Ferret Fur Everywhere!

Our ferrets blow their coats twice a year.  Around the end of February into March, ferrets will start shedding that beautiful thick luxurious winter coat.  Your ferret may “blow” his coat in one or two days coating everything in sight with fur or he may decide to spread the shedding over several weeks with tufts of fur left behind in his hammock.

Cheech getting a good brushing from Fred

Ferrets become very itchy when they are shedding.  Using a soft brush on your ferret helps to loosen the fur and give them a good scratch at the same time.  You don’t want your ferret inhaling all this loose fur! Worse, you don’t want your ferret to groom himself and ingest all this loose fur.  If he licks and ingests too much of his own fur, he can give himself a life threatening blockage requiring major surgery and a huge vet bill.

I have tried many types of brushes over the years and thanks to my friend Colleen, I have fallen in love with this round cat brush.  This brush fits nicely in the palm of my hand. Made of soft rubber, it contours the ferrets body nicely. It’s easy to remove the accumulated fur and of course very easy to wash with soap and water. **Don’t leave this soft rubber brush lying around after brushing.  Your ferret may decide to chew on it because it’s soft rubber and give himself a blockage!**

soft rubber brush for short haired cats

I have discovered that this rubber brush is also great for getting that thick mat of fur off the split hammocks. I have already worn out a washer and dryer due to an accumulation of ferret fur that doesn’t seem to get caught by the filter and gets into the guts of the machines.  I had a split hammock that was “loaded” and I certainly didn’t want to spend an hour picking the fur off of it.  One or two swipes with the brush and the hammock was relatively clean of the fur. Wow!

split hammock with “some” fur

excess fur removed prior to washing

condensed mat of Cheech’s fur in the hammock

mat of fur removed from inside split hammock

After using the brush to get as much fur off the hammock; I will wet my hand and pass it over the bedding and get the fine fur that the brush didn’t pick up.

Tiko, a gorgeous sale male came to the shelter in the late fall.  He adjusted to shelter life while he awaited his forever home.  I was getting to know him.  On litter box changing day I inspected his litter box as I do for each and every ferret.  It is the best and quickest way to determine if your ferret is sick.  When I looked into the litter box I immediately saw a strange poop!  Red flag went off.  I removed this poop so that I could examine it in minute detail.  It was not your normal fecal matter.  It was a poop containing nothing but FUR!! Tiko was a ferret that groomed himself lots and seeing as it was shedding season, he had ingested all his loose fur.  I was very lucky that he was able to pass this  blob of fur. He could have died as I would not have suspected a blockage and may not have gotten him to the vet in time!  Tiko could have easily been looking at major surgery to remove a blockage caused by his own fur.  Tiko is a ferret that you cannot forget to give hairball remedy on a weekly basis.  The hairball remedy ensures that his fur is “greased” and can pass easily through his system!

poop made up of ferret fur

poop dissected revealing it’s all fur

Hank ‘s Close Call

Hank’s Close Call (as shared with Deb)

Hank is one of our three fur babies. He has a cinnamon coat, is one and a half years old, and is probably one of the most well-mannered ferrets around. He’s had many great adventures since he came to live with us but just last week after one of Hank’s big romps around the house is where his next adventure began.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Hank along with his one-year-old sable little  brother  Riley, and three-year-old marked white older sister Darla were having their daily fun time outside of their cage. Under the watchful eyes of their feline sisters Francine and Lucy, all three ferrets were bouncing around having a grand old time. The room was full of dooks and the pitter-patter of their little feet as they chased each other around. Hank was paying close attention to the new automatic cat feeder that had suddenly appeared in the room. Unbeknownst to him his feline food dish had been moved downstairs in order to be closer to their litterbox (Francine has a hard time remembering where to go when the time arrives).

