Nicholas Everitt.

Ferrets : their management in health and disease with remarks on their legal status online

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a year.

Concerning the all-important question
of blood, or pedigree, practical and long
experience will best answer the question.
Some advocate pure blood only ; others
the reverse. Some advocate breedinsr


large ferrets, others medium, and others
again small. Each have their own argu-
ments, and, after all said and done,
hold to their own convictions. This
maxim, however, appears to be ac-
cepted : Let your prime object be to
produce a healthy strain of good strong

As to size, a debatable point arises,
and much could be written upon the
advantages and disadvantages of large,
medium, or small-sized ferrets. It is a
mistake to argue that a larger ferret will
work better than a medium or small one,
and vice-versd ; also, that large ferrets are
best for rabbits, and small ferrets for rats.
Both arguments are equally fallacious.
Ferrets are at all times animals of vary-
ing dispositions, and unless their food,
lodging, and comfort are studied, results
will not always be satisfactory. In breed-
ing, the generality of ferret keepers prefer
to produce the medium size to any others.




To cross between a pure-bred ferret
and a dog polecat ferret, one would be

Fig. 22.— First Cross — From a Wild Polecat.
The property of Mr, Charles Wood, of Harleston, Norfolk.

guided in a great measure by the re-
spective sizes of the dog and jilL Pole-,
cat ferrets as a rule produce large-sized
progeny, but if the jill be small and the
dog not over large, a happy medium will
be the result. In using polecat dog


ferrets it is argued, and apparently with
good reason, that the young are more
fierce, lively, and better workers than the
pure-bred white ferrets. This may be so,
but each have their advantaeres. There

Fig. 23.— Secojid Cross— From a Polecat- Ferret.
The property of Mr. Charles Wood, of Harleston, Noifoll:

is a slow, methodical, business-like way
about the small white ferret with pink
eyes which attracts one and lends a
partiality for that breed, especially when
required for rabbits. And if the polecat
cross are quicker, more ferocious, and


have more dash, they are not so docile to
handle (in many cases a great considera-
tion), and are more inclined to lay up or
more quickly tire out.

The "Points" of a Ferret

In selecting the dog ferret, after having
considered its antecedent repute for health
and stamina, we should take note of its
points and general appearance. Its body
should be slim, lengthy, and muscular, its
legs and feet sound and strong, its face
sharp, fur clean, glossy, and thick, and it
should be quick in movement. A stumpy,
large-headed, dull-looking animal should
not be used for breeding purposes; nor
should any ferret that is not in the
soundest health and condition. A period-
ical mixture of blood is not only to be
encouraged, but is essential to success, and
practical experiment will do more to teach
the uninitiated than all the books and
articles ever written.

gestation 63


The dog ferret selected, let liim be
placed with the jill at least twice during
a period of three days. Some keepers
allow the two to be together for three or
four days, but this is hardly advisable.
The period of gestation lasts from forty-
two to forty-five days, and the young
average from six to ten in number.
During gestation the jill may be used for
working if required, but not within three
weeks of her time. She should then be
placed in a separate hutch, well fed, and
carefully looked after. When thirty-seven
or thirty -eight days have expired, her
sleeping compartment should be thor-
oughly cleaned out, a fresh bed made, and
the compartment closed up for the next
month. Some people say that a fortnight
from the allotted time is quite sufficient
to keep the compartment closed, but it is
better to err (if err at all) on the right


side rather than the wrong, and we would
advise a month. If the young are looked
at during this time the jill will most
probably destroy them. Whilst she is
in young, feed her well with warm bread
and milk, giving flesh food once daily,
but do not let her take the latter into the
sleeping compartment.

Ferrets in Early Infancy

Three weeks after birth the young may
be looked at. This can best be done
when the jill is feeding outside. Fresh
straw may be given them at this time,
but when doing so allow the old straw to
remain, nor should it be removed until
the young ones are sufficiently large to
come out and feed with their mother.
When three months old the young may
be removed to a separate hutch, where it
is as well to keep them a month before
mixing them with others. When tliey


first begin to come out to feed with their
mother, feed them three times a day, or
even four. They will not then pull the
jill down so much, and she will be ready
all the sooner to rear and nurture them
better. If the jill is in young the first
week in May, another litter may be ex-
pected by the first week in September.

