Ferrets/Senior Ferret: Vet Care or Mercy Shot?
HI! I have an old age ferret, Bandit. He doesn't have any major problems that I am aware of. His poop is ok and eats .... BUT he does see to be losing weight. He has had adrenal surgery a few years ago and now gets 1mg of melatonin at around 12 noon everyday. He is 7 years old and almost bald now. It breaks my heart to see him walk around hairless. His ribs and spine are very apparent and he no longer plays with his siblings (they are younger and fine). He seems to be losing vision and possibly hearing is down. My question is...when is the right time to help him over the bridge? He is my first ferret and would HATE to see him in pain . (he seems fine) I hope I made sense and look forward to your advice.
My heart breaks for you. Do you have a little sweater you can put on Bandit to try to keep him warm since his coat is gone? I suspect his adrenal surgery removed only the one gland (typical), but he now has another adrenal gland tumor on the other side.
You say "old", not sure how old you mean. Most ferrets do not do well with surgeries when they get near age 6. In my opinion, and experience, I have not found melatonin to be helpful and Ai am not even sure there is any really good results from experiments with melatonin, only that some folks feel that the artificial lights inside our homes upsets a ferrets wake/sleep patterns and the melatonin helps them sleep more on a 'normal' schedule. I just did not find that effective with the ferret i tried it on. However, IF your ferret is near or under age six, you may want to try Lupron injections. I gave my ferret (well, my ferret gave the first ones to show me hoe, then I took them over. The injections must be given in the muscle, which can be difficult to find on a skinny ferret...but usually in the hip areal you can find it. The shot is painful, but just for about 20-seconds, then you can massage their area and they forget, other than a slightly sore hip for a few days. IF your ferret is within that age range and you are interested, write again and I will give you ordering info & details. It's not as expensive as some would have you think.
As far as 'when is the right time and how do you know?' NOBODY knows for sure. The owner usually knows when their pet is in pain, just not himself, even tho ferrets do hide their pain and illnesses... do watch for stopping eating or eating less, less activity than normal, no normal responses to activities he used to love, sleeping more and harder to wake him up, OR digging at bedding (indicates pain) or other places, symptoms of either withdrawal from activities previously loved OR actions that are new and may indicate frustration like digging, trying to bite when handled, etc; I wrote about this topic and it is posted in my Facebook files at THUNDERING FERRET PAWS...if you don't mind, I will paste a copy here and hopefully that will help you make your decision:
EUTHANASIA: THE DECISIONS, THE GUILT by Jacquie Rodgers
By Jacquie Rodgers on Sunday, April 7, 2013 at 6:03pm
EUTHANASIA: THE MOST DIFFICULT DECISION YOU MAY HAVE TO MAKE & COPING WITH ANY GUILT FEELINGS YOU MAY HAVE!!
However well-intentioned, some owners seem determined to keep their ferret home, (often without regular vet visits, claiming they just can't afford it), almost like the ferret is their private science project. When illness is ongoing, advanced and/or uncontrollable in older ferrets) the ferret suffers 24/7, with misery exaggerated by forcing nasty tasting meds multiple times a day until the ferret succumbs finally to their illness(es) and die painful deaths at home. I have heard of people who even put their ferrets to bed at night and pray the ferret will die sometime during the night so they don't have to deal directly with the death.
Personally, I strongly believe in helping any living being (wish it was legal for people) die with dignity and with as little suffering as possible.. I have had a lot of serious illness, so I speak somewhat from very personal experience....and I love(d) all my ferrets enough to not let them suffer, but when there is no chance of recovery and/or the ferret in advanced in age, I personally believe euthanasia is the best way to end their suffering, not extend and complicate it by forcing foods, fluids and medications sometimes for months. I just don't understand that thinking. When my ferrets are very ill, if they are more than 6 years old and my vet says it has very little chance of recovery, I choose euthanasia over suffering. The cost of euthanasia is usually anywhere from $15 to $40.
I agree there is nothing harder than holding a beloved pet for that final mercy shot, but I would NEVER even consider not being there to comfort them. With our big dogs, I used to lay right down on the floor with them, gently putting my arms around and my face right next to theirs to comfort them and calm them until that final shot takes effect.