Playtime continued until pretty soon we realized that it was suddenly a lot quieter and that someone was missing. After some investigation we realized that Hank had quietly retired back into his cage and was curled up under his blanket. Peculiar we thought, but he must just be tired after his playtime. Riley and Darla finished their play-time and soon it was bed time. Hank was still laying in his cage; he wasn’t sleeping though, just staring at nothing in particular. After picking him up we realized how lethargic he was. He just laid there in Teekca’s arms with his head down. Very  strange. We thought maybe he was just very tired from his playtime so we put him back in his cage to sleep.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

In the morning Hank perked up like he usually did when we fill up their food bowl and he walked around a bit. He seemed to be well rested and back to normal. Fast forward a few hours to around 4:30pm after we were done work. Teekca noticed that Hank was just lying there in his cage like the night before. She picked him up and found that he was drooling… a lot. He also didn’t eat or drink anything all day. This was when we knew for sure that something was not right. We immediately got on the phone and called our vet at Tuxedo Animal Hospital. We needed him to be seen right away.

Unfortunately, Hank’s vet was not scheduled to be in until 9:00 am the next morning. They suggested we phone Henderson Veterinary. Same  thing. No one would be able to see him until the following morning at 9:00 am. This continued for a while. Birchwood? Nope. Sage Creek? Nope. Centennial? Nope. Southglen? Nope. We were told to contact Winrose. Finally, someone would be able to see Hank at 7:30pm – a bit later than we wanted but this was better than waiting until the next morning. After the vet technician heard Hanks symptoms she briefly put me on hold and spoke with the vet. The vet wanted us to bring him in ASAP.

We packed Hank up as quickly as we could and drove down to Winrose Animal Hospital to meet with Dr. McDonald. Hank was brought into the examination room immediately. We took Hank out of his carrier and all he did was lay on the table like he was speed bumping. A  very sad speed bump. We were both so worried for Hank because we have never seen him behave like this before. We brought Dr. McDonald up to date on everything and even mentioned that Hank ate some of Francine and Lucy’s kitten food the night before. Dr. McDonald immediately took his temperature and heart rate. She found that his body temperature was somewhere around 34 degrees (extremely low), and his heart rate was very slow as well. She said these are usually the symptoms of organ failure. Our little Hank was very, very sick.

They immediately brought him in for x-rays to check for a blockage and wrapped him in heat to try bring his body temperature back up. Nothing showed up on his x-rays to immediately to  indicate a foreign body, but the area around his pancreas showed up foggy (usually caused by inflammation). They still did not want to rule out that Hank had eaten something that would have caused a blockage (objects like string and foam do not show up well on x-rays). They decided to give Hank fluids under his skin to keep him hydrated, force fed him some medicated digestive food, and gave him some anti-inflammatory medication. Dr. McDonald told us to take Hank home for the night and make sure we keep him warm. We needed to get Hank’s body temperature up again – this was very important. We scheduled a follow up appointment for 9:00am the next morning.

Friday, January 6, 2017

We brought Hank in for his follow up appointment first thing the next morning and found that Hank’s temperature and heart rate increased and was almost close to normal. Unfortunately, there was no improvement to his behaviour and he had still yet to eat or drink anything on his own. Dr. McDonald hospitalized him for the day so they could do blood work and more tests. Throughout the day they gave Hank a barium swallow followed by an x-ray. The barium in his body would ‘light up’ under x-ray and would give a better idea if there was a blockage.

They drew blood for testing, gave him an IV (which of course he pulled out twice), some pain killers, and kept him under heat. The new x-rays showed that the barium did not make it past his stomach except for a small amount that made it to his colon. This was an indication of a blockage although there was still no indication of a foreign body. The blood tests showed a high red blood cell count (sign of dehydration), low creatinine level (caused by low protein), and immature red blood cells (result of inflammation). His blood sugar was normal at 10.5 which ruled out insulinoma. His lipase level (pancreatic enzyme) was extremely high at 3475. Normal lipase levels for ferrets are anywhere between 0-200. This was extremely worrying. Dr. McDonald immediately began treating Hank for pancreatitis. Dr. McDonald gave us a brief lesson on pancreatitis.

This is a condition mostly found in cats and dogs and there is very limited knowledge of it in ferrets. Wonderful, right? She told us that the pancreas is an organ that produces hormones (like insulin) and secretes enzymes into the intestines to aid digestion. Nestled between the stomach and small intestine, it tends to swell (usually painfully and potentially fatally) when it’s egregiously insulted through a variety of different causes like rapid change in diet and/or high fat intake (perhaps kitten food?).

