If you own ferrets, odds are that at one point, you are going to have a ferret that needs surgery. More than 70% of ferrets will develop adrenal disease during their lives, and in most cases the treatment for that will be surgery. Surgery is also done for insulinoma, blockages, certain biopsies and other conditions. It is important to know what to do before and after your ferret’s surgery to make sure that it has a successful recovery as quickly as possible.
Thoroughly discuss the procedure with your vet, whether it is a non-invasive procedure like castration or removal of surface cysts, or a more involved, invasive procedure like an adrenalectomy or intestinal blockage surgery. You will want to find out the following things.
Estimation of recovery time
Non-invasive procedures will have a shorter recovery period, and your ferret might even be eating and recovered by the time you leave the vet’s office. Invasive procedures will take longer and will require more care on your part to help the healing process.
How long to fast your ferret before the surgery
The usual time period is 4 hours. However, if your ferret has insulinoma or is thought to have insulinoma, fasting for 4 hours can actually be dangerous. The same can be said for other medical conditions. Your vet will let you know the proper fasting time.
Any after surgery complications that might arise
You will find that you can never predict everything that may happen. But it’s important to know things to look out for, and what signs or symptoms require immediate medical attention.
Your ferret’s overall health and the effect it will have on its recovery
Ferrets that are in good health will recover faster and more successfully than ferrets in bad health. Make sure your vet does a full examination, including blood work and x-rays, to determine whether or not there are any existing conditions that may have a negative affect on the recovery of your ferret.
What medicines you will need to give your ferret
Your vet should tell you exactly which medicines to give, when to give them and for how long. If you have any questions, either before or after the surgery, be sure to ask. Missing dosages or failing to administer the medicine properly can have an adverse affect or render the medicine ineffective. Some medicines will have a bitter taste, so discuss with your vet how your ferret will react to the medicine and whether or not any liquid medicines can be compounded to make them more palatable to your ferret.
What kind of anesthesia your vet uses and how long your ferret will be under
Isoflurane and sevoflurane are the gases that your vet should use. They are safer than other kinds of anesthetics. The longer your ferret is under, the longer it will take it to recover from the anesthetic. Ferrets can often have some nausea after being anesthetized, so ask your vet how long you should wait before giving your ferret food.
But preparing for the surgery isn’t limited to discussions with the vet about the procedure. Make sure that you are feeding your ferret a good diet beforehand. Well nourished ferrets eating a healthy diet (this means a high quality diet and few to no treats with sugar in them) will recover faster. If your ferret is underweight, discuss with your vet how to help it put on weight before it goes in for surgery. A duck soup made with Science Diet A/D (canned diet, available by prescription at the vet) will help with this.
Additionally, make sure you have the things you will need to keep your ferret comfortable and safe after the procedure. This includes:
- Small, one level recovery cage
- Litterbox with a low entrance or newspapers/puppy pads to use in the toilet area
- High-calorie, high-protein food, such as duck soup, chicken baby food or supplements
- Light-colored, clean bedding such as old t-shirts or sweats
- Feeding syringes or droppers for water and food if the ferret cannot eat on its own
- Blanket or cage cover to put over the cage to hold in warmth and provide your ferret with privacy
You will need to set this up before the day of the procedure, so it will be ready for your ferret when you bring it home. The one level cage will keep the ferret restricted to a smaller area. Post-operative ferrets shouldn’t overexert themselves, and climbing ramps can put strain on the surgical area and even pull out external stitches. The low litter box or newspaper/puppy pads toilet area serves the same purpose. The light colored bedding will allow you to see if there is any seepage or bleeding, and it should be a fabric that external stitches can’t get caught on.
Once your ferret is home, it is up to you to keep it safe, comfortable and on the road to recovery. While this can sound like a daunting task, it can go smoothly if you have the right information at your disposal.
When you first bring your ferret home, you will need to keep it completely separate from the other ferrets for at least a few days to allow the surgical area time to start healing. The other ferrets will lick, clean or otherwise bother the incision, which could slow down healing or even cause an infection. While the ferret should remain in the recovery cage for at least one to two weeks, after the first few days you should be able to have supervised visits. (NOTE: If you have multiple ferrets, only one ferret should visit with the recovering ferret at a time.) This will help combat feelings of loneliness that the recovering fuzzy might have, and will help to stave off depression. If the surgery was very invasive and the healing process is going to be very drawn out, it is recommended that you put the recovery cage next to the regular cage, so that the recovering ferret doesn’t suffer from post-operative depression.
