walls, valves and other structures within the heart. Therefore ECHO provides a very thorough assessment of Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy, and it can differentiate HCM from other heart conditions that may be suspected.

Because HCM develops over a period of time, your pet may not be exhibiting any signs of HCM because the change in the heart began slowly.  Things that may indicate HCM in your pet, or a worsening of HCM can be breathing decreased appetite, weight loss, and an increase in respiratory rate.  Loss of energy and appetite and reduced exercise may be seen, but can go unnoticed because pets are often able to recognize their own physical limitations and restrict their activities accordingly.

Drug treatment or medication is given when some or all of the symptoms listed above are present.  These medications must be given for the remainder of your pet’s life, and the heart will be evaluated by alternating bloodwork and radiographs every 3 months.  Increasing, decreasing or discontinuing medication should only be done with consultation with your veterinarian.  The choice of treatment will vary from individual to individual but the common drug groups used for treatment medications are listed below:

Beta-Blockers
Beta-Blocking drugs slow the heart beat and reduce its force of contraction. Beta blockers have such names as atenolol, and sotalol and the names normally end in “ol”. Beta-blockers are also widely used in medical practice for other types of heart disease and for high blood pressure. Occasionally excessive heart rate slowing with these drugs can cause reduced energy

Calcium Antagonists
The second major group of drugs used are the calcium antagonists or calcium channel blockers. Within this group diltiazem is the drug which has been most commonly used in HCM in our patients. It improves the filling of the heart. Like beta-blockers it can cause excessive slowing of the heart rate and lower blood pressure, which is why regular checkups are required to check the heart.

Anti-Arrhythmic Drugs
These drugs might be used when an arrhythmia (irregular heart beat) such as tachycardia (heart beating too fast) is detected and felt to be important in an individual case. Sotolol is a very helpful medication for those who encounter arrhythmias. It may lower blood pressure and appears to have few side effects.

Other Drugs
There are a number of specific complications described earlier which are rare but which require the use of additional drugs.

Diuretics
Occasionally patients develop fluid retention and in these situation diuretics “water pills” which increase urine flow are administered. The most commonly prescribed diuretic is Furosemide (Lasix). It is also imperative to maintain an appropriate blood potassium level when taking diuretics.

Anticoagulants: These are not used commonly in our patients but can be used in patients with atrial fibrillation to prevent clot formation in the atria. Warfarin (Coumadin) is the tablet commonly used with a long history of success in HCM. It requires monitoring with a blood test, approximately on a monthly basis.

Antibiotics
Although endocarditis is rare, persons who have out flow obstruction and turbulent blood flow should receive antibiotic prophylaxis prior to dental procedures (including cleanings) and any other situations where there is an increased risk of bacteria entering the bloodstream.

There are a variety of drug treatments currently used in Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM). The need for any treatment and choice of that treatment has to be made on an individual basis and may change in each patient over the years. It is very important to discuss your pet’s symptoms with the veterinarian and develop a treatment plan for your pet, as each patient with Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM) is different. Medication should NEVER be stopped without first consulting with your veterinarian.  While medications can be stopped some drugs can have a serious complication if stopped abruptly, please work with your veterinarian to manage all medications.  You will be doing follow up examinations every 3 months.

Works Cited: The Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Association

by Association of Exotic Mammal Veterinarians: aemv.org

Many people have heard of heartworm disease in dogs, but not everyone is aware that pet cats and ferrets are also at risk of developing this potentially fatal disease.  Heartworm disease is caused by a parasitic worm (Dirofilaria immitis) that is transmitted via mosquito bites.  In brief, the mosquito bites an infected dog and ingests immature heartworms, called microfilaria. When the infected mosquito bites another dog, cat, or ferret the microfilaria are injected into the animal’s bloodstream.  The worms develop into larvae and migrate through the tissue into the blood stream, making their way to the heart where they mature and may reach lengths of up to 10 inches.