This inflammation and its effects on the body are referred to as pancreatitis. When pancreatitis occurs, the pancreas releases enzymes and other substances into the surrounding area of the abdomen. These substances cause localized inflammation that damages the pancreas and nearby organs and can lead to life-threatening complications. Essentially the organs begin to digest themselves. This is why Hank was so lethargic and quiet. His body was eating itself and he was dying. This was now a life and death situation.

Our options now were to simply continue his anti-inflammatory medication and hope for a change (anti-inflammatory medication takes around 1-3 days show change) or we could admit Hank for exploratory surgery. At this point  Dr. McDonald still has not ruled out a blockage due to a foreign body. If they found a foreign body in his stomach and/or digestive tract they would remove it, if they found that there was nothing there then they would simply stitch him up and continue his medication.  Dr .McDonald offered to give Hank an ultrasound free of charge to check if anything appeared that would indicate a foreign body. After the ultrasound there was still no indication of a foreign body. This was strange since there was obviously something preventing anything from going past his stomach.

At this point we had to sit down and have the hard talk about how far we were willing to go for Hank. We had spent over $700.00 on his vet bills up to this point. Would we pay the $1090 for Hank’s surgery? Would we just simply wait for things to get better? We ultimately decided that we would do whatever necessary to get Hank back to normal. Hank was the first ferret that both of us had ever seen and held, he was our first fur baby and he was part of the family. Both of us have very supportive families so we decided to start a GoFundMe page for Hank. We managed to raise almost $400.00 om our friends and family to put towards Hanks vet bills (Thank you Deb for your generous donation of $50.00!).

We thought about what to do logically. Hank already had two rounds of x-rays done and they could not find any sort of foreign body. He even had an ultrasound that indicated the same. His lipase levels were extremely high and his first x-rays showed up foggy around his pancreas. We figured that the inflammation around his pancreas was causing his organs to inflame so much that nothing would pass. This had to be it. Hank was dying and the last thing we wanted was for him to undergo a surgery that might ultimately be for nothing. We decided to just let Hank continue with his anti-inflammatory medication and wait for it to kick in. If there was no change by Monday, we would bring Hank in for surgery.

Dr. McDonald respected our decision and she showed us how give Hank his medication and how to force feed him with a syringe as he still was not eating at this point. They gave him enough liquid under his skin to keep him hydrated until Monday although this time they warmed it up to help him with his temperature and off we went. We brought Hank home and hoped that his mediation would begin to show change. We even went out and bought Hank a nice warm heated blanket. We attempted to give Hank his medication for the first time that evening and we found out how much a ferret can struggle regardless of how sick they are. It was like wrestling with a big old fish!

Saturday, January 7, 2017

We checked on Hank first thing in the morning and wonderful news… Hank pooped! We didn’t realize how happy one could get over a little bit of poop. Things were obviously getting back to normal inside Hanks little body. He was still a little lethargic but he perked his little head up to say good morning and as if to say “I’m feeling a little better today”.

We phoned the vet to give an update and we decided that we will not be bringing Hank in for surgery that day and that we were going to let his medication continue to do its job. Dr. McDonald was not scheduled to work this day but said she would stay on call for the weekend in case something happened and Hank needed to come in for surgery. Dr. McDonald is wonderful.  We brought Hank in for a checkup because he didn’t eat or drink anything and we were unable to give him his medication the night before.

He was seen by another Doctor at Winrose. She took his temperature, checked his heart rate, and gave us more doses of medication. One of the nurses gave us some tips on how to make sure Hank takes his medication. This involved us making a Hank burrito. She also showed us that force feeding is even messy for her too. Hank stayed in his cage for the rest of the day, watching us from the comfort of his new blanket as we did our normal Saturday things.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Teekca had to work today so it was just me and Hank at home. When I went to check up on Hank he jumped up and put his paws on the cage to meet me. I opened the door reached my hand in and he climbed right up my arm like he always does. Our little guy was feeling better! I decided to let him roam around the living room and what would you know… he started to play with me! Under the watchful eyes of his feline sisters Hank and I played until I brought out Riley and Darla. We kept Hank apart in our ‘sick time’ cage while he was feeling down. Even though they could always see each other they were so happy to be reunited.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Hank had a follow up appointment today. They gave him a checkup and what would you know, it looks like Hank is almost healthy again! His temperature is normal, his heart rate is normal, and he is back to his personable self. We will continue giving him is medication until he is done on Friday. Hank was on the mend!

