Q: I was recently given a female ferret that is nearly 2. She is fixed and descented. She was kept in her cage for nearly a year, resulting in being pear-shaped and heavy. I have had her for a month. She lost weight and is now running around, but her back is still weak. Isabelle cannot sit up on her haunches and seems to have some weakness in her back. I was told it was due to her lack of activity. She runs and plays with our 8-month-old, male ferret but cannot back her legs over the litter box. I am using puppy training pads for her. Does her weakness seem normal to you?
A: When an animal is kept confined, there can be a loss of the normal anatomy and function of the various structures responsible for movement. This includes the muscles, bones, nerves, blood vessels, ligaments and tendons. When the pet is then freed from this disturbing situation and is allowed to move about as a normal pet, we find that the longer the pet has been confined, the worse the prognosis for normal movement. The structures I just mentioned become atrophied or “frozen” in an abnormal position, and proper gait and a normal stance are impossible to achieve.
It is common that when an animal is treated poorly with limited cage space, the diet is also less than ideal. Without a proper diet, the ferret cannot build healthy muscles and bones, which also leads to improper gait.
Given all of the negative aspects of your ferret’s previous life, you might think your ferret is doomed to be handicapped. That is not necessarily so. Just as in people with injuries, physical therapy along with some proper pain relief and an improved diet might just help your ferret regain a normal ferret gait and stance. Visit with your veterinarian and discuss physical therapy, diet, and pain relief for your ferret.