Ferrets were once considered exotic pets, but they're so widespread now that many non-exotic vets are well-versed in their care. While veternarian familiarity has grown for these lovable members of the weasel family, many ferret owners still aren't up to date on the warning signs that their pet needs medical attention. These four symptoms are indicators of life-threatening problems for a ferret, so visit your local animal hospital immediately if you notice any of them.
With their spastic play style, it's not always easy to notice when a ferret is having a seizure rather than just flopping on the ground for fun. You will notice their body stiffening, their eyes losing focus or rolling back in their head, and uneven breathing patterns. A ferret that is seizing will also not respond to stimulus or its environment. Seizures can be just a few seconds long, so it takes close attention to notice them. Poisoning, tumors, and even blood sugar issues can all trigger this symptom.
Ferrets are full of muscles to give them so much control over their long bodies, but it only takes one wrong leap off the couch or a dash underfoot to leave them limping or unable to move their back legs. An injury to the spine is not necessarily a death sentence, but a ferret who is struggling to move normally does need to see a vet as soon as possible. The vet can immobilize the ferret, reduce swelling in the spinal cord with injections, and help repair damaged muscle tissue through surgery. At the very least, a ferret who is seriously and permanently injured deserves pain medication and an assessment so you can understand how much or little they will be able to recover.
A ferret should never wheeze, gasp, or have to hold their mouth open to breathe. Illnesses, swallowed materials, nasal tumors, heart problems, and injuries can all interrupt your ferret's normal silent breathing, and these issues all need prompt attention from a vet. Even if your pet is only gasping or wheezing occasionally, you should treat the issue as an emergency since all causes of difficult breathing in ferrets can quickly turn fatal.
Ferrets are deep sleepers and can definitely scare their owners when they don't even twitch in response to a shout or poke. But if your ferret doesn't respond in any way, or only responds weakly, after being picked up and gently moved, they're unresponsive and need emergency vet treatment. Find a 24 hour animal hospital nearby as soon as you get your pet so you're not stuck trying to find a place after you discovered an emergency.