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Well it’s been over one week since Hank had his near death experience and we are happy to report that he is pretty much 100%. He is done his medication, is back to eating and drinking, and is back to his playful, mischievous self.

We wrote this story in the hopes to show others how quickly things can go downhill for ferrets. Hank didn’t eat a mysterious foreign body like an earplug, but simply ate his sisters kitten food. We didn’t think anything of it because he eats a mixture of ferret food and cat food every day. What is a little kitten food going to do, right? While maybe adult food is okay for ferrets, definitely keep your kitten food away from them. Kitten food is high in fat which helps the kittens grow. The adult cat food that our ferrets have mixed in with their ferret food is super high in protein and is a bit higher quality than the kitten food we buy. As you already know ferrets are fairly sensitive little creatures and we definitely need to keep a close eye on what they eat. In total Teekca and I have spent around $1300 on Hank this past week on vet visits, medications, and his heated blanket. We hope that you can learn from our very expensive and scary lesson that we learned.

Stewart

&

Teekca

HOW TO COPE WITH A SUSPECTED BLOCKAGE

The most frequent health related phone call I get is “I think my ferret ate something he shouldn’t” or “My ferret ate…… and passed it, will he be ok?”

This remedy deals with your ferret eating material or very soft vinyl.

So, you find the bedding with a chunk missing.   You pick up the toys at the end of the day and notice the toy mouse no longer has a tail.  You go to change the dirty litter box and you notice a very colorful poopie. *Later on in the week, you will be folding your underwear from the dyer and discover your ferret has sampled  several pairs-now you know where that rainbow colored poop came from”.

If your ferret is still eating and drinking and is NOT lethargic you have a window where you can apply these steps at home. If your ferret has had one mucky poop and the rest look normal he most likely has passed the chewed matrial. If your ferret is pooping long stringy lead pencil sized poops then most likely he has a partial blockage.

Ok, this is what you can do until you take your ferret to the vet. Give your ferret a 3 inch ribbon of cat hairball remedy; malt flavor.  This is something you should have in the house at all times if you have a ferret. This is a product you should be using weekly in a dime size portion to help your ferret pass any ingested fur.  Don’t have hairball remedy. Ok, a great substitute is plain old Vaseline or petroleum jelly. Hairball remedy is petroleum based with flavoring.

What will NOT work is using Ferretone or vegetable oil.  The petroleum jelly coat’s the item and makes it pass smoothly and gently.  The Ferretone will make it oily but not coat the item.

You will want to repeat the 3 inch ribbon about 4 hours later.  Meanwhile you will do the unthinkable unless you are a ferret owner.  You will pick up the ferret poop, place in your palm and gently run warm water on it to dissolve the poop.  You will extract the pieces of material and match them to the hole in the bedding/hammock/sock…

Once you have all the little pieces to fill the hole you are home free. When the ferret has a poop with no bits of material in it you can usually figure that he has passed everything.  The choice will then be up to you if you still want the ferret checked out by the vet.

CAVEAT: If you suspect your ferret as swallowed something hard like a piece off a plastic or rubber toy, then your ferret needs immediate attention from your vet.  You don’t want to push the hard plastic into the colon and rip something!

WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU CHECKED THE TOYS?

A huge thank you to Dan and Melissa for allowing me to share their heartbreak loss of Sara.

Sara passed away at home from what we feel was  an undiagnosed blockage. You see sometimes when a ferret eats something they shouldn’t it causes a partial blockage. The ferret is still eating “sort of” and pooping but not a normal poop, kind of stringy.  When they have the start and stop eating and pooping you can be thrown off thinking it is a flu or tummy upset and not a blockage.

Could we have saved Sara? She was seven years old and getting frail. Would she have survived surgery?  This blog is not about the blockage. It is about checking your ferret’s toys on a WEEKLY basis.