With Butters last week, when the voice on the phone delivered the VERY UNEXPECTED news that Butters had a huge inoperable tumor in his bladder and needed to be put down and relieved of his pain....immediately. That was a very shocking world I was suddenly thrown into.
I started crying, then screaming, gagging, basically .....totally losing control of my body & emotions. When the vet explained what was going on to me, I asked if Butters was in pain. She said yes, bad pain - he is shaking all over, franticly running around in the cage and continually squatting trying to pee, but only blood comes out. I could barely talk, but I managed to say "please give him something strong for pain, I am on my way right now - be there in less than 10 minutes. "
Loving him as I did SO DEARLY, I needed TIME to process this information and to EMOTIONALLY PREPARE MYSELF to do what I needed to do. But I did not have that time!! So, I just went a bit crazy I guess. I started screaming NO, NO, NO!!! I hate you God!! My baby!! NO NO NO!!!" I pounded my fists on the wall, began crying, and even was gagging.....it was horrible. I needed to get in the car and GO, NOW!!! But I couldn't go like this, and I could NOT control myself. This was my baby; my heart!! I was NOT prepared. Even with a LOT of death experience, I just completely lost it.
My body was jerking uncontrollably as I got into the car. I didn't even put shoes on! So, if/when this should happen to you (God forbid!) Just know you are not the first to react like a crazy person. Reassure yourself that you WILL live through this, whether you want to or not. It is USUALLY the UNKNOWN that scares us the most. In my case, it was a HUGE case of GUILT! I ALWAYS STAY at the vet with my babies, but didn't this one time!! All I could think of was he must be so scared; he must think I have abandoned him in his time of need.
When we got to vets, my regular vet was waiting for me (on her day off) in the parking lot in shorts and flip-flops. She is an ANGEL..She knew I would be absolutely crushed by the news about my Butters. She escorted (i.e. literally held me up!) me inside to the closest room and a vet tech brought Butters in and handed him to me. Then the other (on duty) vet who had called me came in. By this time I could see the light was just "out" in Butters little eyes...for all practical purposes he was already gone. There was an IV in his arm, and those are SO painful to put in a ferret! Surely he must have thought mommy had abandoned him in his time of need. The guilt hit again...really hard...and I proceeded to pass out cold, slumped down in the chair. I *always* insist on holding my babies for all procedures and it calms them right down...but this new vet didn't know that and I was not there this time the FIRST TIME EVER I HAD LEFT A FERRET ALONE AT THE VETS OFFICE. He was just supposed to have a few barium x-rays, as I *thought* he MIGHT have an intestinal blockage. He was just not himself that morning. I just had a few things I *had* to do at home during that particular hour, or so I thought, and he would be okay just getting x-rays and I would come right back, in less than an hour. Now he was gone and he would never know I had come for him as soon as I could. I regained consciousness and kept telling myself that I should have NEVER left the vets office that day. I just had NO idea he was going to have anything other than some x-rays. I just feel I failed him miserably at the end and I can never change that. I passed out again, this time, the vet grabbing Butters from my arms as I crumbled to the floor.
I really don't think he even knew his mommy was there. :-((** THAT will never be okay with me. So, now, as I write this, I am laying here in bed and crying 24/7. I have been in bed for days. I just feel like my reason for living is gone. If getting another ferret would help, I would do that, but I don't even have the desire for another. I just want my little Butter Butt back. The most I can hope right now is that writing down my experience *may* somehow, someday help someone else who is beating themselves up and feeling this way.
* * * * * * * * *
I wrote the remainder of this addendum document later...much later...when I could finally stand to think about this, to think what I write from my gut just might help someone getting ready to put their baby out of his suffering. It is the UNKNOWN that is the scariest part of these things, so here I shall attempt to remove the veil of fear mommy and daddy feel when they hear those words: "We need to put your ferret down; he is suffering":
IMPORTANT EUTHANASIA NOTE: In years past, it was "acceptable practice" to euthanize ferrets by doing a procedure called "THE HEART STICK". It is what it sounds like. The vet sticks a needle directly into the ferret's heart and injects medications that cause the breathing and heart to stop. ASK....ASK....ASK....if your vet does this long before you get into the treatment room with your ferret to be euthanized. The Heart Stick is quick, yes, but it is also INCREDIBLY PAINFUL AND (in my & many others opinion) IT IS CRUEL - DO NOT ALLOW THIS PROCEDURE!!!! I cannot stress enough that you discuss this ahead of time because you do not know if that is what your vet is planning UNLESS YOU ASK. Ask your vet ANY question, express any concern ahead of time. Try not to wait until you are IN the situation to start asking questions. Don't even go into that exam room until YOU are prepared to be the adult in the room and speak for your ferret. This is what you CAN do that will comfort your pet: keep your sense of peace and calm.
