How often should I take my ferret to the vet?
Do I need to take my ferret to the vet every year? Do they need rabies and distemper vaccines?
Ideally you should take your ferret to the vet at least once a year. If they're younger (< 4 years old), you can probably get away with just going every other year. But some health issues can surface at a very young age. Once they get middle-aged I highly recommend going annually even if nothing appears to be wrong.
An annual exam is a good investment. Your vet will be able to examine their body, feel for any masses in their abdomen, and listen to their heart beat for any irregularities. If everything checks out, then you can have some peace of mind.
If they detect any masses through the physical exam, you should get an ultrasound or X-ray to try to identify where the mass is exactly. Detecting a mass early and beginning treatment can help slow it down and prevent it from growing and spreading. If you're very early and the ferret is healthy overall, sometimes surgery is an option which can buy your ferret a lot of time. Even if you're unable to do anything at the time, having those ultrasound or X-ray images will help determine how quickly it is growing the next time it is examined.
If you wait too long, chances are that a cancerous mass will grow and either attach to other organs or become intertwined with organs or major blood vessels, which makes surgery extremely risky and less likely to succeed. The earlier you detect a mass the better your ferret's chances are.
If your vet detects an irregular heart beat (too fast, too slow, or arrhythmic), they will probably want to do an X-ray next to see if it's enlarged. For extreme cases, they may want to do a cardiogram. In any case, heart disease is a common health issue and again, treating it early is important.
What if your ferret checks out in the exam? If they're younger, then you're probably ok! If they're 5 or older though, I would still recommend getting bloodwork done. Just like a human will get their blood tested at their physical every year, ferrets should too. Again, it's all about detecting problems early and preventing them from getting worse. I've had multiple ferrets that had cancer forming where the tumor was either very small or hidden behind the rib cage, and couldn't be detected by the physical exam. The bloodwork showed that certain values were too high or too low, so then we proceeded with an X-ray and saw that indeed, a mass was growing. Being able to start treatment early I think improved their quality of life and lifespan significantly.
Remember, having to go to the emergency vet once will immediately cancel out any money you had saved by skipping their annual exams. Ferrets are so prone to health issues and they can go undetected for a long time so it's very important to get them checked regularly.
Do ferrets need rabies and distemper vaccines?
Rabies vaccines are often required by law. If your ferret bites someone and that person reports it, your state can probably take your ferret away by force and euthanize it if you don't have proof of a rabies vaccination within the last year. Pet stores and shelters are usually required to vaccinate for rabies before selling an animal.
That being said, the chances of your ferret getting rabies are extremely low. Unless you're taking it out into the woods where a rabid animal could bite it, it's pretty unlikely your ferret could possibly get rabies. The bigger risk is some stranger getting bitten and then complaining. As long as you keep your ferrets away from people you don't know, you should be fine without the rabies vaccine.
Distemper is more dangerous - your ferret actually has a chance of getting this, even if they stay indoors. It is possible that you can bring the distemper virus into your home. Marshall recently had a distemper outbreak and many pet stores had kits in their stores that were infected with it. Going to a pet store, a show, an animal shelter, all increase the risk. Even if you sanitize and wash your hands, you can even track it into your home on your shoes!
So again, the risk is low, but it is there, and it's definitely higher than rabies. If your ferrets go outdoors often, I would recommend getting them treated for distemper annually.
That doesn't necessarily mean vaccinating them though. You can ask your vet for a "titer test" instead. Vaccines usually remain in their system for longer than a year, especially if they've gotten jabbed multiple times. A titer test can show you that they're still immune to distemper and don't need to get vaccinated and can probably wait until the next year. Since vaccines can cause allergic reactions, it's good to be able to avoid them if they're not needed.
The test is a lot cheaper as well. Save the money on the vaccine and spend it on higher quality food and treats!
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