When To See The Vet
(And What To Do Before You Get There)

Being a new pet owner can sometimes feel a bit like being a new parent – we worry about everything. Are they eating enough? Is that poop normal? Why is she coughing?

It is often difficult to decide when is the right time to seek veterinary care. Get to know your ferret well and you’ll be better able to spot changes in behavior which signal trouble. It’s also well worth your time to develop a relationship with your vet clinic so that you’re comfortable calling for expert advice any time you think there might be a problem.

Routine Care

Some visits to the vet clinic require no great thought. They are necessary as a normal part of routine care of any animal. You will want to see your vet immediately after adopting a new pet for routine care such as spay or neutering, vaccinations, heartworm preventative as well as a general checkup. This is a good time to ask advice for brushing teeth, cleaning ears, and trimming nails so that you can maintain these yourself at home.

Emergency Situations

Some conditions and situations throw up immediate red flags indicating a trip to the vet is warranted. For example, any of the following situations needs immediate first aid at home, followed by competent veterinary care as soon as possible.

  • Deep puncture wounds. Clean area with hydrogen peroxide, but do not apply ointment if an injury has penetrated the full thickness of the skin. Bandage and seek veterinary care.
  • Bleeding. Any serious bleeding should first be stopped using pressure to a pressure point, a styptic pencil or powder followed by a trip to the vet.
  • Labored breathing. Difficulty inhaling or exhaling, panting or open-mouthed breathing. These are all signs of something more serious.
  • Broken bones. You may see signs such as the inability to stand or support weight normally without pain. The ferret may cry out or make unusual noise when picked up, and there may be visible swelling and tenderness. Immobilize the animal to prevent further injury by wrapping snugly in a towel, then seek medical attention.
  • Burns. If the burns are non-chemical in nature apply a cool compress, then a light application of antibiotic ointment or aloe vera gel. Chemical related burns should be rinsed with cool water, a cool compress applied, and a light application of antibiotic ointment or aloe vera gel. For either type of burn, seek further help from a qualified ferret vet immediately.
  • Choking, retching, or vomiting. Many different things can be the cause including blockages.
  • Difficulties while attempting to poop or pee. Because of a ferret’s nature to chew on everything, they’re also prone to blockages. The most obvious sign of a blockage will be pencil-thin poop (imagine how thin a line is formed when you draw with a pencil) and straining to use the bathroom. A blockage is a serious medical condition and requires immediate medical attention.
  • Signs of dehydration. Gums inside of mouth should be slick and moist. Skin pulled up at the back of the neck (similar to being scruffed) should return to its normal position immediately once released. Dehydrated ferrets go down hill quickly. Don’t wait to seek help if you notice these signs.
  • Convulsions, fainting, or loss of balance, showing weakness in the hind limbs. Ferrets are prone to insulinoma, a disease similar to human diabetes. Convulsions can be an indicator of low blood sugar. Try giving a small amount of honey or Karo syrup by putting it on your finger and rubbing it inside the ferret’s mouth.
  • Dislocated joints. You may see swelling of the joint or limb. Restrict activity and seek veterinary attention.
  • Electrical shock. Typically from biting into an electrical cord. Burn marks may be visible on the lips and mouth and the ferret may be on its side having trouble breathing. Seek veterinary care immediately.
  • Eye injuries such as scratches or foreign objects embedded in the eye require immediate veterinary attention.
  • Heatstroke. Ferrets are extremely sensitive to heat and can overheat easily. Wrap a hot ferret in a cool, wet cloth. Keep the cloth cool by soaking it again with water every few minutes. Repeat until the ferret’s body temperature lowers.
  • Pale gums or nose. Gums around the teeth and nose should be pink. If pale or white instead it can be an indicator of a serious problem such as internal bleeding or shock.
  • Bright red gums can indicate toxemia, a serious systemic infection.

Deciding to Wait and Watch

Whether or not to schedule a vet visit for other situations is often much less obvious. Sometimes even animals have days when they’re a bit under the weather and not quite themselves. In that case, it’s sometimes better to wait, watch carefully, and see what happens.

While waiting is a good time to begin keeping a log of your pet’s activities. Use a small journal to record observations about your pet which could help your vet diagnosis and treatment.

In your journal, include a date and make note of each of the following:

  • Note the amount of food eaten daily and anything you may notice about their appetite.
  • Change water daily and note approximately how much is drank each day. Note any changes.
  • Record any changes in odor, redness, itchiness or discharge.
  • Watch for and make note of teeth or gums that look bad or if you notice any signs of pain of difficulty in eating or swallowing.
  • Watch the peeing and pooping. Do things look normal? Is there any change in the size (diameter) or the consistency of the poop? Watch for straining, pain or blood. Are they going more or less often or having accidents?
  • Have you noticed any weight loss or gain? When did you first notice? Has there been a change in diet or exercise level?
  • Have any new shampoos or topical flea treatments been used?
  • Is your pet receiving any medications? If yes, for now long?
  • Have there been any recent major changes to your household (new baby, new pet, remodeling, moving, traveling, etc.) and could the change in your pet be a result of these changes?
  • Have you noted any possible exposure to substances toxic to ferrets such as pesticides, rat poison, household plants, chocolate, antifreeze, etc.?
  • If monitoring a lump or rash trace the shape and size frequently using a transparent paper or waxed paper, date it, and keep it with your records.