By Dr. Laurie Hess, DVM, Diplomate ABVP (Avian Practice)
Finding the Right Veterinarian
Many owners of small animals, including ferrets, are surprised to learn that all pets need an initial veterinary check-up and an annual examination after that. Some veterinarians who treat non-traditional small pets, such as ferrets, actually recommend check-ups at least twice a year to facilitate early detection and treatment of potentially life-threatening diseases. Regular veterinary care is necessary to help ensure pets live long, healthy lives. The most important visit is the first one, right after you acquire your pet.
Not all veterinarians are trained and comfortable with treating non-traditional pets like ferrets. Make sure your pet’s veterinarian has experience treating small mammals by asking about his or her qualifications, experience, and training in treating these specialized pets. If he or she is not comfortable seeing your pet, ask for a referral to some who is more experienced.
What should you expect during your ferret’s check-up?
During this visit, your veterinarian will review proper feeding, housing, care, and grooming of your pet. He or she will likely ask you a series of questions about how you care for your animal and why you brought your pet in for an examination. The veterinarian will record your pet’s weight, general appearance, and activity level. Then, he or she will perform a physical examination to determine your pet’s state of health. While veterinarians follow their own individual protocols when conducting examinations, all veterinarians should start with a thorough physical examinations to assess the health of your pet. During the physical examination, the veterinarian will palpate (feel) various parts of the pet’s body and note any abnormalities that warrant more involved testing.
Most exotic pet veterinarians will recommend some general diagnostic tests to determine whether your ferret is healthy. These tests include microscopic examination of the stool for parasites and/or abnormal bacteria, and blood testing. Blood testing can include a complete blood count (examining the red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets) and serum biochemical profile (which looks at various organ enzymes and electrolyte levels). Occasionally, additional tests, such as bacterial culture and sensitivity of feces or other discharge, such as from the eyes or nose, may be needed to determine the cause of various problems. In addition, if your pet is ill, your veterinarian may recommend even more advanced diagnostic testing, such as x-rays, ultrasound, CT scanning, or MRI testing, to check for abnormalities in size, shape, and position of body organs, look for masses (such as tumors) or abnormal fluid accumulation, and check bones and joints. Be sure to discuss the pros and cons of testing with your veterinarian so that you are aware of your options.
Once you and your veterinarian agree on a diagnostic plan, he or she will review an estimate of what tests will cost and will likely ask you to sign some forms granting legal permission for the veterinary team to perform these tests. He or she may either ask you to wait while the tests are performed or leave your pet at the animal hospital and come back later. Either way, your veterinarian should review the test results with you to come up with an appropriate treatment plan if treatment is warranted. Hopefully, after a thorough examination and appropriate testing, your veterinarian can determine the best course of action to help ensure your ferret’s health and longevity.