A huge clap of thunder just rattled your home. You nearly jumped out of your seat. Your cat darted under the sofa. Casper the friendly ferret is still snoozing away in his hammock. If Casper has white fur, there's a good chance he wasn't startled because he's deaf.
Waardenburg syndrome is a genetic mutation that leads to the underdevelopment of Casper's inner ear hearing mechanism. If Casper is all white with dark-colored eyes, called a dark-eyed white, then he's likely to carry this mutation. Panda and blaze coat patterns, which feature a white stripe down the face, can also carry this mutation. It's estimated that 75 percent of ferrets with panda and blaze coats are deaf, according to "Ferrets Magazine."
If Casper has red eyes, then his white coat is a result of albinism, which means he lacks the pigment melanin. While albinos aren't linked to Waardenburg syndrome, they do tend to have a small hearing mechanism in their inner ear. Albinos are often hard of hearing, but they are rarely deaf, unlike dark-eyed whites.
Figuring out whether or not Casper is deaf can be tricky. Since ferrets sometimes respond to vibration or ignore a familiar sound, stomping your feet or clapping your hands and judging his response may not help. Deaf ferrets are often easily startled when you approach them from the rear. A deaf ferret will also be more likely to vocalize loudly with a scream than a hearing ferret. If you suspect Casper can't hear, he should visit his vet. She can use a test called BAEP which uses electrodes on Casper's head to detect electrical impulses in his inner ear. Even if Casper is deaf, it doesn't mean he's disabled. Deaf ferrets can live just as full and exciting lives as their hearing buddies.
If Casper is deaf, he won't require much different care than his buddies. Since he can't hear, he'll likely use his other senses, like smell or taste, to explore his world. A deaf ferret may be more likely to stick something in his mouth than a hearing ferret. However, since you shouldn't let any ferret put a foreign substance in his mouth, this isn't much different than caring for a hearing ferret. You'll need to keep an eye on your little guy when he's playing with his pals. His vocalizations may not make sense to them, since ferrets don't have a form of sign language to communicate. Since he won't know the proper way to talk with his pals, fights are more likely than between two hearing ferrets. One quirk that deaf ferrets have is a tendency to throw their heads back when held. He may be trickier to train since he won't respond to a clicker or voice command, and if you startle him he's more likely to bite. If you have a deaf ferret, it just takes a little extra patience.