Ferret owners are sometimes concerned about the condition of their ferret’s coat. Usually the conditions they are observing are perfectly normal, and there is no cause for concern. However, some hair conditions can be a sign of an underlying health problem and require a visit to your veterinarian. The following information may help you decide what is normal and what is not.
1. Molting – The number of hours of light per 24-hour period is called a photoperiod and can greatly affect your ferret’s coat. The most obvious sign of this is molting. Every spring your ferret will shed its fluffy winter coat and grow a sleeker new one. In the fall, the summer coat is changed for a winter one. Hair loss is usually gradual, but some ferrets shed their whole coat overnight, leaving them with almost no hair for several days. Sometimes the guard hairs (the longer surface hair with the distinctive color) come out first, leaving only the woollier, pale yellow undercoat. The hair may come out in patches, giving the ferret a moth-eaten appearance. This is normal and within days, shiny new short hair can be seen coming up through the undercoat. If the hair does not regrow, consult with your veterinarian.
2. Tail alopecia – Some ferrets (most commonly males) lose most or all of the hair on their tail every summer. The tail begins to look like a rat’s tail, with scaly skin, sparse, bristly hair and blackheads. This is a very unattractive but harmless occurrence with no known cause. Sometimes the hair grows back with or without treatment. Usually when the ferret changes his coat in the fall, the tail hair regrows, but he is likely to lose it again the next spring.
3. Hair loss caused by hormonal imbalance has a distinct pattern. The hair thins at the base of the tail and inside the legs first, and then gradually is lost over most of the body, often sparing the tip of the tail and the head. Common causes are adrenal gland tumors and prolonged heat periods. Jills (intact females) in heat will grow the hair back when they go out of heat or are spayed. Ferrets with adrenal tumors will develop other more serious problems. If the ferret is spayed, and begins to show hair loss in the described pattern take her to your veterinarian.
4. Hair growth following surgery or other medical treatment may take a long time (weeks to months). Just before the hair of dark-colored ferrets begins to come in, the skin will turn black or dark blue, alarming owners who haven’t seen this happen before. It is just a sign that the hair follicles are making hair pigment, and it will be only a few days before the new coat is evident.
5. If your ferret is itchy, look for these possible causes:
- Ferrets often scratch when they first wake up
- Fleas (check between the shoulder blades)
- Frequent baths with harsh shampoos or failure to rinse thoroughly
- Contact allergy usually involves one area of the body
- Food allergies involve the entire body
- "Generic" or low-quality grocery store cat food, or a nutritionally poor diet low in animal fats
- Sarcoptic mange (see your veterinarian)
- Older ferrets (more than 4 years) with other symptoms, such as an adrenal gland tumor (see your veterinarian)
As always, you should consult with your veterinarian annually for a complete check-up or more often if you suspect your ferret has an abnormal hair condition.