It is a judgment call as to when the recovering ferret can go back in with its cagemates. The wound must be scabbed over, totally dry (no seepage) or completely healed. If you aren’t familiar with surgeries or are unsure about how healed the area is, have your vet check out the surgical area to make sure that it is healed enough for the ferret to return to its normal routine.
Intake & Output (Feeding & Stools)
In most cases, you should be able to feed your ferret by the time you get home. Most vets will not allow the ferret to leave the hospital until it is recovered enough from the anesthesia to drink and eat. While many ferrets will eat their regular kibble five to six hours after surgery, you will definitely want to have some alternate soft foods available. These include Science Diet A/D, Gerber’s Chicken & Chicken Gravy Baby Food, and duck soup. There are a lot of recipes out there for duck soup. The main point of duck soup is to provide an easily digested, high calorie and high protein diet that is easy for the ferret to eat.
If your ferret refuses to eat, you will need to force-feed it. Contrary to what it sounds like, this doesn’t entail pushing food down your ferret’s throat! Never put the food straight back into the ferret’s mouth towards its throat. This can cause it to aspirate the food into its lungs, which can lead to an infection and even pneumonia. When using a dropper or feeding syringe, squirt food in the ferret’s mouth gently, and aim sideways or towards the front of its mouth. This will allow it to swallow the food at its own pace.
For those ferrets that need to be force-fed, it’s important to make sure they get enough to eat. Ferrets have a very short digestive process, so it’s important to feed recovering ferrets every three hours or so. This will help keep their blood glucose levels steady, and keeping them well nourished will help them to heal faster. If your ferret is just eating duck soup, it will need at least 60 cc’s every day to get the nutrition it needs. If you’re feeding every three hours, this is about 7.5 cc’s each feeding. The more it eats the better, but that should be the minimum.
Even if your ferret is eating only duck soup, leave the kibble in the cage at all times. You want it to be available to the ferret when it is recovered enough for dry food. If the ferret is resistant to switching back to regular food, moisten the kibble with water to make it soft. Keep in mind that this will make the food go bad if left in the cage, so you will need to change moistened kibble regularly.
When you first get home, don’t be surprised if your ferret’s stools are small. It hasn’t been eating much, so small stools are normal. Random strange stools are also normal. However, you want to keep a close eye on the stools, and if they are dark green or black and tarry, you will want to take the ferret back to the vet. This is a sign that the ferret is developing ulcers from the stress of the experience. You can read more about ulcers here, including symptoms and treatment. The vet will need to prescribe an antibiotic and a stomach protectant.
Don’t be overly concerned if your ferret acts somewhat lethargic when it first gets home. Surgery can be a very stressful experience for a ferret, between the procedure itself and the time spent in a strange place. Your ferret will probably sleep a lot, move slowly and have some scary looking bruises. This is all normal.
As mentioned earlier in this article, ferrets going through surgical recovery can suffer from depression. It’s important to spend lots of time with them, holding them and talking to them so they don’t get lonely. Ferrets that are depressed will often refuse to eat, which would make an already sensitive situation worse. It can delay or even stop the healing process. Dehydration can also result from depression, so be sure to monitor how much water your ferret is drinking. To tell if the ferret is dehydrated, scruff the ferret and then watch how quickly the skin goes back down. If it stays tented, the ferret is dehydrated and needs sub-q fluids, which your vet can administer.
AND TO SUM UP…
While this article is meant to give you an idea of the process of surgical recovery, it doesn’t cover everything. Every surgery will be different, so use this only as a guideline. Some procedures will involve long periods of recovery, during which your ferret will be very dependent on you. Other recoveries will take only a couple weeks or less. Your vet should be able to lay out for you the post-operative rules and what to expect. If you have any questions about the procedure being performed, don’t hesitate to ask. Any good vet will be happy to answer your questions fully, as it will help to ensure the health of the ferret.