All it takes for your ferret to pass quietly and peacefully is a shot (or two, depending on what is wrong with him and how sick he is) in a muscle - my vet lets me just snuggle my ferret to my chest with his bottom facing out and she pops in the injection in his THIGH MUSCLES and the shot is over before he can even react. The injection is a combination of medications, a muscle relaxant, a huge overdose of anesthesia and maybe a drug to stop his heart. Doc says they DO sting a bit, so massage the area gently after the injection...he will appreciate it AND it will help the medications disperse more quickly. The ferret then just slowly becomes very sleepy - sometimes almost immediately - sometimes it can take even an hour if what is wrong with him affects his circulatory system...it just takes however long it is going to take to reach his heart and work. Sleepier and sleepier, the ferret eventually gently just drifts off to sleep IN YOUR ARMS WHERE HE FEELS SAFE & LOVED.
I had to wait for 40-minutes once for the euthanasia medications to work. That was with Kylie MaWheee...she had a terribly insufficient heart and it just took that long for the medicine to circulate to where it needed to be to put her out. During that time, however, I was able to just sit quietly with her, talk to her about the Rainbow Bridge, tell her many times how much I loved her, stroke her little head and neck, face and head (that's what she liked best) etc, as she very slowly got more and more sleepy, then finally drew her last breath. Even then, I just sat with her for a few more precious minutes, contemplating my love for her, how lucky I had been to share her time on this earth, etc.
BTW, this is NOT a time to freak out and cry while you are holding your ferret waiting for the injection to work. I truly believe from both my experience with many pets over the years AND several Hospice patients I had the honor -YES, HONOR - of sitting with as they actually passed away from this world. There is always a bit of an uncomfortable silence when there is one less body in the room drawing air in and out of his lungs. The best, easiest way to handle ALL of this is just to EXPECT IT so it doesn't cause you to lose control. T here will be plenty of time for that later. What goes on in that room directly affects the patient, so PLEASE try to hold those tears for just a bit later....sobbing WILL upset your ferret and you don't want his last few conscious thoughts be that something must be WRONG, mommy/daddy is crying!!! They will pass peacefully if you can rise above your own emotions at the time and give your pet the gift of just pure LOVE and your UNDIVIDED ATTENTION for these few minutes. If you cannot stay calm, just remember how horrible I did with Butters final moments. My personal belief is that the soul does not immediately just pop out of the body, so I usually just sit quietly, stroking my precious little one for a few minutes...but that is just me. Once he is pronounced dead, if you cannot overcome your feelings, then go ahead and cry, quietly...please try to keep the room quiet, not frantic, panicky. Most important of all, though, STAY...give them this one final unselfish gift.
Hopefully KNOWLEDGE of what goes on in that room, behind those doors, will make walking through the process in your head ahead of time. Knowing what to expect beats wondering what is going to happen. Try to stay calm, try to relax and understand that death is a necessary part of life. It is as natural as birth is! If praying or quietly singing helps calm you, definitely spend this quiet time in prayer while you are holding your ferret as the process moves along to the expected end. My ferret climbs up under my chin every night and waits for me to sing (or hum), which puts him flat out asleep.
There is NOTHING in there that is scary...we will ALL face our own death someday. With luck, we will have someone there to calmly and quietly sit with us as this natural part of life occurs. That's all any of us can ask for. Please give this last gift to your ferret if/when it is necessary. Know they will no longer be in pain or suffering. Yes, you will miss them, but try to STAY IN THE MOMENT during the process. Your friends and family will comfort you later....this is HIS/HER time.
CHILDREN?? Unless the children are old enough to understand death to some extent, to absolutely not constantly talk or take attention from the task at hand, they really don't belong in the room. This process is best with one person, whoever the ferret was closest to....that is who he will want with him in those final moments. Leave children with someone you can trust and not have to worry about while you give your complete attention to your pet...it's just a short while and children often just don't have the self-control to keep the atmosphere in the room sacred as you give your final gift of a PEACEFUL PASSING to your pet. IF you want your older child to experience he dying process, please take plenty of time explaining every detail ith them beforehand so they are not scared nor feel the need to start asking questions during his special time. Knowing what to expect will help so much!