Ferrets have very small hearts and even a single adult worm can result in illness.  The worms not only interfere with the function of the heart, but small fragments may break off and travel through the blood stream to the lungs where they can cause serious lung disease.

All ferrets in “endemic” heartworm areas are potentially at risk. An endemic area is an area where the climate supports enough mosquitoes to keep the disease cycle going. Even ferrets kept indoors 100% of the time might encounter a mosquito inside the house.

Heartworm disease in ferrets is relatively uncommon, and can potentially be treated.  However, as heartworm disease can be serious or even fatal, owners should consider heartworm prevention medication, which is safe, effective and inexpensive.

by Association of Exotic Mammal Veterinarians: aemv.org

What is an Insulinoma? By Jonathon Bresolin, DVM

Insulinoma is a tumor of the pancreas. Specifically, it is a tumor of the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin, a hormone vital to the control of blood sugar (glucose) levels in the body. Normally, as a meal is digested, blood sugar levels rise. The pancreas produces insulin, which drives the new sugars into the cells of the body, where they can be used as energy. It also inhibits the body’s ability to produce new glucose from body stores (fat, muscles, etc.). An insulinoma, however, will produce insulin at all times. This causes a constant state of low blood sugar, which can be dangerous and possibly fatal.

Insulinomas are most commonly seen in older ferrets (+3 years) and affect male and female ferrets equally.

What Causes Insulinoma?
Much discussion has occurred regarding the exact cause of insulinoma in ferrets. Its prevalence is far higher in American-bred ferrets, compared to ferrets bred in other countries. Some theorize that the American ferret breeding pool has a genetic predisposition towards developing insulinoma tumors. Others theorize that a diet high in carbohydrates, rather than protein, stimulates excessive insulin production, resulting in over-activity and eventual cancerous development of pancreatic cells.

What are the Clinical Signs?
Clinical signs of the insulinoma are directly related to the overproduction of insulin, and the subsequent low blood sugar levels.
–          Neurologic:
o   General lethargy/decreased energy levels
o   Confusion, mental dullness
o   Tremors, seizures
o   Coma, death
–           Adrenergic:
o   Increased heart rate
o   Hypothermia
o   Irritability, nervousness
–          Miscellaneous:
o   Signs of nausea (drooling, teeth grinding, pawing at the mouth)
o   In later stages of the disease, poor body condition
o   Hindlimb weakness, paralysis

The chronic nature of insulinomas often results in a slow onset of clinical signs. However, there can be acute events of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) that can be extremely dangerous and possibly fatal. The clinical signs bolded above are signs of a dangerously low blood sugar, and need to be addressed immediately.

How Do We Diagnose Insulinoma?
The aforementioned clinical signs, combined with an older age, are enough to make us highly suspicious of insulinoma. In order to confirm the diagnosis, we rely on two particular blood tests. These tests are performed after 4-6 hours of fasting, to prevent false negatives:

–          Blood Glucose Levels: < 70 mg/dL –          Blood Insulin Levels: > 200 pmol/L

A low glucose level, combined with a high insulin level, is diagnostic for insulinoma. Multiple tests may be required to catch the ferret at a time in which it is suffering from the effects of the insulinoma. Frequently, the tumor itself is composed of numerous “microtumors”, rather than a singular large mass, making detection via imaging difficult. However, radiographs and ultrasound can be used to check for metastatic tumors in other parts of the body, and may be useful if blood tests are inconclusive. Finally, if all else fails, surgical exploration of the abdomen may be necessary to detect the tumor. Sampling of the pancreas, as well as the liver and spleen, can check the body for the presence of other cancers, as well as metastatic lesions in organs other than the pancreas.

How Do We Treat Insulinoma?

Treatment can be split into two major categories: Emergency treatment of life-threatening symptoms, and long-term treatment of the tumor and its effects.

