Female Domestic Ferrets that are not allowed to breed often contract a life-threatening disease known as Estrus-Associated Aplastic Anemia. Spaying your Ferret before she enters her first estrus cycle (the period during which she can become pregnant, also known as “heat”) is the best defense against this and other reproductive disorders.
A Unique Breeding Strategy
Ferrets and other members of the family Mustelidae (weasels, mink, otters and related species) have evolved a unique reproductive strategy known as induced ovulation. Unlike most mammals, female Ferrets do not ovulate (release eggs so that they may be fertilized) until the act of mating has occurred.
Another unusual twist to the breeding biology of Domestic Ferrets is the fact that unmated females will remain in their estrus cycle until they mate, or are spayed or chemically induced to ovulate. This phenomenon is not well studied in wild Ferret relatives, but has serious consequences for pet Ferrets (and, of course, for those who care for them).
Aplastic Anemia: Causes and Treatments
Remaining in estrus for unnaturally long periods, as would be the case for unmated pets, causes the female to be exposed to continually high levels of circulating estrogen. This in turn suppresses bone marrow production, and leads to a typically fatal bout of Aplastic Anemia. A swollen vulva and pale gums are the most easily discernible signs of the disease.
Aplastic Anemia is, as mentioned, best prevented by spaying at the appropriate time, but injections of Human Chorionic Gonadotrophin have also proven successful. While mating your female may seem to be an ideal option, Ferret breeding is far from a simple prospect. Inbreeding depression and Staph/E. coli infections, along with other complications, are common (please write in for further information).
Adrenal Gland Disorders
Domestic Ferrets are also prone to Adrenal Gland disorders, which may or may not be related to the female’s reproductive cycle. Hair loss and a swollen belly are common indications that something is amiss with the Adrenal Glands.
Surgical removal of one or both Adrenals is possible, and several medications hold promise. Recent studies have indicated that regular treatment with Lupron (Leuprolide acetate) may both treat and even prevent some of the most common Adrenal Gland problems (please see article below).
Lupron Therapy for Ferrets: written by Doctor Kevin Wright, a recognized leader in the field of exotic animal medicine. Please see the numerous related articles on the website as well.
Pathology of the Domestic Ferret: reproductive and other disorders.