AFTERWARDS: You would do well to plan WAY AHEAD of the need - what will you do with your precious baby's body afterwards. You have several choices and whatever you choose.....it's okay. THIS is the time you should do whatever makes YOU feel best. My mom always told me, even as a child, that our bodies are like shells we wear while we are alive; and when we are finished using it, it doesn't really matter what happens to it...the important part of us, our spirit & memories of those who love us is what lives on. You will need to know on euthanasia day what you want done with his body.
My first ferret, I was sure I wanted to take his body to a taxidermist and forever keep his little body near me for comfort. However, I met a taxidermist once when Loki was only about three and his death seemed yet so far away, so I could speak with this guy very logically / unemotionally.. A taxidermist basically "peels" the fur carefully off the deceased's body, then thoroughly cleans it and chemically treats it so the back side of the fur does not rot and smell, nor deteriorate further. The inner body goes in the trash. He then measures the fur he retrieved, then orders a plastic-looking "body" of the animal. The owner can usually have their choice of poses available. The back side of the fur continues to process while the taxidermist waits for UPS to deliver what will soon be known as your beloved pet...even though everything except the fur is in a special bag that gets a "group burial" at the local dump! When the form arrives, he uses pictures you have provided to reassemble the fur to most look like your pet before death. The fur is sewn together and stretched across the plastic form, then pinned & glued in place. The taxidermist also orders plastic eyes, toe nails, foot pads, etc these are added once the fur is placed satisfactorily so the pet looks as alive and normal as possible. Then you get a call that your beloved pet is ready to be picked up now. I changed my mind immediately about having taxidermy done on my ferret. He did have the softest fur I have ever felt. Sometimes a lot of comfort can be had by just seeing or touching that now deceased pet. As the owner, you have full rights to do whatever comforts you . If it is taxidermy, don't let anyone judge you for choosing that.
The second choice, probably the most common, is to wrap the pet in a blanket when finished at the vets office, go home and dig a grave in a 'special' place of the owners choosing. Here, you have the option of having any kind of ceremony that comforts you, then the pet is buried (with or without a box - some choose to just wrap their pet in a blanket or the pets bed, and then they can add a marker or headstone, plant a small a tree or flowers can be planted to mark the grave. Here, the only recommendation is that it be buried a minimum of three feet deep to keep dogs, etc from digging it up. In this choice, one has to consider how they will feel if/when they may move away from that house, because that IS a possibility, especially if the owner doesn't own the property (if you rent your home). This choice can be free, or you may make or choose a headstone, tree or plant of choice, so cost here can be between $0 and whatever the owner can afford.
Some owners choose to just leave the body with the vet, who usually has a designated area where the bodies are buried in a common, or group type grave. In cold climates, I have heard of ferret owners who wrap the body well in plastic and store it in freezer until the ground thaws enough to bury their pet.
Another popular choice, becoming more popular in our mobile society, is to leave the pet with the vet, who then sends the body off to be cremated and returned to the owner in the form of "ashes" or properly termed "cremains". Here, again, you have choices. You can have your pet cremated in a 'group' pet cremation where the ashes are just divided according to pet size. One consideration is cost. Currently in my town, you can have a group cremation for about $50; or the private cremation costs approximately $40-$175depending on the size of the pet. Ferrets fall into the cheapest category. The cost includes some type of container, usually of the mortuary's choice (by size needed) OR you can send a container of your choice at the time your pet is sent for cremation. You may have a few days to make this decision if your vet has access to a refrigerator to keep the body in until it is picked up for cremation. Cremains may be scattered in some special place, or stored in any type container sitting on a bookshelf in the living room, or even buried.
Many of today's crematories offer to compress the cremains, even making them into "diamonds" (they really look like diamonds too) or various other figurines for a fee - a high fee that varies greatly, but it is one more choice and a way the owner can always have a true reminder and part of the pet with them.
Hopefully this information will assist owners in choosing which final 'resting place' suits their needs long before that choice has to be made. Otherwise it is a lot to think about in a very short time during a very difficult time of great grief.