The chewed tennis ball was found the night Sara passed.  Now this tennis ball had been part of her toys for the last six years and she had never chewed on it.  What made her decide to chew on it this time? We will never know. It wasn’t chewed like the picture below, but enough of the fuzz was pulled away from the tennis ball that Dan & Melissa realized that she had been chewing on it.

even the fuzz off the tennis ball can cause a blockage

even the fuzz off the tennis ball can cause a blockage

I know I am on my soap box but if my nagging can help just one family put this safety protocol in place, then Sara has not died in vain.

You see, I have seen this in the shelter over and over.  A stuffy that everyone loves and is carried around but never chewed until it is. A blankie that is dragged into the nest box behind the TV suddenly has chew holes in it!

I have had the stomach churning panic of discovering a chewed stuffie, blanket, even a broken jingle ball without the ball!!!  Years ago after having to hairball 20 ferrets because I did not know which ferret had chewed the stuffie.  All the toys were checked and  any toy that might cause a blockage was thrown out. Out went all the tennis balls. Out went all the stuffies with foam inside. My ferrets were not happy but I had peace of mind.

I have a dedicated play room now  for the fuzzies and after each play time I check the toys and floor for any bits of material. I admit to being paranoid about blockages and yet I still get the occasional scare when I find that blanket with a chew hole in it! grrrrrr

Every Saturday, I throw all the washable toys in the washing machine. I check each item closely and if I see any signs of seams wearing or signs of chewing; the toy is discarded.  The toys are washed with soap and  vinegar so that they are clean and sterilized!  The same goes for all those blankies in all those extra nest boxes all over the house.

The message here is don’t assume that the safe toys will always be safe. Check them weekly for any signs of chewing and of course the toys have to be washed at least every month or every second week.

Ferret Proofing

One of the most important things you can do to safeguard your ferret is to ensure there is absolutely no way for them to escape to the outer world or into openings in your home.

Unlike cats and dogs, ferrets are unable to survive on their own and generally die within a few days without human intervention.

If your ferret should happen to escape, you should be prepared to bring their favorite squeaky toy, treats and possibly another ferret in your search for him. The odds are not with you, but it is possible, see a recent news report of two lost ferrets recovered in the forest after four day search.

In addition, you should always have a recent photo of your ferret(s) which you could use to produce fliers to help identify him as a house pet, many people do not realize ferrets are domesticated!

Domesticated ferrets can be very social and all around awesome

Hanging out

Don’t underestimate the abilities of a ferret, they are more than capable of getting into or under the smallest of openings and able to move heavy things outs of their way. Ferret proofing is not a one time job, it is a constant endeavour that our monsters prove time and again.

Equally important is to ensure there is nothing dangerous or poisonous (especially house plants, ashtrays and potpourri) within their reach as ferrets are more than capable of jumping and climbing to get to items that catch their attention. As a side note ferrets love to dig through the dirt of your favourite houseplant, so for the sake of keeping your place clean and the plant safe, these are better left out of reach.

Common household items that are usually over looked in protecting your carpet shark are; the buttons on your remote control which they can swallow, parts of a toy they can chew off and swallow and the infamous styrofoam packing peanuts. All of these items can cause serious life threatening health problems (blockage requiring surgery) to a ferret which can easily be avoided.

Due to the size and endless curiosity of the ferret, they will always find new ways and new territories to explore. Prior to bringing home your baby it is vital to their safety and well-being that there be no openings they can get into or under.

The best way to accomplish this is to lay on the floor in every room and search out spaces, openings, etc. they can get into and close them up. This applies to cabinets which they can open, you certainly don’t want your ferret to come into contact with any dangerous chemicals, so child proofing is strongly recommended.

As previously mentioned, ferret proofing is not a one shot deal, you will always need to keep an eye on your ferret as they show you new territory they can get in to. The following list is a good starting point for ferret proofing, but is not totally comprehensive. You will need to watch your ferret carefully in your own home to truly identify all the ways you need to ferret-proof your home!

1. Appliances

Restrict access to laundry and kitchen if possible. If not, block off around appliances (fridge, stove, dishwasher, washer, dryer, freezers) so that ferrets can’t get under them or into the workings (e.g. where the motor or wires are located). My girl Bandit used to somehow get into the drawer under my stove and stash toys there. Also double check for hiding ferrets before turning appliances on or shutting their doors.

2. 

Laundry baskets

Double check the laundry before putting in washer or dryer.

