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Hiccups and Odor Control in Domestic Ferrets

By Susan A. Brown

Hiccups and Odor Control in Domestic Ferrets -- By Susan A. Brown, D.V.M.

I have received a couple of letters since the last issue on two short subjects that I would like to address. The first involves hiccupping in ferrets. The writer noted that their ferret had hiccups frequently with no apparent relationship to any particular activity. A hiccup as defined by Webster’s dictionary is “a sudden, involuntary contraction of the diaphragm that closes the glottis at the moment of breathing”. It is not completely understood what starts the hiccups, but we are all familiar with a variety of remedies that can stop it in humans. In ferrets, it is relatively common, especially in younger animals. It is frequently associated with excitement, but may occur spontaneously also. It is really nothing to worry about and will go away on its own with no help at all. Some people have reported that giving a sugary treat, such as a hairball laxative (which is flavored with molasses), or raisins, or ice cream is helpful. However, be extremely careful with these treats, because the ferret’s pancreas is easily stressed with excessive sugar and the result can be diabetes. There are certain diseases (notably insulinoma) that may require that sugary foods be given more frequently, but in the healthy animal keep them to a minimum (hairball laxatives can be given in the amount of one inch every other day).

The other letter involved a young lady who had to return her already neutered and descented ferret to the pet store because her parents objected to the odor. The animal was only 8 weeks old. I have had a number of people that have complained about ferret odor and I have personally “smelled” the pet and noticed nothing offensive. My conclusion is that there are some people who will probably find any animal odor offensive, no matter how small it is (hence all the pet shampoos that aim at making the pet smell more like coconuts, apples, oranges or pine trees). If one is to keep a pet, no matter what kind, one must be willing to accept all the features that come with it including hair shedding, cleaning up after it as well as its individual body perfume. Personally, I find the “odor” of the ferret to be quite warm, earthy and friendly and not at all offensive, and I know many people who would agree with me. So, by all means, do not get a ferret or any other pet if you will be spending a lot of time trying to make it smell like something else, or trying to make it act or look like something other than it is.

Two other brief notes… Descenting a ferret does not automatically get rid of the odor, because 99% of the ferret “odor” is coming from the oil glands in the skin. Neutering the animal is all that is generally necessary to take care of the really strong body perfume. There are those cases in which the ferret is “spraying” the anal gland material frequently, or when the anal glands become infected at which time we surgically remove them. The other note I would like to make, is that if you have owned a ferret for a while and you notice a sudden change in its body odor (particularly in ferrets 3 and older), have an examination done by a veterinarian. Sometimes this noticeable change may be due to changes in the adrenal gland.

Well, as usual, give them all a hug and a kiss for me… and tell them you love them just the way they are!!!

[intlink id=”gcfa”]This article originally appeared in the July/August 1991 issue of "Off the Paw".[/intlink]