Think of people at age 25 and age 65. From youth to senior, we lose mobility, bone density, muscle, energy, appetite, hearing, vision, etc. We also develop age-related health problems. So do our pets, be they ferrets, dogs, cats, etc.
Life expectancy for pet ferrets is 6 to 8 years. We look at a 4-year-old ferret as middle-aged and a 6-year old or older ferret as a senior. As with all species, changes occur with age.
Appetite: The middle-aged to senior ferret does not eat the same amount as a 6-month-old growing kit (baby ferret). Although an aging ferret doesn’t eat as much, it should continue to have a good appetite. A dental workup is important to maintain good, healthy teeth in the aging ferret. Wear and tear on the teeth occurs with aging, and poor dental hygiene could greatly affect a ferret’s ability to eat and its overall good health. And no, dentures are not available for ferrets.
Physical Structure: Between 3 to 5 years of age, most ferrets begin to have a decline in bone density, muscle appearance and strength. Older ferrets can show hair thinning as well as develop a pear shape.
Activity Level: Most ferret owners know that ferrets have two speeds — bouncing off the walls or dead asleep. In our experience, an aging ferret still has the love of life and plays pretty much as the kit, but just not as physically; it does so at a slower pace and for not nearly as long. Our 8½-year-old, late-altered jill is an excellent example. She runs everywhere and can still put an obnoxious youngster in its place. As a youngster she would stay up and play for several hours. Now she’s up for about 1½ hours; then it’s nap time.
Balance/Mobility: You must alter your aging ferret’s environment to address its changed balance and mobility. A youngster can run, jump and climb anything it sets its mind to; but the aging ferret, though having the same desires, may not have the physical capabilities to do so. A ferret’s eyesight can deteriorate as it ages, and cataracts can also be an issue later in life. Deafness is an occurrence in some kits, but hearing loss can occur in the older ferret. Our ferret Clyde heard normally as a kit, but he gradually became hard of hearing as he aged. Always consider blindness and hearing loss when safeguarding your ferret’s play area.
Behavior: Remember ferret kits at 6 months to 1 year? Some can slow down for cuddle time, but then there are those that are just too busy to slow down for anything except when they are totally exhausted. With aging, a hyper ferret may become a cuddlebug. Expect your aging ferret to show some changes in behavior. Older ferrets seem to have less tolerance for younger ferrets. They frequently will not accept a new ferret into the group and may become loners. Older ferrets can grieve over the loss of a bonded cagemate to the point of becoming depressed and physically ill. This is the time you must give extra attention and love to an aging ferret. It’s like when we lose someone close to us.