Choosing a Vet That’s Right For Your Ferret

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What’s So Important About Choosing The Right Vet?

Your vet will be a very important person in your life once you have brought a ferret into your home to share your hearth and heart. At first, you may only need your vet for those once-a-year shots and exams – but even for these routine procedures, there are important things a good ferret vet needs to know, and certain procedures that you want to make sure are in your particular vet’s handbook.

Like human doctors, animal doctors differ as to specialties, areas of particular interest, and the kinds of cases they see. Not every vet sees “exotics”, as ferrets are usually classified. And not all vets who see ferrets are as knowledgeable about a ferret’s special needs as they should be. A good ferret vet will treat a ferret like a ferret, recognizing it as a separate species from the other patients in the practice.

As your ferret ages, a good vet is worth her weight in gold when it comes to emergencies, diagnosing potentially life-threatening illnesses, and in helping to make the final decision as to when it’s time to say good-bye. A good vet for your ferret is one who explains procedures to you thoroughly, in language that you can understand, and also gives you some latitude in making decisions about your pet’s care and treatment.

Choosing a vet needs to be a careful process, but not a painful one! This brochure will show you what to ask of a potential vet, what responses are “good” and which are “not so good”, and provide some information on what kinds of procedures a good ferret vet should be practicing. Your vet will be an important person in your life and especially in your ferret’s life. Choosing the right one can mean less worry, less stress, and having someone you can trust when your pet needs help or special care.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask!

The most important rule in choosing a vet is: Don’t be afraid to ask questions! The vet you want is the one who responds to your questions willingly because they recognize that you are a concerned and caring owner searching for the best care for your furry family member.

Here are some questions to ask that will help you get an idea as to how well your vet knows ferrets:

Do you see many ferrets?
Although this question isn’t entirely indicative of a vet’s expertise, it’s an icebreaker as well as a chance for you to get an idea of how many ferrets they see. If they don’t see many ferrets, you’ll want to ask a lot of questions and get an idea as to what they know. If they see many, you can ask if you can have some names of other ferret owners to check for a reference.

Do you give distemper and rabies together?
Good answer: “No.”
Not-so-good answer: “Yes.”
The answer to this question should be “No,” for any animal, not just ferrets. It’s especially important in the case of ferrets because ferrets are substantially prone to have reactions to their distemper shots – and not always right away or from the first shot, either. Ferrets can have a reaction in their third or fourth year of having shots when they’ve had no previous trouble – this is a documented fact – and you need a vet who acknowledges this risk and knows what steps to take.

Do you pre-treat before vaccinations?
Good answer: “Yes, with Benadryl” (Diphenhydramine hydrochloride)
Not-so-good answer: “No, we don’t pre-treat”
Although a vet may be of the opinion that pre-treating is not necessary, this is not really an area for “opinion” – enough vets have seen reactions lessened or alleviated by pre-treating for it to have medical validity. A dose of children’s Benadryl, given at least 15 minutes before vaccination, slows the ferret body’s reaction to a vaccine and can
prevent a life-threatening problem. Pre-treating has been found to be medically sound advice and a lifesaving practice. A vet who refuses to pre-treat is risking your ferret’s life unnecessarily because even if they are not prone to reactions, a preventative dose of Benadryl will not do the ferret any harm.

How long before surgery should I fast my ferret?
Good answer: “4-5 hours.”
Not-so-good answer: “8-10 hours (or longer).
Horses, cattle, dogs, cats, and humans need a 12-hour fast before surgery. Ferrets, on the other hand, have a 3-4 hour digestion, which means that anything they eat clears their system in 3-4 hours. This makes a lengthy fast not only unnecessary but also dangerous if the ferret is suffering from insulinoma or other blood-glucose related problems. A 10 or 12-hour fast for a ferret that is having problems regulating her blood glucose could land her in a coma or result in painful seizures. A vet who does not recognize the difference in ferret digestion as opposed to a cat, dog or large animal digestion does not know enough about ferrets to be treating your family member.

