What Are the Warning Signs of a Ferret Dying?

Updated March 25, 2022
Sick ferret in a vet clinic

An important part of caring for a ferret as a pet is knowing the signs that they are ill, or even worse, dying. If you can catch the signs right away and get medical intervention, you can potentially keep your ferret healthy and help them live a long, happy life with you.

What Are the Signs of a Ferret Dying?

There are several common symptoms you will see when a ferret is feeling seriously ill. Without immediate treatment, any of these can quickly lead to a ferret succumbing to their illness and dying.

It's very important not to delay getting your ferret to a veterinarian if you see any of these signs, as it is normal behavior for a ferret to hide signs of their illness. With many common ferret medical conditions, it may be too late to help them by the time they are displaying symptoms, so immediately calling your veterinarian is crucial to their survival.

Lethargy

A ferret who appears weak and doesn't move around their cage needs immediate medical attention. Even less severe lethargy, such as a noticeable decrease in activity level and interest in playing, can indicate a medical problem may be brewing in your pet's system.

Another sign associated with lethargy is your ability to handle your ferret. Ferrets are generally quite acrobatic and energetic. A sick and dying ferret will accept handling and act almost limp in your hands, which a healthy ferret would not do.

Difficulty Breathing

Respiratory infections are a common problem with ferrets, and the symptoms include wheezing, labored breathing, panting, heaving, as well as sneezing and/or coughing. You may also notice their gums are pale and appear either white or a blue shade, which indicates a lack of oxygen. A ferret suffering from a respiratory infection or pneumonia may also have a nasal discharge and will often have a fever.

Ferret chilling under blanket

Lack of Appetite and Weight Loss

Refusing to eat or drink for more than 24 hours is a common symptom of ferrets that are very ill. Lack of drinking is particularly problematic as this can increase their dehydration level at a time when proper body hydration is critical to fighting off an infection or other type of illness.

On the other hand, if you notice your ferret drinking water at an unusually high rate, this can also indicate they are dealing with an underlying medical condition. While it is normal for ferrets to lose weight at certain times of the year, if you notice that they are losing weight at other times, coupled with other symptoms, this is a definite cause for concern.

Diarrhea, Bloody Stool or No Feces

Any type of unhealthy feces, such as watery diarrhea, abnormally foul-smelling feces, black or tar-colored stool, and/or bloody stool, is a sign that your ferret needs medical attention right away. Likewise, if you notice that your ferret has not eliminated at all in a day or more, there's a possibility they have a serious intestinal issue such as constipation or even a blockage.

You should also look for signs that they are attempting to go and straining to produce feces or urine as a sign of a serious illness. Additionally, examine their rectal area for signs of bleeding or if the anus is protruding abnormally from the body.

Vomiting

It's not abnormal for an animal to vomit every once in a while, but if you see your ferret vomiting frequently, this is a sign of a serious problem. Even more significant are any signs of blood in the vomit, which might indicate that the ferret has eaten something inedible and now has an obstruction, which can be fatal.

Nausea

When they are nauseous, ferrets will rub their face against objects, drool excessively, and work their paws against their mouths. Nausea can be a sign of several severe illnesses or dental disease and pain from abscessed and diseased teeth and gums.

Ferret under blanket

Discharge

One particularly fatal disease that ferrets are susceptible to is distemper, which is similar to the canine distemper virus. If you notice your ferret has a discharge or pus from its eyes or nose, this can be a sign they are suffering from distemper and need immediate veterinary attention.

Dull Fur Color and Skin Problems

A ferret that is sick and dying will have a dull-looking coat. You may also see hair loss, which, in the case of adrenal gland disease, often starts around the base of the tail. Of course, hair loss and thinning are common with senior ferrets, but can be a sign of potential problems even if the ferret seems otherwise healthy.

Other signs related to their skin include rashes and inflammation of the skin, persistent chewing, itching, and hot spots. Rashes under the ferret's chin and on their belly, along with crusty, inflamed skin around their face, are signs of distemper.

Seizures

Signs of seizures, such as tremors or convulsions, are a sign to get to a veterinarian ASAP. These can be a sign of a serious neurological condition or that the body is giving in to an illness and the ferret is close to dying.

Other signs of potentially serious neurological problems are a constant tilting of the head, rapid eye movements (known as nystagmus), uncontrolled body movements, trouble walking, and lack of physical coordination. Semi or full paralysis can also occur, particularly in cases of distemper. You may also see them acting as if they have gone blind or difficulty seeing as well as they previously could. Seizures due to low blood sugar can occur in dying ferrets who have insulinoma or a tumor of the pancreas.

Sick ferret

Swollen Belly

Ferrets are naturally pear-shaped, but if your ferret's stomach looks bloated or swollen, this could be a sign of a severe illness. These pets can go into heart failure, causing an accumulation of fluid in the abdominal region. Cancer is also fairly common in aging ferrets, so a swollen belly could point to a tumor.

Know the Signs of a Dying Ferret

Ferrets can try to keep their symptoms hidden, so while many of these signs might seem mild, you should get your pet ferret immediate medical attention if you see them. A ferret displaying any of these symptoms can easily succumb and die in a shockingly short window of time. It's wise to have already researched and found a veterinarian experienced with ferrets who you can call if you have any medical concerns to ensure your cuddly ferret friend stays well and healthy.

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What Are the Warning Signs of a Ferret Dying?