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Ferrets are beloved for their lively personalities and playful behavior, but it may come as a surprise that they are also susceptible to serious health concerns. As a ferret owner, it is essential to familiarize yourself with the most common health issues and their symptoms.

These health concerns can be categorized into two groups: internal and external. Internal issues stem from systemic triggers that cause illness, while external problems are typically caused by improper care or diet, or the ferret’s curiosity and tendency towards clumsiness. Some health conditions can result from a combination of both internal and external factors.

It is crucial to seek a veterinarian’s help as soon as possible if you notice any signs or symptoms of these health issues, as they can be quite similar.

Due to the 1980s and 90s “ferret craze,” where ferrets became popular pets, inbreeding and overbreeding occurred to meet demand. This breeding pattern resulted in common systemic defects that persist in many ferret breeding lines today, leading to serious, life-changing illnesses. While this is not a comprehensive list, the following four diseases are among the most widespread. If you suspect your ferret is showing any of these signs, contact a veterinarian without delay.

Adrenal Gland Disease

Otherwise known by the medical term “hyperadrenocorticism,” this disease is arguably the most common health concern seen in ferrets today. In this condition, the adrenal glands (tiny glands above the kidneys) produce too many hormones. In the early stages, ferrets generally feel okay, but an increase in reproductive hormones over time often come at a cost both physically and behaviorally. Classic signs include:

  • Hair loss (generally the first sign)
  • Excessive itchiness
  • Vulvar swelling in females
  • Prostatitis in males
  • Anemia
  • Aggression


As their name suggests, insulinomas are tumors that specifically increase the amount of insulin your ferret produces. The excess insulin puts afflicted ferrets at risk of dangerously low blood sugar levels. Though insulinoma tumors can be either malignant (cancerous) or benign (non-cancerous), they both wreak havoc in similar devastating ways. Classic signs include:

  • Pawing at the mouth
  • “Stargazing” – a temporary state in which a ferret is awake and staring off into space, but unresponsive to the environment around them
  • Weakness/staggering
  • Weight loss
  • Tremors or tics
  • Abnormal behavior – lethargy, confusion, easily worn out, etc.
  • Seizures
  • Hypoglycemic coma


Lymphomas are cancerous tumors that can affect any part of the lymphatic system, including (but not limited to): lymph nodes, liver, spleen, bone marrow, digestive tract, and skin. Though most people consider cancer to be more common in older animals, lymphoma is in discriminatory and can impact ferrets of any age. Lymphoma that has affected the lymph nodes or skin may be visible from the outside, but there can be a lot going on inside the body that cannot be seen from the surface, so it is important to watch for the following classic signs:

  • Poor or absent appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Bloody stools
  • Any visible bulges or masses
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Coughing
  • Hind limb weakness

Dilated Cardiomyopathy

Commonly referred to as “DCM,” dilated cardiomyopathy is the most common heart disease seen in ferrets. Over time, the walls of the heart stretch and thin, enlarging the heart’s size and making it weak and unable to effectively circulate blood throughout the body. Though the root cause of DCM in ferrets has not been definitively determined, it is thought to have a hereditary link or be a result of a lack of amino acids (specifically taurine) in the diet. Classic signs include:

  • Weakness
  • Lethargy
  • Coughing
  • Rapid breathing
  • Difficulty breathing

Common External Health Conditions

Often just as fearless as they are curious, ferrets love to get themselves into trouble. They often chew on things they shouldn’t, swallow non-food items, and find themselves in compromising situations. While the health concerns outlined below are often the result of external circumstances, there can also be a layer of genetic predisposition. As with the illnesses discussed above, if anything seems out of the ordinary for your ferret friend, or if you happen to notice they’ve gotten into something they shouldn’t, a prompt call to your veterinarian is always recommended.

Gastrointestinal (GI) Obstruction

GI obstructions (a partial or complete blockage of the digestive tract that keeps food, liquid, gas, and stool from moving through in a normal way) can be a result of swallowing something they shouldn’t (part of a toy, piece of plastic, etc.), or from hairballs resulting from their fastidious grooming rituals. Classic signs include:

  • Lethargy
  • Lack or absence of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Dental Disease

Dental disease is just as common in ferrets as it is in other companion species. If their dental health is not properly addressed, ferrets can develop gingivitis, tooth root abscesses, and break their teeth – all resulting in feeding difficulties. While a healthy, high quality, species-appropriate diet goes a long way in protecting your pet’s dental health, ferret parents are encouraged to routinely brush their little ones’ teeth to ensure tarter build-up is kept at bay. Ferrets also have the propensity to be a bit clumsy and can injure their mouths should they fall, making adult supervision in ferret-proofed spaces even more essential. Classic signs of dental disease include:

  • Bad breath
  • Drooling
  • Pawing at the mouth
  • Unable to close the mouth all the way
  • Dropping food from their mouth as they eat
  • Swelling along the jawline or under eyes

Traumatic Injuries

As mentioned above, unsupervised ferrets often find themselves in dangerous situations. Falls, entrapments, and an unfortunate run-in with a grumpy housemate can result in traumatic injuries such as broken bones, sprains/strains, lacerations, and spinal damage (to name a few). Ferrets tend to be rather stoic in nature and may try to hide signs of an injury after an accident has occurred. Even if your ferret seems fine right after the event, it’s best to call the vet. Classic signs of traumatic injury include:

  • Blood coming from the mouth and/or nose (even if only a little)
  • Pupils are of different sizes (anisocoria)
  • Eyes move back and forth or up and down rapidly (nystagmus)
  • Limping
  • Dragging a limb
  • Dragging both hind limbs
  • Walking as if they’re inebriated (ataxia)
  • Lethargy
  • Rapid, heavy breathing
  • Vocalizing
  • Avoiding touch or crying out when handled

What Are the Chances My Ferret Will Get Sick?

Unfortunately, there is no guaranteed way to ensure your beloved ferret will not get sick, but there’s also no guarantee they will get sick, either. Every ferret is a unique individual. The best way to provide your little one with the happiest, healthiest life possible is to feed a high-quality, high-protein, high-fat diet; give them plenty of time to play in a safe, supervised, ferret-proofed environment; take them to routine well visits with a trusted veterinarian; and shower them with loads and loads of love and affection.


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