The Ferret Owners Manual


Ferrets are extremely susceptible to canine distemper. Distemper, in the ferret, is considered 100% fatal. The disease can be spread by direct contact with infected animals or by indirect contact. It can be brought in on clothes, shoes and the skin. Fortunately, it is easily prevented through annual vaccination with an approved canine distemper vaccine. Vaccinations against feline distemper and canine Parvo are neither necessary nor recommended.

Make sure that your vet understands that a vaccine made with ferret tissue cannot be used.

This may cause the disease in the ferret. Presently there are two vaccines, FERVAC by United Vaccine, and Merial’s new PUREVAX Ferret Distemper Vaccine, both approved by the USDA for use in the domestic ferret. Although the PUREVAX is relatively new, it is reported to cause fewer allergic reactions in ferrets. Some shelters, and owners use GALAXY-D (formerly FROMM-D) but this has not been proven effective in ferrets. Vaccination against canine distemper is to save the ferret from the disease.

Most pet store ferrets will have received the initial vaccination from the breeder at about 6-8 weeks of age. Some pet stores promote this initial vaccination as “the ferret has had all of it’s shots.” This is definitely NOT true. A booster is required by 11 weeks of age, and another at about 14 weeks of age. There is a general agreement that ferrets be re-vaccinated every year after that. Ferrets brought to ferret shows are required to show proof of vaccination against canine distemper within the past 12 months. If a ferret has an unknown history of vaccinations, vets recommend a series of two vaccinations, spaced about 4 weeks apart just to make sure that the ferret is protected against this painful and fatal disease.

Ferrets also should be inoculated against rabies. The only current USDA approved vaccine is IMRAB-3, a killed virus vaccine. This should be the only vaccine used since it is the only one recognized by the Government. Vaccination is recommended after 14 weeks of age and annually thereafter. Ask the veterinarian for a certificate of vaccination. Make sure that the certificate states that IMRAB-3 has been used.

The canine distemper and rabies vaccine should not be administered in the same day. A two to three week period between these vaccinations is recommended.  This not only may decrease the possibility of an allergic reaction, but if one does occur, will let you know which of the vaccines caused the reaction.

Allergic reactions to the vaccines sometimes (although rarely) occur. Such a reaction is lifethreatening. Always remain at the veterinarian’s office for at least 30 – 45 minutes, or longer, after the vaccination to make sure that your ferret does not develop such a reaction – sometimes characterized by diarrhea, retching and/or vomiting, possibly followed by a rapid drop in body temperature, shock and death. On the other hand, sometimes the ferret exhibits a bright red skin; the hair on the tail “poofs” out; the ferret begins to have difficulty breathing. In either case, death can occur rapidly without prompt, knowledgeable treatment. (We have found that pretreating the ferret with 0.5 to 1 ml (depending on the ferret’s weight) of pediatric Benadryl, orally, about 30 minutes prior to the vaccination somewhat reduces (doesn’t eliminate) the allergic reactions. Check with your vet for the recommended dosage for your ferret. It is no guarantee, however, so stay in the vet’s office 30 – 45 minutes.)

Sometimes the reaction to the vaccine may occur several hours after the vaccination, so be

sure to keep an eye on your ferret. Mild lethargy for a couple of days after a vaccination is normal. What you want to watch for is vomiting, severe diarrhea, especially black or bloody diarrhea. We usually plan vaccinations for the days when one of us can stay home with the ferret to make sure that there are no problems.

Rabies in the domestic ferret is quite rare. In fact, since 1958 fewer than 25 cases have been reported in the entire United States. Some cases are believed due to the use of a modified live virus rabies vaccines that actually gave the ferret the disease. These types of vaccines are not approved for use in ferrets. There has never been a case reported of a ferret transmitting rabies to a human or another animal. Annual vaccinations with IMRAB-3 will effectively prevent your ferret from contracting the disease should he ever get outside. Now, most states follow “The Compendium of Animal Rabies Control” and will treat a ferret that bites a human the same as they do dogs and cats – a ten day observation period, after which, if the ferret remains healthy, he will be released from quarantine. Not all states, or communities within the state recognize this procedure, so always check with your local animal control or public health office for the latest regulations for your area.


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