The hot summer months are almost upon us. Ferrets are very prone to heat exhaustion and heat stroke during this time. Ferrets do not tolerate temperatures of 75 degrees and over very well. Why you may ask? Ferrets have very few, if any sweat glands on their body. Any that they may have do not function; so unfortunately they have no real way to "sweat" and cool their bodies down. So during these hot temperatures, it is our job as their owners to keep them as cool as possible.
There are several ways of doing this.
- an air conditioner or oscillating fan works very well. Since ferrets do not sweat, these will not actually cool the ferrets themselves down, but will help keep the room at a comfortable temperature for them. Keep them out of the direct flow of the cold air or at least a good distance away or they may catch a cold;
- keep the ferret's cage out of direct sunlight. Preferably in a cooler, shaded area of the room;
- change the water in the ferret's water bottle frequently to keep it from getting too warm. I have changed my ferrets' water 2-3 times on very hot days. Some water bottles have extra large spouts so you can put ice cubes in their water;
- If your ferret has a cage with multiple levels, put extra water bottles in the cage (one for each extra level) and make sure they are easily accessible to them. When it is extremely hot, some ferrets won't drink because their water bottle may be on another level of the cage. Think about how during hot temperatures you don't feel like moving around much. Ferrets are the same way, so the closer and more accessible the water bottle is, the better;
- Try putting linoleum down on the floors of the cage. This gives them something cool to lay on;
- Offer a heavy crock bowl (to avoid spillage) with a couple of watered down ice cubes in it for them to lick;
- Take a couple of empty 1 or 2 liter soda bottles, and fill them with water. Place them in the freezer overnight. Then wrap one or both in a thin towel and place them in the ferret's cage. This also offers them something cool to lay on. These can also be used in pet carriers when you have to take your ferrets to the vet on hot days (especially if your car has no air conditioning);
- You can use a plant spray bottle to "mist" your ferrets with cool water;
- You can also fill your bathtub with an inch or two of cool water and let your ferrets play in that for a while. If you'd rather not use your tub, you can use a large plastic storage container, instead;
- Avoid taking your ferret outdoors. If you must take them outside, do so during the cooler hours of the day. If you take them out for walks on a harness during the hotter temperatures, not only will the heat be unbearable, but the scorching sidewalks will burn their sensitive paw pads;
These are ways to help keep your fuzzy cool, but many ferrets will suffer from heat exhaustion regardless. There are several symptoms of heat exhaustion/heat stroke to watch for. These are: open mouth breathing/panting, lethargy, "flat ferret"--a ferret who is just laying flat everywhere and is extremely inactive, vomiting, dark red paw pads, nose and gums, shallow, rapid breathing, and dehydration. Dehydration in ferrets can be detected by doing a "skin turgor". A skin turgor is when you pull up the skin on the scruff(back) of the ferrets neck and see how long it takes for the skin to return back to normal. If it goes back down immediately, the ferret is most likely well hydrated; if it goes back down slowly, the ferret is dehydrated. If the ferrets gums feel moist to the touch, he's hydrated; sticky and/or dry means he's dehydrated.
If you notice your ferret is beginning to suffer from the heat, there are a couple of things you can do to bring his body temperature down. If none of these help, take him to a ferret knowledgeable vet ASAP.
Take a washcloth and run it under cool water. Wring it out and place it on the bottoms of the ferret's feet. You can also gently lower the ferret's body (not the head) into a sink full of room temperature water. Do not put cold water in the sink. Lowering a ferret with heat exhaustion or stroke into cold water will be a shock to their system and may cause additional problems. Try misting the ferret with the spray bottle and see if this helps. Again, if none of these helps, a trip to your ferret's vet for treatment and subcutaneous or intravenous fluids is strongly advised.