Emergency Treatment
:
Emergency treatment revolves around stabilizing the critically low blood sugar in as controlled and safe of a manner as possible. If your ferret is suffering from a hypoglycemic event (tremors, seizures, coma, glassy-eyed stare), a small amount of soft, high protein food can be offered he can swallow. This can help restore them to safe glucose levels. However, this is just a stabilizing treatment. They should still be seen immediately by a veterinarian, as they will likely experience these symptoms again. If unable to swallow, the ferret should immediately be brought to the animal hospital.

At the hospital, injectable dextrose, a type of sugar, can be given intravenously to rapidly correct hypoglycemia if seizures are present. Once the blood sugar level is stabilized, and the ferret is able to swallow, high protein meals are used to stabilize the blood glucose level.  If the ferret is experiencing tremors and/or seizures, drugs such as diazepam can be used to control the symptoms.  A short acting injectable steroid to stabilize serum glucose levels may also be used.

Medical Management:
Medical management is meant to control the symptoms of insulinoma, but is not curative for the tumor, itself. There are two drugs that are commonly used to help ferrets with insulinomas:

Prednisone/Prednisolone, a corticosteroid, is often the first line of medical management. It acts on peripheral tissues to reduce the glucose uptake stimulated by the excessive insulin. It also stimulates a process known as gluconeogenesis, which is the body’s ability to generate new glucose out of storage tissues such as adipose and glycogen. It also has anti-tumor properties that can reduce the rate and intensity of the tumor’s proliferation. It is cheap and can be given orally, but has a host of side effects, including increased eating, drinking, urination, immunosuppression, and occasional gastric ulceration.

Diazoxide is a diuretic that can be used on cases that do not respond to or cannot be put on prednisone therapy. It inhibits the release of insulin from the pancreas, as well as reduces the uptake of glucose by peripheral tissues and promotes gluconeogenesis. However, it does not have any anti-tumor properties and is much more expensive than Prednisone. Side effects are more mild than Prednisone, and include anorexia and vomiting.

Changing an insulinoma ferret’s diet can also improve its quality of life. Feeding frequent, small meals with a high-quality protein source and complex sugars can help prevent the massive spikes and drops in glucose. Maximum Calorie Eukanuba and Lafeber Emerald Exotic Carnivore are two good choices.

Finally, chemotherapy regiments have been explored, and can be discussed with a board-certified veterinary oncologist.

Surgical Management:
As mentioned above, insulinomas are often composed of multiple “microtumors”, rather than a single large tumor. This can make surgical removal of the tumor challenging, if not impossible. However, an animal with a single large tumor is a possible candidate for surgical removal. This carries the greatest chance at curing an insulinoma in a ferret. However, even ferrets with large, discrete tumors often have multiple microtumors in the pancreas that cannot be detected, and may cause reoccurrence later in life. This most commonly occurs within 2-6 months after the surgery. There is often a period of diabetes (excessive blood glucose) that occurs after surgery, but this corrects with time.

What is my Ferret’s Prognosis?
Treatment of insulinoma revolves around controlling, not curing disease. As such, the overall prognosis is guarded—rarely are ferrets truly cured of insulinoma. A combination of surgical and medical management gives the ferret the longest mean survival time. Below are listed the average survival times of the different treatment techniques.
–          Without Treatment: 3 months
–          Medical Management: 6 – 12 months
–          Surgical Treatment & Medical Management: 1 – 3 years

However, some ferrets have lived up to five years on medical treatment, alone. Ferrets with insulinoma should have their fasting blood glucose evaluated regularly, in order to monitor treatment and make the necessary adjustments.

by ​Association of Exotic Mammal Veterinarians: aemv.org

Lymphosarcoma (also known as lymphoma) is a cancer of the lymphatic system.  The lymphatic system is responsible for filtering debris from the death of cells and bacteria, and production of antibodies to help fight disease.  Tumors that affect the lymphatic system can prevent normal function and can affect multiple organ systems.  Lymphosarcoma is the most common hematopoietic cancer in the ferret and in other animal species as well.

