How to know when your ferret is ready for euthanasia?
What are the signs that my ferret is ready to go? How can I make sure my ferret passes away peacefully?
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This is not an easy answer, and you know your ferret better than anyone. But I think there are some things I can share, since I unfortunately have a lot of experience with this.
First of all, ferrets don't die of natural causes. They don't die of old age, it just doesn't happen. If you think your ferret died of old age, it probably had some chronic illness that you just weren't aware of. Of course, there may be some rare exceptions to this, but for the most part, every ferret will have one or multiple types of cancer by the time it reaches old age.
A ferret's natural life expectancy used to be 10-12 years. These days, they're lucky to make it to 5-7 years old. So if you have a 7 year old, and it's slowing down, there's probably something going on inside.
Second of all, ferrets are tough. Most animals will hide pain, because they don't want to be seen as vulnerable by predators, or abandoned by their family group. (Many sick animals though, will isolate themselves to protect their group). I've had a vet tell me that ferrets are the toughest animals they've ever seen - they can survive trauma that much larger animals wouldn't, and they rebound much more quickly than most animals. Think of the ferret's cousin, the honey badger. Pound for pound, ferrets can tolerate a lot, and will hide their pain from you.
That means that if your ferret is visibly showing signs of pain, it's really bad. And it's probably been developing for a while.
Signs of pain in ferrets
- Grinding their teeth - this one is the most common
- Chewing things excessively
- Lethargy, slowing down, inactivity
- Squinting eyes
- Grimacing, pulling their nose and lips back
- Opening mouth repeatedly
- Pawing at things, especially when trying to get comfortable in their bed. This one can be a normal behavior, it depends on the ferret. But if they start doing this suddenly and they didn’t used to, it can be a bad sign.
These are just some of the signs of pain in ferrets. Every ferret will express pain differently. An important thing is just to watch for any odd changes in behavior. The problem is that these changes are often gradual over a period of months. Lethargy especially, can happen very gradually, and it may just appear that the ferret is getting older and less active, but often there's some other explanation.
Give your ferret a good death
Your ferret has (hopefully) lived a good, long life with you. It's been spoiled rotten, given food and treats and water, a warm home. No predators, no hunger, no fear of survival. Nature can be brutal, and your ferret has been spared the experiences of wild animals.
This means that when it does experience things like pain or illness, those experiences are much more traumatic for them. Make sure to give your ferret a good death, not just a good life. If he lived his whole life with you, happy and unafraid, don't let his last moments be filled with fear and suffering.
My biggest piece of advice is this: it's better to be a week early than a minute late.
I really don't recommend letting your ferret pass naturally at home. This depends a lot on the circumstances. Yes, there are some illnesses like heart disease, where your ferret can be totally normal and happy one day, and gone the next. Although that's hard to experience, you can be assured that it was probably peaceful for your ferret. And some cancers can cause the body to shut down, leading them gently to sleep.
But some illnesses, especially insulinoma, can be extremely traumatic. If a ferret with insulinoma passes "naturally", it may very well have screaming seizures in its last moments. And this can last for hours. While seizures are generally considered to be painless, they're still very stressful and traumatic, both for you and your ferret. You don't want it to come to that.
That's why I say it's better to be a week early than a minute late. If you're waiting and waiting for them to pass on their own, then suddenly they may start screaming, and now what? You have to rush to the vet, if you're lucky they're open, and if not, you either have to rush to find an emergency vet, or you and your ferret have to suffer through this.
Another benefit of scheduling a "quality of life" appointment is that you can spoil them with some special treats. If you wait until the last minute, and try to offer them something special, it's very likely that they won't be feeling well enough to try it. I try to take them to Starbucks and get a pup cup. My girl Charlotte basically inhaled the entire pup cup ❤️ I was so happy she was able to have that experience.
End of life treats for ferrets
Some treats you can try are:
- Pup cups / whipped cream
- Fruits like honeydew melon
- Cereal, cookies, crackers
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