Ferret anesthesia and analgesia (Proceedings)

Aug 01, 2008
By staff

The ferrets are mammals in the Mustelid family. There are three species of them. Research is showing that pet ferrets are increasing every year. This means that more and more of them will be presented for medical care just as other domestic species. Managing the anesthetic period (including pain evaluation) should be just as it would in any other small animal.

Physiologic Terminology

An Intact Male is a Hob (1-2 kg). An intact Female- Jill (0.6-1 kg) A spayed female is a Sprite. A castrated male is a Gib. When a ferret is < 1yr old, we called these little ones, Kits. Males will be twice as big as females if allowed to reach maturity. This makes them more powerful and can defend the next better. The females stay small to be able to stay close to the nest and also be able to reserve food requirements for her kits. A group of Ferrets is known as a "Business". Their body is long and tubular and the spine is flexible. This allows them the mobility to move around into small areas, thus the reason for great hunting. They have short legs but long claws which makes them great at digging. They have seasonal wt change. They lose weight in the summer and gain it back in the winter. (up to 40% in intact Ferrets).


Females will molt their coat after ovulation and if not bred, this coat may not come back in full. There could be patched of alopecia. They are induced ovulators and will ovulate 30-40 hrs post-copulation. If a Jill is not bred, she will have a pseudopregnancy and this can cause a hyperestrogenism.

Physiologic Terminology (normals)

Life span- 5-11 yrs, Sexually mature- 6-12 months, Gestation- 41-43 days, Litter size 1-18 kits (average 8), Wt at birth 6-12 g, Body temperature (100-104), HR-200-400, RR- 33-36, blood volume 60ml/kg

Ferrets Dangers

There are a number of dangers that play a role in the life of a ferret. Special precautions must be taken to avoid this. Advise owner's to keep their ferret's habitat a safe one.


Most ferrets are gentle enough and can be examined with a small amount of restraint. AS with dogs and cats, the more a ferret is handled in the home, the easier it will be to work on them. They bite more if not handled frequently. You can scruff the back of their neck while dangling the animal in the air, which is better for the more fractious ferret. You can securely hold them down on the exam table similar to a nice cat for a non-invasive examination. Remember not to coax a ferret with food if taking a blood glucose sample as this may alter your results. You can also use a Plexiglas tube and slide them down with the body part out that you want to examine.

Health Concerns

Ferrets hide sickness and pain. They are not a dog and make you feel sorry for them when they do not feel good. They may hide a lot or stop eating. Their eyes may appear half closed. The owner may notice that their grooming behavior has changed. Also, they may be quieter than usual or do not want to interact with you. They have a high metabolism therefore cancer and other disease can progress quickly. Neutering of male & female is recommended at maturity. Intact females can die of aplastic anemia (if not bred) due to this massive hyperestrogenism. Males are stinky. They can be descented at 5-6 weeks or. Neutering does help with this or you can bathe them frequently.

Common Anesthetic Procedures

Common procedures include ovariohysterectomy, castration, removal of pancreatic insulinoma. Ferrets can acquire lymphoma or adrenal disease (hyperplasia or cancer). Treatment may include surgery. They might have anal glands excised or melatonin implants placed. They chew on things so a laporotomy may be necessary to retrieve foreign bodies. Trauma is also common with all the dangers posed to ferrets as well as localized abscesses.