Exotis ISSN 2398-2985

Ferrets

Clinical examination

Contributor(s): Sarah Brown

Introduction

  • Obtain a detailed history from the client before the clinical examination. Many illnesses in ferrets are due to inadequate husbandry, in particular poor diet. Foreign body ingestion is also common so questioning the owner on access to such objects can be helpful.
  • Weigh all ferrets presented for examination and compare with previous recorded weights.
  • Observe the ferret unrestrained if possible, before performing a detailed clinical examination. Watch the ferret in its traveling box, and then, in an area where it can move about safely such as the floor of the consultation room (take care that escape is not possible!).
  • The ease with which any ferret may be examined will depend on the ferret’s upbringing. Most pet ferrets are used to being handled, but care should be taken to avoid getting bitten. Gloves should only be used where absolutely necessary as handling sensation is impaired.
  • Ferrets should be picked up by placing one hand around the thorax, and the other under the hindlimbs , or held by grasping around the shoulders, letting the ferret ‘dangle’ – most ferrets are very comfortable to be held in this position .
  • Ferrets may be distracted during an examination by giving a treat such as fish oil or yeast paste to lick .
  • The ferret’s vaccination status should be ascertained and also whether any recent parasite treatments have been given.
  • The ferret’s reproductive status should be ascertained, eg surgically neutered, deslorelin implant (dose and timing) Deslorelin, proligestone injection or vasectomized? This is particularly important in females due to the risk of aplastic anemia Aplastic anemia with prolonged estrus Prolonged estrus.

The ferret at rest

  • Observation of the ferret at rest will give an indication of:
    • Relative resting respiratory rate and of respiratory distress.
    • Abnormal posture, eg head tilt.
    • Abnormal limb position.
    • Signs of normal coat care. Ill animals may fail to groom. Very obese ferrets and those with spinal pain may be unable to turn and groom the lower back and perineal region.
    • Ferrets are often sleepy within their traveling carrier but should be very active once out.

The ambulatory ferret

  • Observation of the ferret moving at liberty may indicate:
    • General willingness (or not) to move.
    • Presence or absence of normal exploratory behavior.
    • Lameness.
    • Lack of balance, hindlimb paresis or head tilt.
    • Mentation, eg poor if hypoglycemic due to an insulinoma Insulinoma.
  • This can be difficult to assess in a consulting room.
  • The ferret can then be examined in detail.

General condition

  • Body condition score:
    • An essential part of the clinical examination.
    • An estimate of body condition can be made by determining the amount of fat overlying the ribcage, abdomen and rump.
    • However, it should be kept in mind that body condition in ferrets will vary seasonally, gaining extra body fat reserves over winter.
  • Assess coat:
    • Assess for general quality, matted fur, molting, alopecia Alopecia, flaky skin and wounds .
    • The presence or absence of pruritus should be noted.
    • Alopecia of the tail and caudal body can be suggestive of endocrine disease such as adrenal disease .
    • Some alopecia is cyclical in ferrets, so the owner should be questioned as to the chronicity and whether the fur has grown back previously.
  • Skin masses are relatively common.
  • The coat will naturally become thinner over the summer months.
  • Skin tenting, as for cats, may indicate dehydration.

Examination of the head and neck

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The forelimbs, hindlimbs and tail

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The thorax and abdomen

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The inguinal and perineal regions

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Taking the temperature

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Further Reading

Publications

Refereed Papers

Other sources of information

  • Johnson-Delaney C (2016) Ed. Ferret Medicine and Surgery. CRC Press, UK.
  • Quesenberry K E & Carpenter J W (2012) Eds. Ferrets, Rabbits, and Rodents: Clinical Medicine and Surgery. 3rd edn. Elsevier Saunders, USA.
  • Oglesbee B L (2011) Blackwell’s Five-Minute Veterinary Consult: Small Mammal. 2nd edn. Wiley-Blackwell, USA.
  • Meredith A & Johnson-Delaney C (2010) Eds BSAVA Manual of Exotic Pets. 5th edn. BSAVA, UK.
  • Keeble E & Meredith A (2009) Eds. BSAVA Manual of Rodents and Ferrets. BSAVA, UK.


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