Health Matters 4

It's been a long time since NFWS printed a list of drug usage on ferrets, so this edition is mainly devoted to an updated reprint.

But first, as ever, the post mortem and pathology reports.

I've had very mixed feelings over the reports I've received for this edition. On the one hand, there have been so many. Eight this time. And it's hard when I knew some the ferrets concerned. On the other hand, it's heart-warming to know that people care enough about their ferrets to try to help others. Many thanks to you all.

Congenital heart deformity

A yearling hob suffered a collapse with respiratory failure. He was revived with mouth to mouth resuscitation but was left with some hindleg paralysis, but was otherwise normal and seemed well. Sudden death occurred about 6 weeks later whilst asleep. Suspected cause was a cardiac deformity - like a hole in the heart.

Pancreatic cancer

A six year old castrated polecat hob was discovered by his owner screaming as if in great pain. There had been no previous signs of illness. He was sedated and put on an IV overnight. Blood tests and X-rays suggested pancreatic problems. He was put to sleep whilst under sedation. A post mortem discovered massive cancerous tumours in the pancreas.

Uterine cancer

A seven year old jill in for a routine spay operation was found to have a large uterine tumour. This was surgically removed during the spay. It was suspected that the cause was repeated matings and pseudo-pregnancy since she had lived all her life with a vasectomised hob. Although well for a number months after the spay, this jill became lethargic and listless. She then developed ascites - a large build up of fluid in the abdomen - and died naturally within a short time of showing first signs of illness. The cancer had spread rapidly since the spay operation.


A two year old castrated hob developed a cough and breathing problems, although these were not continuous and between times the hob played and ate. Over the succeeding 48 hours his breathing worsened and he ceased playing. Examination suggested fluid in the chest cavity and X-rays confirmed massive fluid build-up. There was also evidence of a large mass in the chest cavity pushing against the windpipe and obstructing breathing. Attempts to drain the chest fluid to ease breathing were unsuccessful and the hob was put to sleep. Post mortem examinations showed a very large malignant tumour probably originating in a lymph node.

No conclusive diagnosis

A hob developed severe staggering and control of movement. His gait resembled crawling on front feet and forelegs. The vet could not find an obvious cause such as a spinal lesion. Medication had little effect. The ferret worsened over weeks. Then the owners returned home one day to hear a ferret screaming. The screaming continued throughout the journey to vet where he was put to sleep. A post mortem revealed no major abnormalities anywhere, nor evidence of bone cancer. Post mortem examinations were not carried out on the head so it is possible there may have been some neurological abnormality in the brain, although it will never be known.

Another inconclusive PM

A spayed polecat jill, aged 6 years, had suffered periodic hind leg weakness over 2 years. Blood tests in 1999 revealed nothing abnormal. In December 2000 she was found collapsed in her cage. Veterinary examination showed no spinal injury and a steroid injection restored mobility within 6 hours, although it seemed some peripheral vision had been lost. Her condition, although temporarily improved, continued to worsen and she was put to sleep in May 2001. A subsequent PM showed little in the way of abnormalities except a mild liver problem.

Note - This description sounds like a stroke. There's a bit of debate going on in different circles about whether ferrets suffer strokes. Physiologically there seems no reason why they can not have strokes in the same way as most mammals. However, the jury is still out on that one.

Malignant mesothelioma

A castrated hob in his fifth year developed severe ascites (abdominal fluid build up). This increased his weight by 200g in the course of week. This hob had presented some months before with a haemangiosarcoma (blood filled tumour) above his shoulder blade which had responded well to surgery. Subsequent surgery revealed a multitude of small growths, which proved inoperable. Antibiotics and diuretics were prescribed to help reduce the fluid build up and buy time while the condition was investigated and biopsies performed. Although the fluid did reduce over the following week, the ferret suffered what appeared to be a seizure and was put to sleep, The post mortem report showed the thoracic growths were highly malignant. The prognosis would have been hopeless.

And a final malignancy, not yet in terminal stage

A three year old spayed jill presented with swellings either side of her jaw. This bilateral pattern did not suggest abscess, a common thing in this position of the face. Fine needle aspiration and subsequent biopsy showed cells that point to a form of lymphoma - cancer of the lymph glands. The jill remains perfectly well and happy in spite of the growing tumours. She is to be permitted to live a normal life - including working as usual- until her health deteriorates when she will be put to sleep before she suffers.

These reports are always much appreciated as they will all help in some way to understand more about ferret illnesses. Can I also ask that anyone with any pathology/histology reports let me know the outcomes? It's not just information about ferrets who die that is needed - ferrets who get well again after diagnostic tests are successfully performed are every bit as important.

In the meantime, my thanks, as always, to everyone who contributed. I hope the owners do no mind that I list their ferrets in the Absent Friends column. Although not my own ferrets, many were my friends, too

What shall we do next time? Nutrition? Kits? Skin problems? Contact me with news, views, preferences - whatever you want, really.

