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  1. To promote the well-being of ferrets through articles written and published by the NFWS, veterinarians and ferret specialists world wide
  2. Offer/provide advice on a variety of ferret subjects from common illnesses, nutrition, sanitation, interaction, ferret safety and the advisability of breeding.
  3. Promote the on-going liaison with veterinarians and all medical organisations and agents associated within the 'ferret world' with the aim of raising the general awareness of ferret health and ferret needs.
  4. Advise and educate ferret owners, clubs etc., on their basic responsibilities towards ferrets on such diverse subjects as when considering breeding ferrets and when working ferrets in vermin control. The list is large!
  5. To promote confidence in ferret owners to approach the NFWS and/or veterinarians to seek advice when their ferret's health and behaviour causes concern.

Abscesses in Ferrets

John R. Dinsdale, BVMS MRCVS

Abscesses are an accumulation of pus, they are relatively common in the ferret and in our experience occur usually as a result of injuries to the skin such as occur during fighting. There are some specific abscesses seen in the ferret as well as other species such as dental abscesses, mastitis and one in the cervical region of the ferret which seems to be peculiar to the ferret.

Most abscesses only require simple treatment, this usually takes the form of drainage or lancing, cleaning with a suitable antiseptic and broad spectrum antibiotics. Most of the abscesses we see in the skin are minor and only require lancing, flushing with an antiseptic such as two percent chlorhexidine and five days of broad spectrum antibiotic at the correct dose. For example synulox ( potentiated amoxycillin ). The owners are usually very able to keep the abscess clean and draining during this period with regular bathing of the site with asuitable antiseptic.

In some cases of large or deep abscess formation it will be necessary to anaesthetise the ferret to drain the abscess and implant a surgical drain for a few days to ensure the abscess drains for a sufficient period to effect cure, while also using antibiotic at the same time. We tend to use silastic drains loosely sutured to the skin as these are the most comfortable. In cases of very severe infection or resistance to treatment a swab may be required for culture and sensitivity. Abscesses are often found on the ventral aspect of the neck and between the mandibles they can be difficult to treat without resorting to the above. We have also come across abscesses in this area as a result of penetrating foreign bodies from the mouth such as small pieces of chick bone. It is always wise to let the veterinary surgeon know if you are feeding chicks as this will help in diagnosis and treatment. In cases of actinobacillus infection the ferret can be very sick with temperatures of up to forty degrees. We generally use ceporex in the treatment of these often for up to ten days they generally present with a hard thickened neck, response to treatment is generally good.

Occasional tooth root abscesses are encountered in the ferret, in our experience these usually involve the canines and often are the result of tooth fracture exposing the pulp cavity. The practice of snapping these teeth as is sometimes seen is to be deplored and is a cause of unnecessary suffering. Treatment generally involves the removal of the affected tooth and flushing the cavity followed by broad spectrum antibiotics at the correct dose for a sufficient length of time. we generally treat these with antibiotics after tooth removal for a minimum period of ten days.

A more specialised form of abscessation is mastitis, this seems to be relatively uncommon in the ferret. The two most common bacteria to be isolated are first a haemolytic E.Coli and secondly a staph aureus. These often respond to antibiotic alone but again aggressive therapy can be required as the infection can be very severe and potentially life threatening. We often use pain relief alongside antibiotic for these cases as they are so painful.

Any ferret with a large abscess may require extra nursing to speed recovery such as fluids and force feeding, this will certainly speed the rate of recovery as ferrets do not tolerate well periods of water deprivation or starvation. A good quality high energy feed should be available at all times and you should make sure your ferret is actually eating it.

We are occasionally encountering prostate abscessation in the ferret as a result of squamous metaplasia. This generally presents itself as a hob having difficulty urinating and is often misdiagnosed as urolithiasis. The usual cause of the enlarged and then infected prostate is a dysfunction of the adrenal gland something you as ferret keepers are all too familiar. Treatment is extremely difficult and often unrewarding in our experience, beware the dysuric male ferret. As with all these infections you should seek prompt veterinary attention as this will ensure the quickest recovery times with the best results. You are no doubt all seeing ferrets with big spleens, less than ten percent of these are tumours and they are now considered often to be the result of chronic disease. Perhaps if we are more aggressive with treatment we may see less of these as well?.

I hope this is of help and interest to you, it is wise precaution to weigh your ferrets so accurate dosing can be achieved as some of the failures are simply the result of under dosing in respect of weight and time. we are always interested to hear from any one with an unusual case so please write in with any you come across.

(First published in the July, 1997 Issue No. 42 NFWS News)