Watch the young ones carefully when
they first begin to come outside — it is
the most dangerous period of their exist-
ence. They are more apt to be lost then
than at any other time. If one of their
number be taken ill, looks melancholy,
draggled or weakly, it must be instantly re-
moved to a clean, warm hutch by itself. It
can be there better looked after, dosed with
medicine if occasion requires, and it will
not communicate its ailment to the others.
When three months old the young may
be transferred from the hutches to the
yards or courts, or training hutches, in
accordance with the views of their owners.


Ailments and diseases — Distemper — Insects — Diseases
of the foot — Skin diseases : red mange or blotch
— Worms — Rat-bites.

Ailments and Diseases

Delicate hy nature, delicate to handle,
delicate in their |9A?/5icaZ capacities.
Such a description aptly applies to the
objects of our attention. Ferrets are in-
deed delicate creatures, and those who
imagine they will be able to keep them
for any length of time, without their
escaping the ills that flesh is heir to,
will find themselves very much mistaken.
But at any time prevention is better
than cure, and if ferrets are well looked
after, and hutches are thoroughly cleaned


at frequent intervals, disease may in a
great measure be avoided.


When young, ferrets are very liable to
the " sweats," or, in more polite parlance,
distemper. This disease is apparently a
specific fever, the result of poison in the
blood, so therefore, although it can be
hoped in some measure to mitigate the
sufferings and to shorten the period of the
attacks by careful treatment, it should be
remembered that the disease must run its
course, and the advertised nostrums of
the certain cure in a few hours will be
wisely avoided. Very often a cold which
a ferret has contracted is thought to be a
case of distemper, and the older the ferret
the milder, as a rule, is the attack. A
cold or a very mild attack of distemper
can generally be cured by simply placing
the afflicted animal in a fresh, clean,


warm hutch, and by feeding it up, well
and often, with good and warm food.
Ordinary distemper first makes itself
apparent by the following symptoms : —
Gradual loss of appetite, general dulness,
gliding gradually into a state of fever,
with hot nose, thirst, and constipation.
The nose and eyes commence running
clear water at first, but afterwards this
becomes purulent. The heat of the skin
is more and more apparent, especially
inside the thighs, and the ferret is ema-
ciated and prostrate.

Often the unfortunate animal is at-
tacked with a complication which affects
the head, chest, or stomach, and it must
be treated accordingly. But to put much
into a few words, in very severe cases it
is generally better for all concerned, and
more humane, to at once put the afflicted
little beasts out of their misery, than to
attempt to prolong their sufferings by
treatments which frequently fail, whilst


the contagion gains ground and spreads
to others.

In order the better to understand the
cure we will imagine a ferret is afflicted.
Should it be an ordinary case of distemper,
we first prepare a clean, dry, airy hutch,
which is warm and free from draught.
This hutch, having been pre23ared as
before described (under the head of
''' Breeding and Management ") is ready
for use. The ferret is then bathed in
warm water — not too warm — in which
has been diluted some Condy's Fluid
(about a teaspoonful to a pint of water).
It is afterwards carefully rubbed dry,
wrapped in warm flannel, and deposited
in the hutch. See that all matter and
pus is carefully washed from the eyes and
nose, and if the case is a bad one the
bathing of these organs may be repeated
later in the day, and a little cold cream
or vaseline applied afterwards. Feed at
first sparingly and with the best, warm,


fresh milk (with the cream on), arrow-
root, eggs and milk beaten up, milk, and
beef tea. As the animal gets better, give
food oftener, gradually making it more
and more substantial, not much at a time,
but little and often.

Cod-liver oil is another remedy often
advocated, but many ferrets are put back-
ward more than they are benefited by
its use. This may be accounted for in
two ways : Firstly, the cod -liver oil is
given to them before the stomach is in a
fit state to bear it ; secondly, the doses
administered are too large. If given a
few drops at a time, and certainly not
more than once a day, it will be found to
be of material assistance.

Keep the sufferer absolutely quiet and
away from any possible excitement ; if
constipated, give a few drops of castor
oil ; if the reverse be noticeable, a little
laudanam may be added to the cod -liver
or castor oil which is being administered.