Write/phone/fax or email
Dr June McNicholas,
68 Ashington Grove,
CV3 4DE.
Tel & Fax 024 7630 5911
email or

Absent friends

  • Yogi
    5 years- everybody's favourite hob.
    A winner at shows, a wonderful
    character and a great ambassador for ferrets.
  • Betony
    3 years - a tiny little minx who died suddenly
    of no known cause and with no illness.
  • Yorkie
    1 year - a sweet character
    but born with a hole in his heart.
  • Sukie
    7+ years - a grand old lady,
    a good worker and a much admired show ferret in her time.
    Dignified to the end!
  • Gurgie
    6+ years - a family pet,
    died suddenly with pancreatic disease.
  • Dax
    6 years - a long illness with good days and bad days.
    Put to sleep when the bad days
    outnumbered the good.
  • Barney and Tom
    two much loved pet ferrets who went within a short time of each other,
    making it even harder for their owner.

Drug usage in ferrets

We are still in a position where few, if any, drugs have a UK licence for use on ferrets. The following represents doses and uses from a number of published sources and direct communications within the veterinary profession.

It is intended as an exercise in pulling together information on what is currently being used to treat ferrets. Your vet will always be the best person make decisions on the appropriate treatment of your ferret.


For drug frequency -
q.d. = once per day;
b.i.d.= twice per day;
t.i.d.= three times per day;
q.i.d. = four times per day;
PRN = as needed.

Route of administration -
PO = orally;
SC = subcutaneously;
IM = intramuscularly;
IV = intravenously;

Aspirin- 200mg/kg b.i.d. PO
Buprenorphrine - 0.05mg/kg b.i.d. SC or IM
Butorphanol 0.25mg/kg SC
Carprofen - 1mg/kg b.i.d.PO
Flunixin - 0.5-2.0 mg/kg SC - up to 3 days
Ketoprofen - 2mg/kg s.i.d. SC
Meperidine - 5-20mg/kg every 2-4 hours SC, IM, IV,PRN.
Oxymorphone - 0.05-0.2mg/kg b.i.d. or t.i.d. SC, IM, IV

Hormone - Jill-jab
Proligesterone - 0.5ml/kg SC, IM
Buserelin - 0.25ml/kg IM
HCG - 20 I.U. IM

Vaccine - canine distemper
Nobivac DH (Intervet) - half ampoule per ferret. Vaccinate from 3 months of age, booster required every 1-3 years. (earlier vaccination and more frequent boosters required in endemic areas)

Amoxycillin 10-20mg/kg b.i.d. PO,SC
Ampicillin 5-10mg/kg b.i.d. SC,IM, IV
Cephalexin 15-25mg/kg b.i.d./t.i.d. PO
Ceporex 25mg/kgb.i.d./t.i.d. PO
Chloramphenicol 50mg/kg b.i.d.PO, SC, IM
Enthrofloxacin 5-15mg/kg b.i.d PO, SC, IM
Erythromycin 10mg/kg q,i.d. PO
Gentamicin 4mg/kg b.i.d SC,IM, IV
Lincomycin 10-15mg/kg t.i.d.PO or 10mg/kg b.i.d.IM
Metronidazole 10-20mg/kg PO
Neomycin 10-20mg/kg t.i.d/ q.i.d. PO
Oxytetracycline 20mg/t.i.d.PO
Synulox 25mg/kgb.i.d./t.i.d PO

Fenbenzole 0.5mg/kg PO single dose
Ivermectin 0.5-1.0mg/kg SC repeated in 2 weeks
Mebendazole 50mg/kg b.i.d.for 2 days
Piperazine 50-100mg/kg PO repeated in 2 weeks
Frontline - as per cat

Griseofulvin 25mg/kg 3-6 weeks PO
Nizoral 50mg per ferret PO

Sedatives and premedication
Midazolam with ketamine 0.2mg/kg with 10mg/kg IM
Diazapam or midazolam 2mg/kg IM
Ketamine hydrochloride 25-40mg/kg IM
Xylazine 4mg/kg IM (but hypotensive)
Hypnorm 0.3mg/kg IM
Saffan 10mg/kg IM
Acepromazine 0.2-0.5mg/kg SC,IM
Atropine 0.05mg/kg SC

General Anaesthesia
Isoflurane induction 3%-4%, maintenance 1.5%-3%
Halothane induction 2%-4%, maintenance 0.8%-2%
Medetomidine /ketamine 100-120ug/kg with 8-10mg IM
Xylazine/ketamine 1-4mg/kg with 25mg/kg IM
Ketamine/diazepam 25mg/kg with 2 mg/kg IM
Propofol 10mg/kg IV

Other drugs
Dexamethasone 4-8mg/kg once, IM,IV
Doxapram 5-11mg/kg IV
Enalapril 0.25-0.5mg/kg q.d. or alternate days, PO
Frusemide 1-4mg/kg b.i.d./t.i.d. IM, IV
Nandrolone 2-5mg/kg SC
Oxytocin 0.2-3.0 units/kgSC/IM
Prednisolone 0.5-2.5mg/kg b.i.d. PO
Medrone V as per cat
Lasix 0.1ml per ferret, b.i.d PO
Inderal as per cat
Digoxin as per cat
Cytoxin 6mg every 3 weeks PO
Vincristine 0.05mg to 1kg. 0.1 over 1kg IV
Lectade 25ml/kg t.i.d.
Insulin 0.5-1.0IU/kg

The list is by means no exhaustive. I hope it will be of some use. Let's hope we are not be too far away from licenced drugs for ferrets and easier access.

June McNicholas

Health Matters