What causes lymphosarcoma?

Exactly what transforms an apparently healthy cell into a cancerous cell is unknown.  Many studies are being done in the field of cancer research to determine this.  Although unproven, some researchers believe a virus may cause this disease in ferrets.

What are the clinical signs?

Clinical signs of the disease vary depending on the organ systems involved and the extent of the disease.   Ferrets often appear normal and show no outward physical signs.  There are two general forms of lymphosarcoma in the ferret.  One form primarily affects young ferrets under 2 years of age – this is a rapidly progressive lymphoblastic form.  The other form of the disease affects older ferrets and is a more chronic lymphocytic disease.

The lymphoblastic form affecting young ferrets causes infiltration of cancer cells into various abdominal organs such as the spleen and liver and thymus. Because this form usually doesn’t cause obvious enlargement of the lymph nodes, it can be easily missed. Clinical signs depend on which organs are involved.  A common presentation is breathing difficulty due to enlargement of the thymus gland in the chest, which may be mistaken for pneumonia or heart disease.  Less commonly, the liver may be infiltrated resulting in jaundice (icterus).  Lymphoblastic lymphosarcoma should always be ruled out in any young ferret with any serious illness.

The lymphocytic form is the classic form and is usually seen in older ferrets. This form usually develops more slowly, and causes visible enlargement of peripheral lymph nodes. Internal lymph nodes can also be affected.  Late in the course of the disease, organs such as the liver, spleen, kidneys, gastrointestinal tract and lungs are infiltrated, resulting in organ failure and death.  This disease is often insidious in nature and the ferret may not appear sick until later stages. Occasionally, a leukemic form of lymphosarcoma may be seen in the latter stages of either form.  In this form, the neoplastic lymphocytes circulate within the peripheral blood.

How is the disease diagnosed?

Lymphosarcoma can be a difficult to diagnose.  Definitive diagnosis requires interpretation of a sample of the affected organ.  Many forms of the disease will produce an elevated blood lymphocyte count; however, similar elevation may also be seen in various chronic diseases.  Treatment should not be initiated until a definitive diagnosis is obtained.

Can lymphosarcoma be treated?

Treatment may not provide a cure, but is designed to prolong good quality of life. Surgery and radiation therapy may be helpful, but are often not effective alone due to the widespread nature of this cancer. Currently the most effective treatment appears to be chemotherapy, with a combination of drugs.  Several protocols have been published for the treatment of lymphosarcoma in the ferret, and variable success rates have been reported.

by Bob Church

Baby food is expensive (Gerber chicken is about 80 cents per small jar), but you can make your own by boiling chicken in as little water as possible, boning it, then blending the meat, fat, and skin in a blender with the soup made while boiling.

You don’t have to use a whole chicken; breasts and whole legs work fine, and you have more meat per purchase weight and less bone waste.  The goal is a product about the same consistency of a smoothie or milk shake, so you may have to add a bit more water, or not add all the soup, depending on the specific circumstances.

For each chicken processed, I usually add:

  • tablespoon of olive oil,
  • a tablespoon of gelatin,
  • and some liquid taurine (see the bottles for amounts, but you can’t overdose – just waste)

If you saved your baby food bottles, just fill them up and store them in the freezer until needed.  Or, you can do what I do: I pour a serving into a small, or flat bowl, seal the bowl in a sandwich-sized ziplock bag, and store it in the freezer.  When I need a serving, I take the dish out of the ziplock bag, warm the food in the microwave and it’s ready to go!

I recently bought a supply of plastic Petri dishes, and am switching to those rather than using bowls because I have noticed many of my ferrets hate their whiskers dipping into the food, and no bowl is as flat as a Petri dish (Check out eBay for a cheap supply).  They are also much easier to stack in the freezer AND I don’t have to use a ziplock bag.

