Health Matters 9
by Dr June McNicholas
Just as you can buy a range of non-prescription products for cats and dogs, I've been asked several times about 'over the counter' medications that can be obtained for ferrets. It's a reasonable enough request but not easy to answer! Very, very few products exist for 'home treatment' of ferrets, and I have to admit to certain feelings of unease about what can be ordered over the internet without any veterinary or medical knowledge but I don't see a problem in sharing what we have tried and know can help in minor problems, but please do not try to diagnose or treat your ferret yourself. If ill, your ferret needs a vet. It's as simple as that. The NFWS web site can direct you to a ferret-friendly vet (or if you have one not on the list, please let us know)
However, sensible owners of any pet do try to have a few essentials to hand, and ferret owners can do the same. With that in mind, I decided to take a look at what Jeff and I have in the ferret medicine cabinet! Fortunately I'm far more organised where that's concerned than I am with my handbag! (Grown men have been seen to pale and flinch at the mere sight of some of the things I carry around!)
So, metaphorically tipping out the medicine chest, this is what we have as regular items.
Information file - a plastic wallet containing
- Vets' numbers for emergency and surgery hours.
- a list of ferret 'vital statistics' i.e. normal body temperature , heart rate, breathing rate etc.
- 'medical notes' relevant notes/dates on previous and current treatments for each ferret
Dressings - all available from chemists
- cotton pads/lint/gauze dressings
- Melonet - type dressings - a gauze with a medicated/coated surface useful for putting on sores, wounds, burns, stings
- Micropore tape for holding dressings in place
- Assorted widths and types of bandages, ranging from light cotton to self-stick stretch crepe such as 'vet-wrap'
- Cotton wool roll and balls
- Sticking plaster - not recommended for direct use on the ferret. Useful for holding some dressings in place and for your own wounds if bitten by a hurt ferret (I'm serious!)
Antiseptics - all available from chemists and/pet stores
- Hibiscrub, a surgical handwash. Use diluted as directed on the bottle. Useful for washing wounds, wiping surfaces, cleaning up after vomit/diarrhoea.
- Bottle sterilising fluids such as Milton. Good for cleaning medicine spoons, droppers/syringes, dishes
- Betadine cream and/or liquid. An iodine product which is antiseptic, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-sporal, and anti-viral. Very useful for minor skin infections (especially fungal types), and prevention of infection after wounds, scratches and bites.
- Savalon-type cream for gentle soothing of sore places
- Antiseptic wound powder, for sprinkling on wounds which are best kept dry or are in places where the ferret would lick creams and lotions
- Medicated wet wipes for general cleaning, ear wiping and for use on own hands.
- Sporal-D from Medivet, an antiseptic, anti-fungal shampoo and very good for skin problems.
Miscellaneous medications and preparations
- Diarrhoea tablets suitable for cats and kittens. Make sure you give the correct dosage by calculating amount of tablet per weight of ferret. (NB. Diarrhoea is a symptom of many illnesses, some very serious. I would only recommend using these tablets when you are certain that your ferret is not really ill, such as when you know his diarrhoea is simply down to a change of diet or, more likely, the fact he's swiped your hamburger/creamcake/bar of chocolate and gorged silly himself in some inaccessible corner!)
- Worming tablets for kittens. Internal parasites are not a major problem for most ferrets but they can and do occur. Most susceptible are ferrets fed on whole carcass, whether this be rabbit, mouse or other mammal. However, ferrets in contact with dogs and cats who carry roundworm may also be vulnerable.
- Smokers toothpowder - good for gentle rubbing in tartar patches on older ferrets teeth. Use a piece of bandage or flannel. Better still, teach your ferret to tolerate having his teeth brushed while he's a youngster
- Ear drops as recommended by a vet
- Ferretvite. A high calorie paste for sick ferrets or to hide tablets in
- Ferretone. Very palatable vitamin supplement ideal for using to disguise medications, or to distract a ferret while changing a dressing, clipping nails, examining wounds etc.
- Cimicat, Whelpi or Esbilac . These are milk formula for hand raising young animals, but can be used as sort of 'Complan' for poorly ferrets
- Glucose powder
- 'Cool- ferret' type of preparation to help reduce overheating when travelling
- Vaseline or similar lubricant. Useful for lubricating rectal thermometers. Vaseline is also good for smothering over ticks so that they drop off in a day or two!
- Frontline spray for fleas and ticks - available from your vet (NB your vet has had to have seen the animal within the previous six months, so it's a good idea to top up supplies when taking for vaccinations or other treatment)
- Environmental flea spray suitable hutches, bedding etc
Instruments and equipment
NB Never use any piece of equipment you are less than confident in handling. Any doubts, go to the vet.
- Blunt ended scissors (not to be used for anything else!)
- Sterile disposable syringes for giving oral medicines and liquid foods. It's a good ides to have several 2ml and 5ml to hand plus a couple 10ml. Your vet will be able to let you have these. Do use with care, though, as it is possible to squirt liquids down the wind pipe and cause problems.
- Small rectal thermometer IF you feel competent.
- Stethoscope. I prefer small paediatric 'scopes but standard ones are fine.
- Assorted tweezers/blunt ended forceps
- Nail clippers and file
- Measuring spoons
- Small screw top jars for urine and faeces samples
- Hand lens for magnifying odd bits of yuk from ears etc or taking a closer look at sores and the like
And don't forget a clean, strong carrying box to be kept in an accessible place at all times!
Next issue of Health Matter will feature emergency first aid for ferrets, amongst anything else you fancy! As ever, many thanks for all your ideas and input into this column. Don't forget our new address
Harry, polecat hob, aged 8+ years. An loveable rogue, and long time member of the McNicholas household. Killer of tea bags, Pot Plant Enemy No.1, and hugely entertaining until the end. Put to sleep when liver cancer robbed him of his huge love of life. Sadly missed, he was one of the true characters of the ferret world.
Basil, albino hob, 7 years. A gentle, quiet lad, content to let his more boistrous companions take centre stage. Calm and dignified to the end.
Oliver, polecat hob, 9 years. Much missed by his younger cage mates and owner. A fun-loving and affectionate pet.
Bonnie, albino jill, 5 years. A friend and working companion, put to sleep after a short but brave battle with lymphatic cancer.
Perry, sandy hob, 3 years. Died suddenly after contracting a flu like virus. He gave so much in his short life.
Dollar, silver jill, 6 years. A much loved member of the family. A successful show ferret in her time and an outstanding worker in the field. 'She asked for little and gave so much... we are grateful for the chance of knowing you'
Stumpy, It is with great sadness that I have to tell you that Stumpy had to be put to sleep at the beginning of October. Her condition worsened rapidly and we were left with no options but to have the Vet end her suffering in a gentle and humane way. She lived a long life, melted many hearts and bit nearly as many fingers, but we loved her for what she was, a wonderful ferret. BB.
Vanessa, disabled polecat jill 5+ years. Vanessa had sustained a back injury before she came to me, she had restricted movement in her back legs but it didn't deter her from joining in playing games with her ferret family she was also incontinent but her ferret friends didn't appear to object to her little 'mistakes'. Died in her sleep.
Sarek, albino hob 6+ years. Put to sleep when life became a burden.
Paw Paw, silver mitt hob 7+ years. Probably had a heart attack, followed by convulsions. Put to sleep to save further suffering.
Badger, Big, soft polecat hob, 7+ years. Died in his sleep.
Henry, died on 17th September, very much missed by us all. Many thanks to our small animal vet Alex England who operated twice on Henry and gave us one more summer together. Buried with Gilly on the grassy bank.
Watched over by Sid.