Should the head be afflicted as well,
the disease becomes more complicated,
and the hopes of a successful cure are not
so great. The treatment is similar to
that mentioned above, and one must trust
to beef tea, milk, cream mixed with yolk
of eggs and a little port wine to pull
through ; the medicine in all cases being
subservient to good nursing and careful,
cleanly management.

If the stomach is affected, with or with-
out distemper, it is easy to pick out the
animal suffering from the complaint. Its
face is pinched and miserable looking ; it
is evidently in pain, as is evidenced by
its short, sharp cries ; its back is arched,
as if to relieve the muscles of its stomach,
and its tail is generally trailing along the
ground in a lifeless kind of manner, look-
ing unnatural. Moreover, it avoids the
others and lies down by itself in seclusion.
When handled a local tenderness will be
noticed. The best treatment is to keep


as quiet as possible, giving small doses of
laudanum to relieve the pain, and feed as
mentioned above.

When the chest is affected, the treat-
ment is similar, only the ferrets must be
watched more closely, and when a change
from high fever to debility is noticed, one
should endeavour to counteract it by diet.

A friendly correspondent, who handles
at least 500 ferrets per annum, sent the
following letter to the author as this book
was on the point of going to press : —

" Some few years ago a friend of mine, keep-
ing apmething like a dozen ferrets, had an out-
break of that ferret scourge, distemper, amongst
them. When all but one were dead, he called
me to look at the survivor. It was in a sad
condition, with eyes and nose completely
clogged with thick mucous discharge, and
scarcely able to stand. Seeing there was no
water in the hutch, I asked why that was.
He replied, ' They were so ravenous to drink,
that I was afraid to keep too much water with
them, for fear it might injure them.' I said,


' Well, the ferret can but die ; let it have as
much cold water as it will drink.' After
cleansing its skin and providing the animal
with a clean hutch, we gave it all the cold
water it would drink, and we were astonished
at the quantity it drank for a day or two ; at
last it began to eat a little food, and from that
time it gradually recovered, and was eventually
as well and healthy as possible."


Always examine your ferrets closely
from time to time ; once a week will not
be too often. If insects are discovered,
use Messrs. Chamberlin and Smith's
phenic powder freely, inside as well as
outside the hutches, and by rubbing
it into the animals' coats. In bad cases
bathe the ferrets in a solution of quassia
wood, which any chemist will supply
you with ; about an ounce of chips to a
gallon of water. Sometimes a large
tick will be found on the head and neck


of ferrets, which can only be dislodged with
difficulty. It should be picked off and
the animal treated as above mentioned.

Warm weather, a hot, foul hutch, and
filth are generally the causes of the
presence of these obnoxious little visitors,
and such a state of circumstances assists
them to multiply alarmingly in an in-
credibly short space of time. They
are a much greater nuisance than would
be supposed, and from their constant
biting and the irritation they cause they
render ferrets nervous, excitable, and
difficult to handle. They interrupt sleep,
appetite, and often pave the way for
disease. By constant biting and scratch-
ing, in vain endeavours to rid themselves
of these pests, ferrets disfigure their
skin, and often bring about sores which
are liable to be mistaken for diseased
skin, and wrongly treated. If these
sores are found, dress them with a little
cart grease, vaseline, or lard. Sometimes


the ferrets' coats are soaked with olive oil
or warm castor oil, but in this treatment
care must be taken the animal does not
catch cold, and the oil should be washed
off the coat within twelve hours.

Other treatments recommended are oil
of aniseed mixed with common oil, car-
bolic acid and nicotine, corrosive subli-
mate, turps, sulphuret of calcium. These
should all be used with caution, but the
simpler remedies of quassia and insect
powder will generally be found sufficiently
effective for the purpose.

Keating's powder, which consists of the
pulverised flowers of Pyrethrum roseum,
is also advocated, but it will be found
more expensive than phenic powder, and
not more effective. Either can be rubbed
into the coat with the hand, or blown in
by means of an india-rubber puff-ball.
After doing this it is advisable to wash
the animal every morning, and give clean
straw in the hutches, adding plenty of


sweet pine sawdust besprinkled with the
insect powder.

