Ferrets are curious, playful and relatively easy pets to care for. They’re smart enough to teach tricks and small enough to keep in an apartment. But as with any pet, they rely on you - their loving owner - to keep them healthy.
Even as indoor pets, ferrets are at risk for rabies and canine distemper. Luckily, there are steps you can take to prevent infection and spread. Our ferret vet shares everything you need to know. But first, a quick overview of these two viruses.
Facts about Rabies in Ferrets
Rabies is a severe virus that causes inflammation in the brain.
Infectious to mammals, dogs, humans and ferrets, rabies is 99% fatal.
The virus enters the body through a wound (usually from the bite of an infected animal) or via mucous membranes. It then travels quickly to the central nervous system and later to other organs.
Fast Facts about Canine Distemper Virus (CDV)
CDV is an acute viral infectious disease with reported mortality rates in ferrets of 100%.
The first sign of CDV is usually mild conjunctivitis and green to yellow discharge from the eye(s).
Even if your ferret stays indoors, they are still at risk. Canine distemper can be carried in the urine of infected dogs and other wild animals, even after they have recovered.
While CDV infection is rare, ferrets have been known to contract the virus after receiving vaccines that were not specifically approved for ferrets.This is why it is incredibly important to have your ferret vaccinated by a reliable exotic vet who has experience with ferrets.
How do ferrets contract rabies and distemper?
Rabies can be transmitted through the exchange of blood, saliva or urine from an infected animal, often from bites or scratches from unvaccinated dogs, cats or wild animals. CDV can be spread by aerosol transmission (sneezing or coughing) and contact with bodily fluids or mucous membranes. Urine, feces and skin is often a source of transmission. If your pet has been vaccinated, they can still become infected by the virus but it reduces the chance of the infection turning fatal. The mortality rate for ferrets infected with CDV is 100% and ferrets infected with rabies will die within a few days after showing symptoms.
When should your ferret be vaccinated?
Once your ferret celebrates her three month birthday, she is mature enough to receive her first rabies vaccination. She should then receive subsequent vaccinations every year.
For CDV, your ferret should receive her first vaccine at 8 weeks old. The second shot is administered at 11 weeks and the third at 14 weeks of age. Afterwards, we recommend vaccinating once a year.
**Remember: Getting the wrong dosage of the CDV vaccine can be life-threatening to ferrets. Be sure to see a specialized vet.
Do the vaccines have side effects?
Your ferret may experience some small side effects after receiving a vaccine. Common side effects include:
Swelling or bump at injection site
Reduced or loss of appetite
In rare cases, some pets may experience an allergic reaction to a vaccine. YOUR PET’S HEALTH IS OUR FIRST PRIORITY. That’s why we adhere to a strict vaccine protocol for ferrets that requires patients to remain on-site for 30 minutes after vaccine administration to be observed. This is to monitor your pet and reduce the risks associated with rare but life threatening allergic reactions to the vaccine.
How can you tell if your pet has been infected?
If you think your pet ferret may have been exposed to rabies or CDV, you should contact your vet right away. Here’s a look at the most common symptoms to watch out for:
Symptoms of Rabies
Sudden changes in attitude and behavior
Symptoms of Distemper
Yellow or green nasal discharge
Reddening of skin, patchy or crusty rash
Thickening of paw pads
Pale or bright pink gums, ears, nose, or feet
Seizures or convulsions
Loss of coordination
Want more ferret care tips?
For pointers about diet, housing, health and playtime, check out our complete Ferret Care Guide.
Are your ferret’s vaccines up to date?
If you have questions or want to schedule an appointment, please reach out!
From feathers to scales,
The LIBEVC team