By Dr. Laurie Hess, DVM, Diplomate ABVP (Avian Practice)
While ferrets tend to be very clean animals, grooming themselves regularly like cats do, pet ferrets do need some additional grooming by their owners. Unlike wild ferrets that get the opportunity to wear down their nails by running and climbing outside, pet ferrets generally live indoors, where their nails typically become overgrown unless they are cut. Depending on the age and activity level of the ferret, most ferrets will need their nails trimmed every few weeks. Younger growing ferrets, whose nails often grow quickly, or older ferrets that are more sedentary and don’t wear down their nails easily, may need more frequent nail trims. Nails can be trimmed with small scissor-like or guillotine-style nail trimmers designed to clip a cat’s nails.
Understanding Ferrets Bathing Behavior
Ferrets lick their coats to keep clean, just like cats, and generally don’t need to be bathed unless they become dirty or soiled. They have scent glands near their rear ends that are usually removed surgically when they are neutered at a young age, before they are sent to pet stores for sale in the U.S. “De-scenting” is performed to prevent ferrets from smelling so “musky.” Privately bred ferrets or those bred outside the U.S. may retain these glands and have an overpowering musky scent. Even de-scented ferrets retain some musky smell because of the presence of other, smaller oil glands in their skin. Bathing them will not remove this smell, plus bathing dries out their skin, and ferrets typically hate baths.
Brushing Your Ferret is Important
Ferrets have two hair coats – a soft, dense, generally light-colored undercoat that keeps them warm and a topcoat of long, thick, dark guard hairs that repel water and dirt. In the wild, in response to changes in light cycles, ferrets shed in both the spring and in the fall. Since pet ferrets are kept inside and are not exposed to these same light cycles, they may shed at different times of the year. Regardless, when pet ferrets shed, owners should brush them with a soft pet brush to help minimize shedding of hair all over. Brushing also lessens ferrets’ ingestion of hair that, in excess, can accumulate in their gastrointestinal (GI) tracts as hairballs that cause life threatening blockages requiring surgery to resolve.
Signs of Adrenal Gland Disease
Finally, if you notice that your ferret is losing large amounts of hair continuously, leaving bald patches in one or more areas of his or her body, your ferret may have a common condition – adrenal gland disease – noted in inbred ferrets in the U.S. With this disease, ferrets’ two adrenal glands (one next to each kidney inside their abdomens) develop tumors that produce excessive sex hormones that induce hair loss. These hormones also may enlarge male ferrets’ prostate glands, causing them to strain to urinate, and swell female ferrets’ vulvas, causing their vaginal openings to look swollen into a small donut-shape. Ferrets with any of these signs should be examined by a veterinarian and may need hormonal treatment or surgery. They should be brushed more often, as their excessive hair loss predisposes them to the development of obstructive GI hairballs.
Regular grooming keeps ferrets comfortable, healthy, and clean. Plus, it minimizes the shedding of hair all over your house. If you have questions regarding grooming for ferret, be sure to ask your veterinarian.