Back in spring 2003, a lady called Laura got in touch with me regarding her albino jill Pandora who'd escaped into the woods for 2 weeks and come back pregnant. It is extremely likely that Pandora mated with a wild polecat as Laura lives on the edge of woods with nobody else near her. Anyway, Laura just wanted to know about rearing kits etc. so I helped her. I was also curious about the kits and asked if we could visit them. So when the kits were 6 weeks old, we went to see them (and Laura and Pandora of course!). The kits were adorable, as all kits are. ;-) When we got back home I kept thinking about the kits and whether to ask Laura if I could have one. My head said no as I have enough ferrets but as usual the heart won. I also thought it would be really interesting to see a hybrid grow up and see if their behaviour was different from "regular" ferrets. So I asked Laura if she had any kits left and if I could have one and one hob was left and Laura was happy for me to have him. :-)
So on Monday 2nd June '03 we went to fetch our baby. The babies were exactly 8 weeks old then. All the kits were still there so I had pick of the litter! I picked the darkest one and we called him Wesley. He was *very* shy even though Laura had socialised the little ones really well. The first day and night he was crying all the time, it was heartbreaking. Then Tuesday he cried a little bit and stopped towards the night. He immediately loved it here though, he was sooo excited when he got out for a run. Loved all the toys and pipes and everything. He started to interact with me more and bond with me but when I approached him, his first reaction was to run away.
Wesley became more tame during the second week he was here. When I came into the room, he still ran into a pipe straight away but then he also came out to play with me straight away. He is a very bouncy baby and bounces all over me. We have this game, he runs towards me and jumps up high so I can catch him. I then put him on the floor on his back and tickle his tummy so he runs away, turns around, runs towards me again and leaps into my arms/ hands again and he'll continue this game forever! :-)
What he also did for the first month was to bite hands a lot. Not nasty but he *loved* munching on hands. It hurt a little and he'd become more and more boisterous the longer he chewed hands so then I put him down on the floor to play with toys. He has now stopped the biting hands but he's so playful when he's out and will jump at me and bite the back of my arms for example, he just gets sooo hyper. ;-)
Laura gave the kits all sorts and everything to eat so it's such a pleasure to feed him, he eats chicken mince and chunks, pork, lamb, beef, he even had mackerel and trout at Laura's.
It was strange though how the other ferrets reacted to Wesley. Some were frightened and Rose even cried when I put him near her whereas Riley and Tara definitely wanted to kill him. Great, as Wesley was supposed to go into a group with Bella, Willow, Tara, and Riley...
Wesley is in Willow's group now. I think I put him in around the 12th/ 13th of July. "Soaked" him in Bitter Apple and yet Riley still attacked him. I mean the Bitter Apple made Riley spit but as soon as he'd recovered, he went after Wesley again. Tara had a go at him but not too bad and Willow hardly bothered him and Bella won't bother anybody now... I stopped the Bitter Apple after about half a week. Tara will sometimes go for Wesley and Willow as well but Riley and Wesley seem to be getting on now. Wesley *loves* Riley! To the point where he'll get amorous with Riley! Wesley is a very happy ferret and keeps dancing around everybody and Riley plays with him so those 2 play a lot. Usually I don't like putting kits into groups as they don't really defend themselves. But Wesley was heavier than anybody else in Willow's group and also faster and cleverer. So he could cope. Also he was yearning to be with other ferrets. We took him to Laura one day and he played with his sister, Truffle, for ages! Pandora, the mother, came to me for cuddles! I think you will almost always get some fighting when you add a ferret to a group. Wesley definitely has wild polecat markings and compared to my polecat ferrets he is so much darker.
Update September 2007
Wesley is doing fine, he is very alert, active and playful. We have ferret gates in the doors sometimes and he can jump them all. He can jump onto the bath and he was able to jump up all the radiators and get on window sills from there so we always had to close windows when he was out. For the last year he's been more quiet and has stopped jumping up radiators.