So much has been said about Bob’s Chicken Gravy that I don’t need to go into it here.  Basically, everything said about chicken baby food applies to Bob’s Chicken Gravy.

Here is a good link for ferret information: www.ferretcentral.org

Fox Care

Deanne Strat, DVM
Photos and edited by Susan Horton, DVM

Classification

Fennec foxes are in the canidae family, closely related to the red and artic fox. They live 12-16 years and reach sexual maturity at 9-11 mos. The female is known as a “vixen” and a male is known as a “reynard.” They originate from the sandy areas of the Sahara desert of North Africa , from Morocco & Niger to Egypt and Sudan . They are avid diggers, creating dens in which to live.  Fennec foxes are considered threatened in the wild.

Anatomy/Physiology

They have soft, thick coats; coloration is reddish cream to fawn with a white underbelly. They are fastidious animals with no strong odor. They have a heavily furred tail with a gland at the end, whose function is as yet unknown. They have anal glands at the 5 and 7 o’clock position of the anus which is used as a scent gland and there are also glands between the toes. Fennec fox teeth are similar to that of dogs.

Behavior

The Fennec fox is a social animal, and may live in colonies of up to 10 animals. When approached, the captive fox will normally cower, lay on its side, yelp and wag its tail. They have also been known to purr. Fennec foxes can be taught to fetch, which allows for great exercise.

Housing

The Fennec fox should be kenneled when not supervised. A large dog crate or ferret cage would suffice. They should be kept in an area with low humidity and good ventilation. Avoid dusty or strong smelling bedding such as pine or cedar. They can be litter box trained and a covered cat box with a clay litter can be used.

Fennecs are strong diggers and good climbers so make sure to account for both when enclosed. These guys love to bask in the sun. If outside they should be on a harness and leash, but do not use a collar. Use caution even with a harness, because if startled they still may wiggle free.

Diet

Fennec foxes are omnivorous and eat a variety of foods in the wild. In captivity, they should be fed Mazuri Exotic Canine Diet (www.mazuri.com; 800-227-8941). You can then supplement with a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, eggs, pinky mice, crickets and mealworms.

Be sure not to overfeed; an ideal weight is between 2 to 3lbs. Avoid items such as onions, garlic, chocolate, caffeine, avocado, etc as they are toxic.

Annual Checkup

All Fennecs should be spayed or neutered at around 6 months of age. They require annual vaccines. Please note that all medications and vaccines are considered “off-label” meaning they were not tested or approved for use in this species. Rabies vaccination is not recognized legally, but will protect you and your fox from the disease.

They should be vaccinated yearly for Rabies, Canine Distemper, Canine Parvo virus and Canine Hepatitis. They should be tested annually for heart worm disease and be on heartworm prevention as well as flea and tick preventative. They should have annual fecal exams.

Common Illnesses

Fennec Foxes are prone to many of the diseases we see in dogs. Many of these are husbandry related and can be prevented. Some common illness include: kidney disease, liver disease, heart disease, pneumonia, skin infections/mites, eye infections or glaucoma, intestinal parasites, dental disease and histoplasmosis.

Fennec foxes can also carry some disease that may be contagious to people such as: Tuberculosis, Rabies, Leishmaniasis, and some intestinal parasites.

Vital Statistics

Body Weight
20cm
Body Weight
1-1.5kg (2-3lb)
Normal Body Temperature
100.8 F
Respiration Rate­­
23 bpm
Average Lifespan
12-16 years
Maximum Lifespan
10 years
Age of Sexual Maturity
9-11 months
Gestation
49-63 days
Litter size
2-5 kits
Weaning
8-10 weeks

Reference

Exotic DVM Veterinary Magazine Vol 5.4

Preventing Adrenal Disease By Exams Every January

Recent research indicates that there are annual treatments that can significantly reduce the risk of your ferret contracting this serious disease. We strongly recommend an annual examination every January for all ferrets where we can administer the prophylactic treatments and make sure your ferret is in tip top shape!

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