The ticks alluded to belong to the
section Ixodes of the family Acarida;
after their removal treat the animal as
above described as for the more serious
cases. Lice may be treated similarly
to fleas.

Diseases of the Foot

Keep your ferrets' toe-nails short, and
it will not be found a disadvantageous
plan to dip their feet once every fourteen
days in turpentine to keep them clean.
Foot-rot is one of the worst diseases ferrets
are subject to, and almost invariably arises
from want of cleanliness. A simple pre-
ventative is to always wash their feet
after working. The symptoms of this
complaint are very apparent ; they are
the same as severe inflammation and, if
unattended, lead to ulcers and sores.


which are sometimes so severe that the
root of the tail becomes affected.

The treatment is simple. Clean the
hutch well, and sprinkle a plentiful supply
of pine sawdust about the floor. Bathe
the feet in water in which about two or
three pennyworth of permanganate of
potash has been dissolved. Dress with
a weak solution of carbolic acid and water,
and in very severe cases it may be found
necessary to poultice, wrapping the feet
in rags wetted with the solution last
named, or with a solution of chloride of
zinc. An occasional run in long grass is
good for them, and helps to keep their
feet in good condition. Should ulcera-
tions appear, or the toe-nails drop ofi'
or have to be removed, the aid of
astringent lotions must be resorted to,
and the diseased places now and again
touched with a solution of nitrate of silver,
or a little blue ointment, the feet of course
being encased in rag.


Skin Diseases

A little sulphur mixed in the straw of
the sleeping compartment is not a bad
preventative of red mange or blotch.
This disease is closely allied to eczema, if
indeed it is not the same. Ferrets are
more liable to it when weakened by dis-
temper than at any other time, and it
is occasioned by sudden alterations of
temperature, foul hutches, filth, and other
causes. The symptoms are itch, redness,
or inflammation of the skin, especially
upon the sides, the rump, and the back,
small sores and scabs, discharging pus
and matter causing the fur to become
damp and matted together in lumps and
patches. A part of the body is sometimes
covered with small dry scales, and the
hair falls off. Not only is the chest, back,
and legs affected, but the lips, the eyes,
and the ears often present a swollen


appearance, and in the severer cases be-
come quite closed up.

The treatment is best commenced with
moderate doses of opening medicine.
Occasionally wash the ferret with luke-
warm water and a little disinfectant soap,
taking care to dry it well afterwards, and
anoint the affected parts with mild lotions
of lead, zinc, alum, or a weak solution of
nitrate of silver, or carbonate of soda.


Why ferrets should be troubled with
this complaint often causes wonder, but
the fact remains that it is more often than
otherwise encountered by every ferret
keeper who has had any experience.
Symptoms need not be searched for, as
the obnoxious pests make their presence
apparent, sooner perhaps than any other
disease to which ferrets are subject.

For treatment use butter balls, con-


taining freshly -grated areca nut, kamala,
or pure santonine, giving a small dose of
castor oil the day before this medicine is
administered. Let the ferret fast for
twelve hours, so that the stomach and
intestines are quite empty, then give the
anthalmintic medicine, followed by a few
drops of castor oil, or cod-liver oil about
an hour afterwards.

As soon as the ferret is clear of worms,
feed it up well, in order to get it into its
naturally strong and healthy condition.


Various are the cures advocated for
rat-bites, which have to be treated oftener
than any other ailment.

Old rat-catchers almost all use turpen-
tine, which, though somewhat painful, is
certainly effective.

The more modern school of ferret
keepers apply pure carbolic acid to the


wounds by means of a small piece of clean
wood, being careful to avoid excessive

Other remedies are sweet oil, carbolic
oil, and a herbal ointment advertised by
Mr. George Reader, of 6 Chamber Coombs
Terrace, Ilfracombe, Devon.

Eat-bites, if not attended to at once,
are wont to result in blood poisoning,
which often causes the death of the ferret
bitten, acute tuberculosis commonly super-
vening at a variable date after the bite.
An antiseptic remedy is, therefore, indi-
cated, and the sooner it is applied the
better is the chance of success.



This subject has been selected before
" Handling and Working " because, when
dealing with the latter, references may-
arise which make it essential that muzzling
and coping should be properly understood.

