Pet Connection: Ferrets need special care as they age

Q: My ferret is 3 years old. How long do ferrets live, and do older ferrets need any special care?

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A: Great question! And good timing. Your ferret is just beginning what can be considered his geriatric years. American ferrets typically live five to seven years. That doesn’t seem like a very long lifespan, but when you think about how adventurous these slinky little critters are, we may be lucky that we get to spend that much time with them. Ferrets definitely benefit from some special care as they start to get older.

You may notice that your ferret starts to nap more often or for longer periods. The additional rest is important for his well-being, so don’t disturb him if he’s napping. Report any sudden or unusual changes in sleep habits to your veterinarian. It may signal an underlying health problem. You may notice that your ferret’s coat seems to be more dry and coarse than in the past. This can be due to aging or disease. Take your ferret to the veterinarian if you notice hair loss, severe itchiness or raised, round lesions on the skin that resemble buttons.

Older ferrets are prone to skin tumors and other diseases that can manifest themselves in skin and coat problems. Check your ferret’s paws. If they seem hard and dry or have small growths, soften and moisturize the pads by rubbing them with oil, Vaseline or cream containing vitamin E. Senior ferrets may also need to urinate and defecate more often. Make sure you clean the litter box more often to remove the extra deposits so it will be attractive for him to use. (Note: It is illegal to have a ferret as a pet in California, according to the Department of Fish and Wildlife.)

The buzz

Two dogs in Flint, Mich., recently tested positive for lead toxicity, a reminder that pets are vulnerable to tainted tap water, reports Rebecca Kruth for Michigan Radio. Michigan’s state veterinarian, James Averill, says dogs, cats and other pets in Flint and other areas with poor water quality should drink the same filtered or bottled water as their owners. If they are bathed in tap water, it’s important to keep the shampooing session brief and dry them as quickly as possible. Signs of lead exposure in pets vary and may include vomiting, diarrhea and behavior changes.

▪  Check with your veterinarian if your dog is taking medication for hypothyroidism. The Food and Drug Administration has issued warning letters to six manufacturers of unapproved medications for hypothyroidism in dogs. The FDA has not reviewed the products for safety and effectiveness. Currently, only one thyroid medication – Thyro-Tabs Canine – is approved for use in dogs.

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and Kim Campbell Thornton, author of many pet-care books. The two are affiliated with