Sadly he's on his own now and has been on his own for just over a year. His friends Tara, Riley and Willow died way too young, Tara died February 2005 at the age of 3 1/2, Riley died April 2006 at the age of 4 1/2 and Willow died July 2006 at the age of 5. I had separated her from Wesley during May 2006 because Wes had started to pick on her. So he's been on his own since then. There's no way he would accept another ferret, he's downright violent with any other ferrets he meets. But he seems to be okay on his own and plays nicely and at night he loves to go out into the garden. When it's not too hot or cold outside, I sometimes take him for a walk with the dogs. He's a bit scared outside what with all the birds singing ;-) but does eventually get used to all the noises. He still does our game where he jumps onto my lap and into my arms when I sit on the floor and then I blow onto his tummy, lie him on his back on the floor and tickle his tummy and he jumps up and dances around, only to leap onto my lap and into my arms again. :-)
Who's been a naughty boy...
I tried to get Wesley into a group. I first tried Leo and Piper but Wesley attacked Leo quite badly so I separated them immediately. So I thought I try Wes with Jake, Phoebe and Kobi as Jake is the only ferret who is more fierce than Wes is. Jake quickly put Wes in his place and they sort of got on okay. But every now and again, Jake would have a go at Wes in the cage and I eventually had to separate them. Then I thought, maybe now that Wes has been put in his place, maybe he'll be nicer to Leo. So I let them have another run together and Wes was actually scared of Leo... They treated one another with respect and hardly fought at all. So after 5 or so days of letting them run together and them getting on pretty well, I thought I could put Wes in the cage with Leo and Piper but then Leo attacked Wes. I couldn't believe it. So they are not in the same cage but share their time out which works really well. I hope they'll become friends and then maybe one day they can be in a cage together. Leo likes Wes. :-) I had a little plastic bag on the floor and Wes had crawled in and then Leo crawled in with him and wanted to cuddle! Wes got scared and tried to bite Leo but Leo is having none of that anymore. I think Wes is settling down now and is not so scared of Leo and Piper anymore and they barely fight at all. Wes attacked Leo and Piper a few times but then they go absolutely berserk and chase him around. So now he thinks twice before he bites anybody. Today Piper was in some bedding on the floor and Wes crawled in there and I was expecting a squabble but no. So looks very promising. :-) I hope they'll be best friends soon, it would be so nice for Wes to have friends to sleep and play with. They are also of a similar age, Wes will be 5 this year and Leo and Piper will be 4.
Wesley has been in a cage with Leo and Piper for about a week or so now. They'd had time out together for about 3 weeks and got on so good that I took the plunge and put them in a cage together. They are in a 2 storey cage and were fine together right away. They only had one fight and have lived together peacefully apart from that. I can't believe I'm pretty much down to 3 groups, apart from Bobby on his own but he is free range in the lounge, he still has time out and runs around the house but he is not up for long so everything is easier now.
Leo, Wesley and Piper
Wesley and Leo
The day after Daisy was put to sleep (11/06/08), Wesley became very ill with severe/ explosive/ blood streaked diarrhoea. He didn't eat, needed sub-q fluids, and I thought he might die he was so bad. He lost 1/6th of his body weight and if he hadn't been a bit podgy, it would have looked bleak for him. He was on Flagyl and was better after 5 days and started eating again. I'd collected stools for a test but when he was better I unfortunately didn't have it sent to the lab. Leo got sick with explosive diarrhoea 2 days later but he still ate and wasn't nearly as sick. Got better without medication, he only got Kaolin. Then Nipper started with occasional vomiting and diarrhoea though his diarrhoea wasn't explosive nor bloody. He didn't want to eat and it was such a fight to get something into him. It continued for 2 weeks and then he suddenly was better again and is eating again all by himself now. Kobi suddenly developed bloody diarrhoea but it was just a 24 hour thing. So about half the ferrets had diarrhoea, some with vomiting, from mild to very severe, from 1 day to 2 weeks. All in all we had problems in a 3 week period. Doesn't make sense to me, I wonder what it was. In hindsight I wish I'd had stools tested.
Piper, Wesley and Leo
Wesley became ill yesterday. Or should I say he suddenly developed severe symptoms. He was a happy, healthy ferret as far as I knew, yesterday morning he still played and ate normally and a few days ago I was out in the garden in the frost and he was dancing around me the whole time. There's no way I would ever have thought that he was severely ill. He had coughed occasionally but not badly and not often. That was all. Apart from that he was playful and happy, appetite and stools/ urine normal.
