Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Neutering your ferrets.

Most ferret owners choose to neuter their ferrets. Neutering is mainly undertaken to prevent breeding, but it is also done for other reasons. Females once in season need to be taken out of season. This is because they are induced ovulators, meaning they only ovulate through coitus. If they are not taken out of heat they will eventually get aplastic anaemia caused by high oestrogen levels. This can be done artificially by jill jab or implant, naturally by breeding (not generally advised) or she can be serviced by a vasectomised male. Using a vasectomised male can lead to phantom pregnancies and the spread of diseases.
Males will have a strong odour if kept intact and can have behaviour problems such as aggressiveness. Once neutered the smell reduces, they often become more sociable and playful. There has also been an increase in coat condition in castrated males.
There has been a link between neutering and a reduced risk of developing tumours in the reproductive organs.
Lets have a little look at the different methods that can be used to neuter ferrets.

  • The jill jab. This is a hormonal injection that is used to either prevent or stop a season. They are designed to last the entire breeding season but it has been known for owners to have to repeat the jabs in the same year as jills can come back into season if the jab 'wears off'. Jill jabs need to be given every year to prevent a jill coming into season. 
  • The implant. The implant works in much the same way as an injection, it prevents the female ferret from coming into season and becoming pregnant. The implant can last up to 18 months although as with the jill jab the effects can wear off sooner. The implant is not yet widely used, so a chat with your trusted exotic vet would be the best course of action.
  • Spay. The spay can be done from around 6 months of age, there is much debate as to whether or not the ferret should have a first season before spaying. A conversation with your vet should help you decide when to spay. To spay is to do a complete ovariohysterectomy, the entire reproductive system is removed, the ovaries and the uterus. The jill is put under general anaesthetic and will have pain relief administered. She will have been starved at least 4 hours before the operation to avoid complications. The area will be clipped and disinfected before entering theatre. The vet makes an incision just below the umbilicus (belly button) heading towards the tail. The ovaries are removed with the uterus and any connecting blood vessels are ligated. She is then stitched up using nylon or absorbable sutures. She can often come home on the same day. She is likely to be groggy and will need plenty of rest in a quiet environment. They can take anything from one to two weeks to heal and you should look out for any signs of redness, swelling, soreness or discharge from the wound. If in doubt the vet will need to be contacted.
  • Castrate. Castrating males is an irreversible procedure that will render the male unable to reproduce for the rest of his life. Males can be castrated once they have fully developed their testicles, which is usually from around the age of 8 months, although this can change depending on if they are indoor or outdoor ferrets. My ferrets are kept indoors and we had them castrated relatively early at 8 months old as they were fully mature and had started to show some unwanted behaviours. This is not unheard of as often the warmer environment can trick them into thinking it's spring time. Your vet will be able to confirm whether or not your male is ready by performing an examination of the testes. The ferret will need to be starved for four hours before surgery, not overnight as some inexperienced (ferret wise) vets will tell you! This is because ferrets digest food very quickly and need to eat around every four hours. An overnight starve will not do your ferret any good whatsoever. The hob will go under general anaesthetic and will receive pain relief. The fur around the scrotum is clipped and the area disinfected. A small cut is made to allow the spermatic cord and blood vessels to be ligated. Both testicles are removed and the vet can then close the opening. The ferrets are usually allowed home the same day as the castrate is a fairly simple procedure. As well as for a female spay, they will be groggy so a clean comfortable bed should be provided. Over the next few days you should check to make sure the site is healing well and there is no redness or discharge. If you have any concerns then a phone call to the vet is needed.
  • Vasectomy. The male will need to be fully mature before the vasectomy can be carried out. The vasectomy is really only carried out so that the male can be used to bring jills out of season. There are no other real advantages of vasectomising your hob. This is because they will still act like a whole male, which is important for them to be able to 'mate' with the female. He will still carry his pungent smell, be aggressive to males and overly interested in jills. The male will be put under a general anaesthetic as before. The vasectomy involves the cutting and tying of the vas deferens, which is the tube from the testicles. The testicles are left intact so that he will maintain his sexual drive. The surgical site will need to be assessed as before to ensure he is healing properly. He can remain fertile for anything up to 6 weeks, so shouldn't be introduced to any receptive females until that time has elapsed. Otherwise a litter of kits may still be born.
  • Implant for males. This is not widely used at the moment but works in the same way as the implant or jill jab in females. It does wear off and would need to be redone about once a year. There have been links between late neutering and a reduced risk of adrenal disease, the implant can be used for a time before castrating if this is something that you are concerned about. Our vet offered this service to us, but we decided to carry on with our original decision and have them castrated.
Finding a good vet that is knowledgeable in dealing with ferrets is essential . Once you have all the information about a procedure from a reputable source it's a good idea to 'test' potential vets by asking questions that you already know the right answers to, such as 'do I starve my ferret overnight before the operation?' which is a question I used. They should see a fair number of ferrets on a regular basis and be confident in performing these operations. Do not always go for the nearest option as they may not be the best vet for your fuzzy. We travel 45 minutes each way to see our vet, but I have peace of mind that they are in safe hands. You need to be sure that you are doing right by your ferret before you commit and have them neutered, but generally spaying and castrating are seen as the best ways to neuter. But be warned, they are irreversible.

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