Working ferrets to rabbits, and train-
ing them to that branch of sport, for
which they are in most request, is next
to an impossibility unless muzzling and
coping are thoroughly understood, both
theoretically and practically.

Muzzles are few in number, and in the
author's opinion they are more disadvan-
tageous to successful results than other-
wise. It is an undeniable fact that no


ferret will work as well with a muzzle as
it will when coped, and the reason wdll be
apparent when the reader has considered
the various devices placed before him.
Muzzle No. 1 is a combination which


Fig. 24.— Muzzle No. 1.

can be used in several ways, and in order
to explain, lettering has been added to
the diagram. C D is the collar, which
fastens round the neck of the ferret by
the assistance of the buckle A. E F is
the nose band or jaw muzzle, which pre-
vents the ferret from biting or opening its
mouth. E C, F D, G H, G H are distance


straps, which can be lengthened or short-
ened at will by means of the buckles at
A. F B A is a mouth strap.

It is not really necessary to have four
distance straps, and many people use
muzzles with only two, those most in
favour being E C and F D. Nor is it
usual to have the buckles A upon these
distance straps, as they increase the
weio'ht and add a clumsiness to the

It is customary to have the distance
straps plain, of very thin leather, two in
number, and without the buckle perma-
nently sewn to the straps or bands at E,
G, G, F, C and D, and loose round the
collar at H and H, although they are
fixed sometimes there by means of the
buckle A, or by a small piece of stiff
wire, as shown at J.

The idea of having tiny buckles upon
these distance straps A is apparent, and
should hardly need explanation. The


chief object of this invention is to pro-
vide a muzzle which can be fitted to any
ferret, large or small.

The mouth strap F B A is another ad-
dition to the ordinary muzzle of this class,
and can be used or not, just as desired.
The small strap, which is as thin and
narrow as it is possible to make it, is
passed behind the canines in the ferret's
mouth and fastened beneath the jaw on
the buckle A. Thin ends of a whipcord
strand are more often used for this in
preference to a strap, which in reality can
scarcely be made small and thin enough.

It is rarely that one of these combina-
tion muzzles is met with, and it is doubt-
ful whether the reader is ever likely to
see one unless he has one made ; but the
author desires to place everything within
his knowledge before the reader, and leave
him to exercise his own choice in selec-
tion. Muzzle No. 2 is another almost
obsolete contrivance which has found


but little favour with ferret owners, and
no one who looks at it or tries it will
wonder thereat. It consists of a leather
strap and buckle, which can be taken up
tight or loose round the ferret's neck, as
with the collar strap in Muzzle No. 1.

Fig. 25.— Muzzle No. 2.

Attached to the forward edge of this strap
is a wire cagework, as shown in the sketch.
The end of the cagework is narrowed near
where the nose of the ferret would come,
and interwoven with other strands, but
these are not extended beyond, or quite
as far as, where the ferret's eye would be.
The result is a secure muzzle, and the


wire being pliable does not at all affect
the elasticity of the collar strap.

In theory the invention looks a good
one^ but the inventor has ignored the
practical reasoning which would arise in
the minds of those accustomed to working
muzzled or coped ferrets. Immediately a
ferret nears a rabbit or a rat, nature im-
pels it to rush forward and attempt to in-
sert its teeth in some vital part. But
when its head is encased in a wire basket
of this description, what happens ? Why,
the wirework is forced back upon the un-
fortunate ferret's nose, as the collar strap,
although not permitting the muzzle to
come forward, does not prevent its run-
ning a little backward, sufficiently to
press the nose of the unlucky wearer. A
few trials of this kind are sufficient for
the ferret ; he loses his dash, injures his
nose and face trying to displace the head-
gear, refuses to work or gets sulky and
lays up. Verbum sap.


Muzzle No. 3 is an invention which
furnishes another instance of more imj)ort-
ance being attached to theory rather than
to practice.

Several of these muzzles were given to
the author to experiment with (and report

thereon), which he
did, at the time, in
company with an
old and experienced
keeper, w^ho had
manasred ferrets for

Fig. 26.— Muzzle No. 3. .

sixty years and up-
wards. It was the old story over again.
Muzzles will not do when copes can be

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Online LibraryNicholas EverittFerrets : their management in health and disease with remarks on their legal status → online text (page 3 of 8)