Yesterday afternoon he suddenly looked flat, lethargic and depressed. I took him out of the cage and he was weak when I put him on the floor. At night he barely had the strength to walk, severe hind end weakness, also increased respiratory rate and watery eyes. I hand fed him a little bit of meat which he later brought back up. This morning he was extremely weak and awful looking. It reminded me of when Tara and Riley developed acute heart failure. He passed stools which were just mucus.
I took him to the vets as soon as Michaela was there. I told myself 'pull yourself together' but at the vets Wesley came out of his bed and collapsed in his toilet and I just started crying. They took me through straight away, Michaela did an x-ray and there was fluid in the chest cavity and it looked like there was fluid between the heart and pericardium so from that we thought pericarditis maybe. Michaela was starting to tell me about treatments but I knew Wesley was absolutely not well and didn't even want to try. I didn't want a repeat of Nipper. When I saw Wesley Thursday morning I knew he was dying.
The necropsy showed horrific changes in the chest. Michaela's first words when she opened his chest were "Oh my God" which means it was bad. Seeing it I have no idea how he appeared so perfectly healthy. There was bloody fluid in his chest, the right lung lobe looked completely destroyed, like a piece of jelly. There was necrosis. There was some puss. It looked a mess. And the smell was horrendous. When Michaela opened the abdomen, when the chest cavity was still intact, it smelled bad. When she opened the chest, I could barely tolerate the smell. Michaela thought he may have had pneumonia, maybe an abscess in his lungs which burst. I just can't get my head around it, he was still playing yesterday morning. 24 hours later he was at death's door. Surely those changes couldn't have happened in 24 hours??? But how could he have been so ill and not shown it? I know ferrets/ animals are stoic but I would have expected him to be at least quiet and sleepy, not running, playing and dancing.
I hope he didn't feel too ill, he would have felt bad for less than 12 hours. When I went to bed he looked ill but not as bad as in the morning so the infection must have knocked him over night. When I went to bed I was crying because I knew I would loose him but then I told myself it can't be. Like I said just a few days earlier Wesley was dancing around me in the garden for ages! I thought how could he possibly be dying now??? Wednesday morning he was eating and playing, Thursday morning he was dying. How bizarre and surreal.
Wesley did have the occasional little cough over the last few weeks or so but coupled with his playfulness, good appetite and otherwise completely normal behaviour, I dismissed the little cough. See, this is what I don't get, what I find so hard to cope with, that something was so badly wrong and yet he didn't show any symptoms.
Leo is on his own now. Just 3 weeks ago I thought I had a happy, healthy group of 3 ferrets and now just one is left. And Wesley of course was a special boy. And I'm in denial, emotionally shut down, like nothing happened. I guess it's just too much for me to cope with- so I don't...
The only good thing is that we put Wesley to sleep differently. So far they were always anaesthetised with gas and then got the euthanasia solution either IV or into the heart. I didn't like this, the ferrets hate the smell of gas and it always upset me that the smell of the horrible gas was their last experience in this world. So with Wesley we gave it as an IP (intraperitoneal- into the peritoneum (body cavity)) injection. We did this on Wesley because I thought it was the kindest solution. I have been talking to a lady in California since Nipper died and she had a ferret put to sleep with an IP injection and really liked it. Wesley was feeling so bad, there was no way I wanted to cause him distress with gas anaesthetic. He didn't show any pain when he got the injection and drifted off to sleep. It all seemed so much kinder.
I got Wesley's pathology report Tuesday and am just devastated. He died of bacterial bronchopneumonia. He must have developed an abscess or several which burst and caused the sudden symptoms. It kills me that this was something treatable, that his death could have been prevented. I asked myself why he hadn't shown any symptoms but of course he had, he'd had a slight cough every now and again. But other ferrets have coughed occasionally, I thought a hair had got stuck in their throats or something. You can bet that I will take any ferret with a slight cough to the vets now, even if they're fine in every other aspect, like eating fine and playing fine... Again I had no idea something like this could happen and I'm so angry that he didn't show symptoms that reflected the severity of his problem. He didn't have a fever or problems breathing or lost his appetite or was quiet and didn't have a severe cough. And how and why did he get this... We'd also found an insulinoma, he hadn't shown any symptoms of low blood glucose... Still waiting for the results from the bacterial swab.
