Ferrets: No descenting, thank you!

Opposite of what was being publicly said some years ago, de-scenting is a useless procedure, since a ferret’s characteristic scent is caused by the sebaceous glands located all around his hair, not only the anal glands, which are a defensive weapon used in case of fear or danger.

The procedure can be damaging as well, with the possibility of damaging the sphincter and causing the prolapse of the rectum.

If you do not wish to perform a “traditional” surgical neutering, there’s a new option which came out in the last few years, even in Italy, which, according to studies and observations that have been gathered, avoids some of the issues associated with the removal of the gonads.

This technique is the introduction of a sub-cutaneous implant that blocks the animal’s heat, with an effect lasting a couple of years.

Recognizing the heat

In the male, the testicles descend in the scrotum and become bigger, the musky scent becomes stronger and the male becomes more exuberant, especially towards other not neutered males, but even towards neutered/spayed males and females. The male will start marking his territory with his pee, which will have a vastly stronger scent.

Keeping the males’ testicles in check is important, because when the heat comes it might happen that either only one or none descend, in which case it is necessary to consult a vet, since this can cause serious issues. Sometimes the stuck testicle is removed to avoid such complications, or both are removed if inevitable.

In the female the vulva enlarges and takes on the appearance of a doughnut, with yellow-whitish droppings and an increase in the typical musky scent.

How long does the heat last

To recap, the heat starts with stronger odor, greasy coat (the yellowish grease is produced by the glands in the skin), nervousness, enlarged testicles in the males and swollen vulva in the females, pee around the house.

In the males, the heat will usually last from the end of December to July, in the females from March to October (although this may vary due to artificial lighting).

An important note: the female will not come out of heat until she is sterilized or mates, as her ovulation is induced during the coitus

The continuing heat in the female can even cause the death of the animal, due to the anemia induced by the excess of estrogen in the blood (hyperestrogenism).

It is IN NO WAY NECESSARY that the female ferret has a litter to complete her development or to prevent any disease. It is enough to sterilize her at the correct age (when she reaches sexual maturity) using the sub-cutaneous implant.

When the heat comes, it is quite heavy on some unlucky ferrets who, overtaken by the hormones, can completely change behavior.

You’re not facing Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde, your animal didn’t go crazy and you shouldn’t be scared, but you MUST instead understand how uneasy your animal is and help it in the best way possible.

It is QUITE IMPORTANT that the implant (chemical sterilization) is performed immediately in the females, no more than a week from the beginning of the heat, as already said, to avoid causing hyperestrogenism that can be fatal. For the males it’s still recommended to allow them to skip all the stress an nervousness of the heat.

The implant helps the function of the adrenal gland and the heat regresses, thus making the strong scent almost disappear as well.

Don’t de-scent your ferrets, it’s pointless and it’s a procedure that causes serious problems.

Some useful advice

Washing their covers, keeping their litters clean and their home tidy is the best way to avoid having smell issues. The glands underneath the tail are seldom used, just wipe them with a baby cloth and you’ll make short work of the smell, let some fresh air in the room and it will take little for the smell to go away.

It is also important to know that it’s a good thing that they fart from time to time, because otherwise the glands would need to be emptied by the vet, which is quite a painful procedure for the ferret.

Yet another thing: when they are in heat, it is WRONG to bathe ferrets continuously, you will just stress them out HUGELY while they try their hardest to replace the grease you removed with the bath, and the scent will come back stronger than before.

What might happen after the heat and right after the implant

Two things might happen.
– Strong aggressiveness (both in males and females)
– Fake pregnancy (only in female)

Let’s begin with the aggressiveness: suddenly your ferret bites, and bites strong, making you bleed and trying to drag you around the house, tries to mate with you, gets angry and won’t let the hold go. Might bite all of the family members and all of the animals with whom he played peacefully until yesterday.

What should you do? Absolutely NOTHING! After the implant patience is your greatest friend, while you wait for the effect to kick in. If necessary keep your ferret separated from the other family members, do not stress him/her, play without offering your hands or other body parts, try some cuddles when he/she is quiet and patiently wait at least 3/4 weeks.

DO NOT scold or punish your little friend! It’s not his or her fault, his (her) hormones are going crazy and all that is required is that he or she doesn’t stress out.

Fake pregnancy, your ferret will think she had babies and if she picks up a family member as a “child” she will try to bring him into her den to protect him from everything and everyone. For a month or so she will be all over you, she will bite you to move you around, she will lick you to clean you and she won’t let you go for a minute. Obviously, she will bite hard everything that can be of potential danger to her kin, including humans and other animals. Some female ferrets have attacked cats and dogs aiming for the neck and hoping to eliminate the menace once and for all! And keep in mind, they might have slept and played with them until the day before.

If she picks up toys as babies you could become a danger in her head, so leave her alone and don’t force any cuddles or interaction, to avoid strong and painful bites!

Once more: never wait, as soon as you ferret goes in heat bring her to the vet, the more you wait the more you risk hyperestrogenism and other bad issues.

As with every animal, in the end, what they really need for their well being are a whole lot of love and a lot of patience!

Have fun with your ferrets!

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