Do you keep up on the latest in ferret medicine by researching or reading up, or attending seminars and lectures?
Good answer: “Yes, regularly.”
Not-so-good answer: “No, I know all I need to know about ferrets.”
Ferret medicine is an evolving field, particularly because much is still unknown about some of their diseases, the causes, and the cures. Aleutian Disease, or ADV, is still shrouded in mystery and ferrets who contract it are considered terminal. But there are advances in ferret medicine constantly. Only a few years ago, a case of ECE was a death sentence. But more is known about ECE now, and the majority of ferrets, with proper diagnosis and supportive care, pull through. It is hoped that before long there will be a new ferret distemper vaccine on the market that will cut back on (or eliminate altogether) the substantial risk of a reaction to the vaccine. And so, it’s important that your vet stays up-to-date on advances in the treatment and care of ferrets.

Good Practices

In addition to the practices mentioned in the last section, you also want a vet who is either available for emergencies or provides you with the number and location of a 24-hour veterinary hospital. Just like any other animal (humans included), a ferret can have a health emergency at any time of day or night, and if they need to be seen immediately, you need to know what steps to take to get your family member to a doctor as soon as possible.

Choose a vet you’re comfortable talking with. Your vet needs you to be able to talk openly with them about all aspects of your pet’s behavior, especially if there is a problem that he or she needs to diagnose. You need to be comfortable enough with your vet to talk about your pet’s body and any problems that you are noticing. Better pick a vet you can say “penis” to without getting embarrassed!

Finally, on your first visit, watch your pet’s body language to see how they react to the vet. Not all animals are calm and comfortable in that strange environment with someone poking and prodding them, but a vet who speaks soothingly to your pet and handles them gently and calmly can make a big difference to a scared ferret. The veterinary technicians who assist in handling your ferret should also be speaking kindly to your pet and handling them gently and firmly. Watch carefully how the ferret is handled, and observe the ferret’s body language to see if he or she is being treated in a manner that makes both of you comfortable.

Saying Good-bye

Your vet is likely to be the person who will have to help you make a very painful and difficult decision – when to end the suffering of a beloved family member. In this sad time, you will be grateful to have a vet who is understanding, supportive of your decision, and helps you to make the choice that is kindest for your pet. Choose a vet who will be willing to give you some private last moments with your pet, as well as help you make a decision as to what to do with your pet’s remains.

Mutual Respect

There needs to be a relationship of mutual respect between the pet owner and veterinarian. A good veterinarian will respect an owner’s desire to take an active role in making decisions about their pet’s health. In return, the owner needs to respect the knowledge of the vet and listen to what the vet has observed and is diagnosing in their ferret.

Veterinarians need to respect your pet and handle it gently and with care to ease its fear and perform procedures with as little pain as possible. Pet owners, in turn, need to inform a vet if a pet is at all likely to nip or bite. Vets appreciate an owner who gives them fair warning of a ferret who may potentially bite – this does not mean that your ferret will be handled roughly or without care, but it gives the veterinarian and their staff fair warning and allows them to take precautions against being bitten. Even ferrets that don’t usually bite may nip out of fear in a strange environment!

An appointment with a veterinarian is on a par with an appointment with any medical doctor. Respect for their time as a professional is essential in maintaining a good relationship with your ferret’s doctor, so honor appointments and call with plenty of notice if you need to cancel.

The services of a veterinarian are the services of a professional person who holds an advanced medical degree and has attended medical school. Given that fact, the services of a veterinarian are quite reasonably priced! Medical supplies for veterinarians cost the same as supplies in doctor’s offices. Surgery on pets is performed with the same precision and sanitary procedures as human surgery. A good veterinarian does not see your ferret as “just another animal”, it is a patient that they value and care about. So treat your vet with the respect that their skill and education deserve.


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