3. Dryer vents

Secure the dryer duct, watch for chewing into the duct or your ferret may use it to get outdoors or into the dryer.

Bandit loves tunnels so I hung a few around their playroom

Bandit

4. Air ducts

Ensure your ferrets cannot get into the heating/air ducts or they might get stuck, injured, or end up outdoors.

5. 
Boxspring mattresses

Securely cover bottom with heavy fabric or wood to prevent ferrets from climbing into the boxspring.

6. 

Recliners & Rocking chairs

Always make sure your ferrets are no where near the mechanisms when using recliners or rocking chairs, best bet is not to use them when your ferrets are out.

7. Couches & Chairs

Secure the bottoms to prevent ferrets from getting under and up into the furniture. Also check under the cushions before sitting, to make sure a ferret isn’t napping under them. Bandit essentially created her own city inside my first couch, as I lived alone it was easier to monitor where she was before sitting down, but always be aware.

Using slipcovers will prevent ferrets from burrowing into the cushions. Periodically check couch cushions, furniture, and pillows for signs of chewing.

8. Small spaces

Make sure there are no small spaces through which your ferret could get out of the house or into the walls. Remember, if they can get their heads into a crack, their bodies can usually follow. Especially check around cupboards, plumbing, ducts, doors, etc.

Turnip made a home in a hole under the cupboard

Stash hole

9. Under doors

Watch for large spaces that ferrets can get through. To prevent ferrets from trying to dig out through the carpet under doors, you can place a plastic chairmat (can be trimmed to fit), thin plexiglass, or linoleum under the door.

10. 

Windows

Make sure any accessible windows are closed when ferrets are out. Ferrets can easily bite through window screens.

11. Toilets

Drowning danger!! Keeping ferrets out of the bathroom is safest overall, but again you never really know, it is best to keep toilet seats down at all times.

12. 
Standing water

Similar to toilets, a sink, tub, or even bucket of water poses a drowning risk.

Boys exploring the sink

Boys exploring the sink

13. Cleaning supplies

Most cleaning chemicals are toxic or dangerous to curious ferrets. Keep strictly out of reach.

Ferrets actually enjoy the smell and sometimes taste of soap! Make sure to keep soap and soapy water out of reach of your monsters.

14. Cupboards

Most ferrets will easily get into your cupboards, you can invest in the magnetic type of child proofing locks for cupboards (most of the plastic locks allow the cupboards to open a bit, which is enough for most ferrets to get in).

15. Electrical cords

Just be aware of all cords in your home, some ferrets enjoy chewing. None of my ferrets have given me a problem with this but there are some out there, so always monitor accessible cords and remove any damaged cables.

16. Houseplants

As mentioned above house plants can be annoying to continue cleaning up after, as well as dangerous for your ferret if they try to eat. Do not keep poisonous plants (ferrets will dig in the soil and might chew the plants) and always research when getting a new plant  if they are poisonous to ferrets.

17. Knick-knacks

Make sure breakable or delicate items are out of reach, and there are no heavy items that might fall or be pulled over onto your ferret. Ferrets are basically children, they like mess, noise and getting into what they shouldn’t.

Things like foam, soft rubber or plastic, styrofoam, sponges, rubber bands, pen caps, cotton swabs, fabrics, and so on should be kept out of reach or in separate areas than ferrets play. Remote control buttons are also a favorite target.

18. Bookcases & High Tables

Ferrets like to climb up anything and everything, but often can’t climb down due to their poor eyesight. However often ferrets then try to jump down, even from heights, make sure there is no high furniture to get stuck on.

19. Open railings

Around stairs, balconies, etc. Their poor eyesight might lead them to believe they’re not that high up.

20. Garbage

Securely cover or keep out of reach, this is one of their favourite things to ‘dig’ in.

21. Fans, Space Heaters, Candles, Fireplaces

Keep ferrets away from these to the best of your abilities.

22. Toys

Check periodically to make sure they are not being dismantled and eaten.

Toy time!

Toy time!

Ferret-proofing is an ongoing task, rather than a one-time chore. No matter how thoroughly you ferret-proof, you should still carefully supervise your monsters as you never know what they might try to get into next!

Keep an eye on what your ferrets want to get into, and make adjustments as necessary.