There is a great website at http://www.petloss.com
They have a Monday Night Candle Lighting Ceremony that people from all over the world gather on this website and light candles at a given time in memory of pets who died that week. There are hundreds of pages, listed alphabetically and by date, that owners can write a memorial, even add a picture, and have their pet forever memorialized on this website. My kids are all memorialized there and I found the website poems, etc to be very comforting in my time of grief. I occasionally will go to the website and "visit" by reading the memorials I wrote for each one. You can also read the RAINBOW BRIDGE story there, and you can order a copy of THE RAINBOW BRIDGE STORY with your pet's name on it for a very reasonable price.
Hopefully this information will be helpful. I strongly recommend familiarizing oneself with all the choices way before the information is needed. Yes, it is difficult and none of us want to think about it, but the truth is that the median life span of a ferret is around 6-7 years of age, so it is good to at least think about your options long before you need to answer that question in your vet's office.
I am NOT a vet; just an experienced ferret mom who loves her fur-kids with ALL my heart.
Another FILE that may be helpful:
DYING AT HOME by Jacquie Rodgers
By Jacquie Rodgers on Sunday, April 7, 2013 at 7:44pm
Originally a reply to a question posed to me about an owner wanting to know if she should plan for her ferret to die at home, or have it put humanely to sleep. I hope this information will help others who are having this dilemma:
I'm so sorry to hear about your little girl. You don't say what is wrong with her. Eight years old is probably about 'average' for a ferret lifetime, but they usually die of adrenal disease, insulinoma or some kind of cancer (quite common) rather than just old age by age 8. There have been ferrets known to live to be up to 12 to 14 years old, but they do slow down, of course, as they age.*
I understand your wanting her to pass away at home where she is comfortable and in familiar surroundings...and hopefully with you beside her. No two deaths are exactly alike. It's quite possible she will pass quietly in her sleep, or in your arms (even better for her, but very difficult for you, of course). There is also a possibility of a 'not so smooth and gentle' passing. I just feel I should warn you that this IS a possibility.
My first experience of a ferret dying at home was of a heart "attack" of some kind at 4 a.m. and the seizures and screaming was so very, very traumatic for me, so I tend to take my kids in for a 'mercy shot' when I know in my heart their time is near. That's just a personal choice I made because of my past very, very upsetting experience. I sincerely hope that your little one will pass gentle into that restful peace and wait for you at the Bridge.
Death is a natural part of living and if you are willing to go the distance with her, care for her till the end and keep her comfortable and well loved at home, what a wonderful gift that is to her. Just know that it might be a good idea to have your vet "on notice" that she is nearing the end and IF you should get into trouble, hopefully your vet would see you right away and help her cross the Rainbow Bridge. It's always good to have a "Plan B" just in case. A good, experienced ferret vet will simply give them a little shot in the hip muscle (an overdose of anesthetic) while you hold them and she would just gently go to sleep in your arms. **IMPORTANT**BEWARE** IF you do decide to do it at the vet's office, be sure your vet is not one of the 'old school' that does what they call the 'HEART STICK', giving the injection directly into the heart - it is not necessary if they inject enough of an overdose of anesthesia. That method *can* assure a peaceful passing if you do have fears about that; but do BE SURE to talk to your vet beforehand and ask what method they use and let him/her know the heart stick is NOT acceptable (some old vets still do this and it's just not necessary).