Wesley's histopathlogy report
Sections from necropsy samples of multiple tissues from a 5.5-year-old, neutered male ferret, were examined microscopically.
LIVER: 1 sample received; 1 section examined. Microscopy reveals fairly marked sinusoidal congestion, otherwise this sample is largely unremarkable.
KIDNEY: 2 samples received; 2 sections examined. Like the liver, both kidneys are markedly congested. Microscopy additionally reveals moderate to marked thickening of glomerular capillary basement membranes, but there is minimal accompanying inflammation and no tubular proteinaceous casts.
SPLEEN: 1 sample received; 1 section examined. The splenic pulp is moderately expanded owing to a combination of congestion and moderate extramedullary haemopoiesis.
LUNG: 1 sample received; 1 section examined. Microscopy reveals severe, necrotizing, purulent bronchopneumonia and pleuritis. The mainstem bronchus is filled with partly necrotic, purulent exudate containing abundant filamentous, Gram-negative bacteria. The wall of the bronchus has been destroyed by the inflammation in places and inflammation extends throughout the pulmonary parenchyma. There is widespread alveolar flooding and haemorrhage. A thick layer of fibrino-necrotic material is present on the pleural surface, with underlying inflammatory exudate.
HEART: 1 sample received; 2 sections examined. There is moderate fibrosis and congestion of the papillary muscles, but the remainder of the myocardium is largely normal. A very mild inflammatory infiltrate is present in the epicardium.
SMALL INTESTINE: 1 sample received; 1 section examined. This is histologically unremarkable.
LARGE INTESTINE: 1 sample received; 1 section examined. Possibly slightly higher than normal numbers of mainly mononuclear leucocytes are present in the lamina propria, otherwise this is histologically unremarkable.
PANCREAS: 2 samples received; 2 sections examined. One of these is histologically unremarkable, apart from moderate autolytic damage. The other contains a small, encapsulated islet cell adenoma (aka insulinoma).
ADRENAL GLAND: 2 samples received; 2 sections examined. There is mild cortical hyperplasia In both of these adrenal glands.
LYMPH NODE: 3 samples received; 3 sections examined. These are congested, haemorrhagic and oedematous but show minimal lymphoid activity.
ADIPOSE TISSUE: 1 sample received; 1 section examined. This is mildly haemorrhagic, but in the absence of other accompanying pathological changes (inflammation, fibrosis etc.) this may well be post-mortem artefact.
DIAGNOSIS: Bacterial bronchopneumonia.
DISCUSSION: The cause of death was evidently severe, bacterial, bronchopneumonia. Several other changes were also identified in the tissues, including mild adrenal cortical hyperplasia and a small pancreatic islet cell tumour - common findings in middle-aged and older ferrets, but of questionable significance in this case. There is also evidence of membranous glomerulonephropathy - perhaps, but not unequivocally, an immune-mediated phenomenon secondary to the inflammation in the lungs. Congestion in the liver, kidneys and lymph nodes was probably agonal.
Wesley's bacterial swab
Aerobic and anaerobic culture and sensitivity
|Organism Isolated||Non-haemolytic Streptococcus||Bacillus spp||Bacteroides spp|
|Isolate 1 from Swab||Isolate 2 from Swab||Isolate 1 from Swab|
No further pathogens Isolated after prolonged culture.
Non-haemolytic streptococci are found on the mucous membranes and skin of healthy animals and if isolated from diseased tissue are usually regarded as contaminants or unimportant secondary invaders.
Bacillus species are numerous and are widely distributed in air, soil and water. While there are some highly pathogenic bacilli (e.g. B. anthracis, B. cereus), the majority of the Bacillus species have little or no pathogenic potential and occur simply as commensals on the animal.
Bacteroides spp are Gram-negative, obligate anaerobes that comprise one of the most numerous constituents of the vertebrate intestinal flora. They are also abundant in the oral cavity, where they are usually held in check by the host defences, but under appropriate circumstances they can become pathogenic, so it is possible that this isolate is aetiologically significant.