Five Ferret Diseases That Mean An Er Visit

Five Ferret Diseases That Mean An ER Visit

Medical Contributor:

Dr. Karen Rosenthal

Apr 1, 2024

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Ferrets, also known as the “kitten that never grows up,” are so much fun to have around the house but when they get sick, it is important to get them care in a timely manner. Though they sometimes get a bad rap as the “neurotic exotic”, ferrets are lovable, cuddly companions. And because you love your furry friend, you want the best possible care for them if an emergency strikes.

Ferret owners should know that going to an ER that is ferret-savvy is the best choice to help your ferret get better. In this article, we’ll talk about five of the most common reasons your ferret might need to be seen at Veterinary Emergency Group (VEG).


We’ll start with a non-so-fun fact, but it’s one you should know. It is estimated that almost every ferret, if they live long enough, will develop an insulinoma. This disease is a malignant, slow growing tumor of the pancreas. Insulinoma disease leads to a low blood sugar, aka hypoglycemia.

The first warning that a ferret has an insulinoma is very subtle and is missed by most owners (and non-ferret knowledgeable veterinarians). Signs of low blood sugar in ferrets include:

  • Dragging their hindlegs
  • Drooling
  • Grinding their teeth
  • Trouble waking up from a deep sleep
  • In severe cases, ferrets may have seizures and become comatose

If your ferret has any of these signs, visit our ER as soon as possible. At VEG, we can make the diagnosis of an insulinoma from a simple blood glucose test. Long-term care can be managed with medication alone but surgery is also an option in many cases. Studies have shown that with proper care, ferrets with an insulinoma can live more than a year after the diagnosis. Early detection in the ER is key to your ferret living a longer life.

Urinary tract obstruction

A ferret that cannot urinate needs to be seen immediately, even if it is 3am—we’re open! The reason that ferrets cannot urinate is usually because the urethra, the tube that leads from the bladder to the outside of the body, is blocked. The most common reason for a male or female ferret to have a blocked urethra is due to a urinary tract stone.

In males, another reason for a blocked urethra is an enlarged prostate. No matter which condition is present, we need to find a way to get urine flowing through the urethra again. There is nothing you can do at home to make that happen, and that’s why a visit to the ER is essential. The longer the urethra is blocked, the more urine that builds up in the bladder. This means increasing pain to the ferret and an increasing amount of toxins building up in the body. If this condition is not treated, most ferrets will die. At any of our VEG ERs, the team will take radiographs and use ultrasound to determine which condition your ferret has and how best to start the flow of urine through the urethra again. The prognosis for a urinary tract stone is excellent for return-to-normal health; the enlarged prostate prognosis is more complicated. But the good news is, many ferrets do very well once the large prostate is reduced in size.


Older ferrets are prone to developing the type of heart disease that we see in older dogs. The heart muscle is not able to pump blood around the body and fluid builds up in the chest. Although this process has taken months to develop, it’s difficult to recognize until your ferret reaches a tipping point, can no longer compensate, and breathing becomes very fast with very deep breaths.

If you see your ferret having difficulty breathing, please see the emergency-trained staff at VEG immediately. Your ferret will be put into an oxygenated enclosure and once stable, imaging tests will be done to determine if there is a heart problem, if the lungs are clear, and how to help your ferret start breathing more easily.

GI obstruction

It’s cute when your ferret carries a prized, stolen possession around your home. But this cuteness disappears quickly when your ferret EATS that prized possession and it gets “stuck” in the gastrointestinal tract (GIT)!

Objects stuck in the GIT need to be removed by surgery and the sooner, the better. If you think your ferret has eaten something they should not have, watch closely for these warning signs and if you see even one of them, go to the ER asap:

  • Drooling and/or vomiting
  • Lack of appetite
  • Lethargy

Your VEG emergency hospital team will use imaging studies to see if there is a blockage of the GIT. The good news is that almost all ferrets do great with surgery to unstick what was stuck in the GIT!

Vaccine reaction

Ferrets need vaccines yearly. This may be a surprise to most people because there is a lot of misinformation about ferrets and vaccines. Ferrets need their canine distemper and rabies virus vaccines on a regular schedule. And true to their rascally nature, ferrets have a unique way of thanking you for giving them a vaccine—they get vaccine reactions! About one in 20 ferrets can show a reaction to either vaccine but we see it more with the distemper vaccine.

In most cases, a reaction occurs within 30 minutes of receiving a vaccine. A ferret with a vaccine reaction will show some telltale signs. The following are some things that might happen from a vaccine reaction:

  • Collapse
  • Drooling
  • Hair all over their body stands up
  • Tail may straighten way out
  • In severe cases, ferrets will vomit and have diarrhea, and blood may be present in both

If you suspect your ferret is having a vaccine reaction, even if it’s hours after the vaccine, please get your ferret to the ER immediately. All ferrets with vaccine reactions have a great prognosis but they need to be seen immediately. This allows your veterinarian to start IV medications to reverse the changes happening in your ferret’s body due to the vaccine reaction.


The highly trained staff (VEGgies!) at VEG is always ready with 24-hour emergency veterinary care for exotics. In fact, VEG is an emergency animal hospital experienced in treating all kinds of pets, so you can feel confident in your ferret’s care. When you come to any VEG hospital location, your pet is triaged immediately. There’s no waiting and worrying in a lobby; you get to stay with your ferret the entire time!