Parents of any fur baby dread the sound of screaming. Without a way for your pet to tell you what the problem is, it’s up to you to figure out what’s wrong and what you can do about it. It can be a lot of pressure, especially if your pet is acting in a way you’ve never seen before.
Before you panic, you need to understand some basic ferret facts. Because while some ferrets can be rather vocal creatures, screaming is not a common sound (or one you want to hear). It takes a lot to make a ferret scream, and while it can be startling and incredibly loud, it’s not always a sign of concern. Sometimes they’re just letting everyone know that they’re quite unhappy. Prolonged screaming, just like any significant change in behavior, definitely warrants a visit to the vet, though. They might be trying to tell you about a more serious problem.
Ferrets can scream for many reasons. From medical concerns to extreme emotions, loud vocalizing is likely to get your attention, whether that was your pet’s intention or not. Here are some of the reasons your ferret keeps screaming, and what you can do to help them feel better.
One common reason ferrets won’t stop screaming is simply being scared. If they’re feeling cornered or threatened in some way, they might vocalize to express their fear, whether in screams or cries. A loud sound can also be a defense mechanism when they feel trapped; by screaming, they may startle their foe and open up an opportunity to escape.
If you have more than one ferret, watching the way they interact is probably a good idea, especially if you notice some tension between them. If you hear screaming on multiple occasions, though, this may be a bigger issue than someone simply getting startled. You may have to separate your ferrets if problems persist.
Screaming accompanied by twitching, rigidity, or erratic tongue movements might be the signs of a seizure. It can be incredibly scary to witness, but in this case your ferret is not necessarily screaming in pain — vocal cords often become active during a seizure (via Ferret Society of Canberra).
A common cause of seizures in ferrets is a kind of pancreatic tumor called insulinoma, which is thought to be caused by an over-secretion of insulin in the pancreas over time. If you suspect your ferret is seizing because of insulinoma, try feeding them a few drops of corn syrup or honey water to stabilize them while you contact your nearest vet. This is a very serious condition and should have professional intervention as soon as possible.
Some ferrets are just born a bit different! Waardenburg syndrome is a genetically inherited condition that causes deafness in a lot of its inheritors. Animals who can’t hear themselves may just not know how loud they’re being, so their screams might be innocent, like excited sounds of play or surprise.
Waardenburg syndrome is becoming more and more common with the prevalence of ferret breeding, but, fortunately, it doesn’t severely impair any animal who inherits it. This includes people! It causes minor neurological defects, with deafness being its staple characteristic. In ferrets with Waardenburg syndrome, you might also notice a white streak along the back of their head (or even a white head altogether).
Unfortunately, screaming from your ferret can sometimes mean they’re in pain. Although ferrets can be vocal, they’re not known to complain unless they’re deeply agitated, so a ferret who is screaming in pain really isn’t faking it.
Whether or not an injury is obvious, it’s always a good idea to double-check with your vet before trying any at-home remedies. Ferrets will be killed by even a small amount of an over-the-counter medication like Tylenol or ibuprofen, so don’t risk it even if they won’t stop screaming. There are no safe medications to give a ferret at home, but your vet can prescribe an anti-inflamatory or steroid if they think it will help.
While it might be hard to see your ferret in distress, they probably are not in a condition to be handled if they’re screaming in pain. Even if the pain itself isn’t severe, your ferret might be a bit scared and grumpy, too, so an unwanted hand in their face might be enough to warrant a bite.
If you suspect your ferret is in pain, call and check in with your vet. It’s by far the safest option when your ferret won’t stop screaming. Noise from your pet doesn’t always mean something terrible is happening, but it’s always something that warrants your attention.
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