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Ferrets are unusual creatures in many respects, including their ability to tolerate treatments for short-term and chronic pain. Most human medications for pain will quickly kill ferrets. According to Dr. Jill A Richardson, DVM, one fifteenth of one 325mg acetaminophen tablet can easily kill a pet ferret. Once you see that your ferret is in pain, consult a veterinarian and follow these pain relief methods.
Since ferrets do not talk, a ferret owner has to regularly observe the ferret to be sure it's not acting in a peculiar manner which may indicate that it is in pain. Ferrets can die very quickly from illnesses or injuries, so the sooner they get to the vet, the better chance they have of surviving. According to Ferrets for Dummies (Kim Schilling and Susan Brown; 2007), a ferret in pain will hide, stop grooming itself or over-groom one particular body part, may have tar-like stools, may cry or bite when touched and refuse or be reluctant to eat. When a ferret in pain is discovered, it should first be kept in a warm, quiet place away from any rambunctious activity and offered special soft treats to encourage eating. Ferrets can die if they do not eat within a few days because they have such a fast metabolism and a short digestive tract.
Ferrets are highly allergic to over the counter human medications like acetaminophen, naproxen or ibuprofen. But for short term severe pain such as for injuries or to kill after surgery pain, Ferrets for Dummies recommends opioid painkillers like hydromorphone. These medications are only available by prescription and must be given by injection. Injectable anaesthetics for kittens like lidocaine also work in ferrets for severe pain. Because ferrets become very sleepy under both types of medications, it can't be used for long periods of time.
Long Term Therapy
Pain can become so bad in ferrets that they stop using their hind legs. Long time ferret owner and rescuer Renee Downs used physical therapy to treat her ferrets in mysterious chronic pain conditions. The ferrets were given gentle massage, swimming in a very shallow bathtub, being dragged around on an old towel and placed on a ball to help with balance. Ferrets that refuse to eat should be given electrolyte drinks for human babies to prevent dehydration if they should go off food. Ferets with chronic mouth problems should be given soft foods such as pureed fresh chicken in order to encourage them to eat. If a ferret will not eat, it will have to be force fed by syringe.
Ferrets will chew through any feeding tubes and that may cause damage to the digestive system. Ferrets for Dummies reports that successful chronic pain treatment in ferrets included the use of acupuncture and chiropractic massage.
- Ferret Footnotes: Tips for a Poison-Safe Household by Dr. Jill A. Richardson, DVM
- Ferrets for Dummies (Kim Schilling and Susan Brown; 2007)
- "No Pain, All Gain" (Renee Downs, Ferrets Magazine; Sept/Oct 2007)