Vaccinating ferrets

Why should ferrets be vaccinated?

In order to prevent a ferret from becoming infected by certain diseases or at least to reduce fatalities, vaccination is widely seen as essential. Vaccinations consist of the administration or inoculation of the weakened or dead strain of a pathogen into a ferret’s body. The ferret’s immune system is triggered into producing the necessary responses to destroy the pathogen. As a result, when the animal is exposed to the pathogen in natural circumstances then it will have gained a period of immunity against it. The immune system is said to have “remembered” how to destroy the virus and so the disease is either significantly reduced in severity or actually prevented.

By vaccinating a ferret, many other ferrets may be saved from infection as, were this ferret to have become infected, it may have transferred the pathogen to others either directly or indirectly. Some diseases are zoonotic which means they can be transmitted to humans and so preventing the animal from infection can actually result in saving a human’s life. Overall, vaccination aids in the prevention of spreading certain diseases. Some diseases have fatal consequences and so preventative medicine such as vaccination is considered of vital importance.

It is important when bringing home a new ferret that the new owners are aware of whether or not the ferret has already been vaccinated. This is to ensure that other animals in the home cannot be infected by possibly preventable diseases it may be carrying. Less stress is ensued as the occurrence of infection from fatal diseases can be avoided.

When should ferrets be vaccinated?

Ferrets can be vaccinated as early as six weeks old depending on the vaccine given. Before this, the milk suckled from the mother provides any necessary immunity which may actually affect the effectiveness of the vaccine. The initial injection for canine distemper in ferrets is given at six weeks and, for the rabies vaccine, at twelve weeks of age.

Boosters are administered to provide the ferret with long term immunity against certain diseases. They are given at set periods of time depending on the vaccination required. If the ferret is registered at a local vet, it is not uncommon for the veterinary surgeries to post reminders for boosters to owners.

Which vaccines are most commonly used?

Canine distemper and rabies are both diseases of which ferrets are particularly susceptible to. It is for this reason that these are the main vaccinations that are given to them. 

A brief overview of the main diseases is as follows:

Canine distemper in Ferrets

Canine distemper is very easily transmitted to ferrets, has no cure and is fatal. Symptoms in unvaccinated ferrets include severe nasal and ocular discharge. Similarly as in dogs, the ferret’s pads can become hard to the touch. Rashes can occur between the hind legs which are red in appearance. Kits are vaccinated as soon as possible, that is to say between the ages of six to eight weeks and then again two weeks later. Annual boosters are necessary to provide long term immunity against the disease.


A highly contagious disease, rabies transmission usually occurs as a result of a bite from an infected animal. The virus is transferred as the infected saliva comes into contact with the blood. Symptoms can be observed in three different stages and usually end in death. Vaccinations are usually given to those in high risk areas but also if travelling abroad. The UK will not accept the entry of an unvaccinated ferret.


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