*Additional suggestions would be when you feel it is her time to go and you have decided to let her pass at home, THINK THIS THROUGH AHEAD OF TIME and make sure you can give her a calm, quiet, loving environment in which to transition;. Low lights, maybe some very calming music (quiet), no others around slamming in and out of doors or interrupting...just you and her. Take the telephone off the hook...let her be the most important thing for this time. Take this time to quietly tell her how much you love her and what she has meant to you. Other family members who are old enough to understand may want to participate, but keep touching to a minimum other than a calming arm, maybe wrap her in a little flannel baby blanket just for security sake. You don't want to be passing her from person to person at this time. Let each come up and say their few words, then sit quietly by, or leave the room as you remain with her until the end.*Hospice training has taught me that the dying often have very enhanced senses of smell, hearing and touch, so do everything slowly and gently. Prepare yourself NOT to fall to pieces immediately when she takes her last breath.....instead give her permission to go. Sometimes they wait for permission, thinking their passing may upset you. Let her know that she can go now and make the atmosphere conducive for that.*Touch her to tongue or just inside her lip at the side of her mouth with a few drops of water now and then if she desires it...you may want to put a tiny bit of honey or even a lick or two of Ferretone if she loves it. If she protests in any way, don't try again for at least another hour. She may have changed her mind by then, but move gently, always being in touch with her wishes, never forcing anything.* This can be a long distance run instead of a sprint, so be prepared to keep the area as quiet and respectful as you would want it to be if it were YOU dying....maybe for a few minutes, or possibly hours, even a day. There is always the possibility you have read her wrong......OR that she is waiting for you to leave her alone to pass. So, don't be afraid to lay her gently nearby when you retire to sleep that night if she has not yet passed. If she is in pain, PLEASE - consider RE-THINKING your decision and take her to the vet for a faster, painless passing.
God bless.....may your baby pass in peace, whatever your choice. Remember, you are choosing for your ferret. PLAN AHEAD, CONTROL THE ATMOSPHERE/NOISE/INTERRUPTIONS, and ALWAYS BE READY FOR PLAN 'B'. If your vet is aware of what is going on, hopefully they will be at the ready if you need them to help her cross painlessly on short notice.*NOTE: I have NEVER allowed anyone else to hold my ferret when he/she is dying, whether at home or at the vet's office. Some vets will offer to take the ferret in the back room to do the actual euthanasia.....but you will never really know if you are not THERE - THIS IS NOT THE TIME TO ABANDON YOUR BEST FRIEND.
As long as she is breathing, and even for a short time afterwards, please know that she DOES know you are there, even tho she cannot respond or lift her head. I hope you will hold her, maybe rock her gently, talk to her softly, tell her what a good little girl she has been. Just hearing your voice, feeling your touch, smelling you as you hold her - those are the things that are going to matter to her right now. Her senses are all extra sensitive if she has actually begun the dying process.
NEVER try to give her any fluids by mouth(drink) if she is not responsive. You can take a very wet paper towel (or, better yet - a VERY WET Q-tip) and maybe touch her little lips and tongue with cool water if her little mouth is open and dry. Just be sure it's not enough to make her choke because she very well may not be able to swallow...all you would want to do is help make her more comfortable. Just a gentle swab to wet the surfaces inside her mouth and around her teeth with cool water. The best gift you can give her between now and her likely passing is to stay right with her - don't leave her side even to go shower - cancel everything; don't even take phone calls if possible. Let her comfort be your number one concern. Very soft quiet music in the background instead of a blaring TV or loud music or loud talking - you get the idea. This should be a restful, peaceful time. She will either come around, or she will pass on. You will forever remember this time; it's very important that you KNOW now and in thefuture that you really did do everything you possibly could for her.
Clean her up as necessary, being as gentle as possible, careful to use warm washcloth or run warm water over her little bottom to ever so gently wash off the worst where she has soiled herself. Remember that every touch, sound and feeling thing that happens now will be exaggerated to her.
If her eyes are still open and she is still breathing but no other signs of life, you may want to gently moisten with a wet finger at the very edge of her eyelid, letting it wash over her eye, and help her close her little eyes and encourage her to relax, to know you are there and she is safe. Unless she blinks, the surfaces of her eyes will become dry and uncomfortable and you really don't want to be putting drops in there, so the best thing to do is try to encourage her eyelids to close with moisture from the edges of her eyes. It never hurts to pray - she just may pull through; at the very least let's pray she passes gently, knowing you are there with her.
Jacquie RodgersApril 7, 2013
***I am NOT a vet; just a ferret mom with some experience who hopes to help others so we don't all have to learn the hard way as we go through life with a ferret.
I hope this information helps you make the decisions you are facing. If there is anything at all I have left out, please feel free to write again.
I would also like to invite you to join me on FaceBook group THUNHDERIHG FERRET PAWS, where there are many ferret folks who have lots of experience, and many newbies too. It is a great place to get faster replies, as I try to check in often and there are others there also who can help. Please post a pic of Bandit and his story so members can pray for him and for you.
You and Bandit are in my thoughts and prayers. Please update me?
May God protect those precious little ones who cannot speak for themselves.