Last month was a total nightmare for me and my ferret family. I hope this article answers all the questions you have about Moose’s latest health update while providing some useful information to help should you ever experience anything similar.
Our Story Begins…
For those new to Moose’s story, I’d like to reiterate his health problems (as we understood them before the trip described below):
Moose is a Marshall Ferret, age 4.5, dark sable and the love of our lives. Two months ago, he was diagnosed with Insulinoma. At the time of his diagnosis, Moose was also battling a nasty case of Helicobacter that put Moose in the ER. What we found (in addition to the Helicobacter and Insulinoma diagnosis) was that the cyst on Moose’s left kidney had grown from a grape to an egg in under 12 months. This became extremely alarming to our primary veterinarian. She told us that if we didn’t get Moose into surgery within the next month, the cyst could rupture and kill Moose. The following weeks were extremely stressful and emotionally taxing.
Frustration Before Our Trip to K-State
After the diagnosis, I went deep into ‘research mode’. I can’t tell you how many hours I spent researching online and asking others about ferrets, surgery, and anesthesia. Thank THE FERRET GODS for forums like Holistic Ferret and FerretWorld!
I also spent a good chunk of time trying to track down any vet who felt comfortable performing surgery on a ferret (determining what makes a good ‘ferret surgeon’ deserves its own post!).
Ultimately, we chose to use Kansas State University. Our vet told us the surgery at K-State would be 2x to 3x the cost of a local surgeon, but if money was no object, we should do it. Our boys are worth every penny.
We booked a nearby Airbnb, loaded up the truck, and headed out of state! What’s the worst that could happen, right?
The Worst Car Ride of My Life
You know those nightmares you get where your ferret escapes out the back door or a hawk snatches them up? (for some reason, I dream that Moose gets caught in a pipe under water and he can’t breathe). You eventually wake up in a sweat and but sigh in relief as you catch your ferret snoring softly next to you.
Well, our car ride to Kansas was a real-life nightmare we could not wake up from, as much as we wanted to…
Mistake #1: Not packing the car the night before. We ended up leaving in a disorganized hurry.
Mistake #2: Not filling the gas tank before we drove through the middle of nowhere.
Mistake #3: Not downloading/screenshotting/printing the directions before we left and inevitably lost service in the middle of Kansas.
So… those are the choices we made BEFORE crap hit the fan during our 3 hour drive to Kansas. Obviously, we were set up for success (not!)!
Channing and I are trying to learn how to record our ferret adventures for a future Youtube channel and we are just about as awkward as it gets…
Well, you know what they say! Practice makes perfect! So we practiced recording ourselves while driving, talking about Moose’s health status and then reminiscing about our favorite memories of Moose growing up. It was great! That is until we realized that if you are recording video on your iPhone, Apple Maps goes mute. Whoops!
We drove 20 minutes in the wrong direction by the time we noticed our navigation system stopped working.
I wish I could say this was the worst of it..
Mistake #4: Feeding Moose in a moving car.
While I was driving, Channing climbed in the back of the cab to spoon-feed Moose his “slop” in case they needed to take him into surgery within the next 2 hours (ferrets are NOT supposed to fast for long periods of time, even if surgery is imminent).
Did I mention we brought all three ferrets too? It was a logistical nightmare.
With the road trip supplies and all the ferret gear in the back, the inside of our car looked like a flea market – junk everywhere. It was the perfect space for a ferret to get lost. And as luck would have it…
While Channing cleaned up after feeding Moose, Moose snuck out of the carrier into our moving car.
Moose then picked a ‘safe’ place and fell asleep.
Channing didn’t notice Moose curled up under a jacket on the back seat behind him. Without realizing, Channing placed his knee (and full body weight) on Moose’s stomach. Moose let out a scream and we both jumped. Channing picked up Moose to inspect the damage and our ferret’s abdomen was hard as a rock.
Now this would be a terrible situation for anyone -stepping on a ferret is a serious matter.
But if you remember WHY we were headed to K-State in the first place it gets even worse: Moose had a cyst our vet was worried would RUPTURE on its own, simply by its precarious size. And now Channing had just placed up to 140+ lbs. directly on that same ticking time bomb!
You can imagine how terrible Channing felt. I hope you know the guilt is enough for a lifetime. And if you’re looking for someone to blame, blame me for telling him to feed Moose in the first place.
Mistake #2 reared it’s ugly head at this point. We were completely out of gas.
We pulled up to a random rest stop in Kansas and immediately lost cell service (mistake #3).
This is when Moose started convulsing and throwing up the entire contents of his stomach. It was terrifying.
I screeched to a stop at nearby gas station and then Moose pooped all over Channing’s arm.
We looked down and for the first time in his life, Moose had a prolapsed rectum. It was big, red, and bloody. He was going from bad to worse.
The Nightmare Continues
Channing and I started panicking. We were still 50 minutes away from K-State.
I sprinted into the gas station convenience store and begged the owners for wifi to download directions again. A nice elderly woman warned me about speeding around this part of Kansas because there were tons of cops looking to give tickets. I thought ‘Great! Moose is dying and I can’t drive over 65mph!’
We jumped in the car and booked it. I checked on Moose every 30 seconds while Channing floored it down the highway, keeping an eye out for speed traps.
I prayed the hardest I’ve ever prayed for Moose.
When we got within cell range, I called the vet hospital and told them about our emergency. They called a “Code 10” and admitted us as soon as we arrived. I kissed Moose goodbye and handed him to Channing to do the same. We honestly didn’t know if we’d ever see him again.
At the Vet Hospital
Channing and I sat in the waiting room for what seemed like hours but what was probably closer to 30 minutes. We worried he was sitting alone in the back, crying out in pain with nobody to comfort him.
Our vet came out and gave us some good news: He did not have any life-threatening internal trauma and the prolapsed rectum could be reversed. The vet asked if she could sedate him to run some blood work and an ultrasound. Reluctantly, we said yes.
They told us to check into our Airbnb and come back in 4 hours. The thing is, our Airbnb didn’t open until 3pm and we still had two ferrets to supervise.
Mistake #5: Not requesting early Airbnb check-in with two ferrets on our hands and an outside temperature of 90+ degrees.
Thank the LORD the vet hospital didn’t kick us out, but we figured we better get a bite to eat before we added “hangry” to the list of bad ideas.
Channing and I went to a nearby restaurant with outdoor seating and brought the carrier with us. No way in hell were we going to leave our boys in our black truck!!!
There was a problem -it was still too hot even in the shade.
Mistake #6: We forgot to pack our super stealthy ferret backpack for situations such as this! (A ferret backpack looks an awful lot like a regular backpack when you drape a jacket over it.)
We tried to sneak our GIANT animal crate into the air-conditioned indoor mall.
Within minutes, we got kicked out of the restaurant and the entire building, putting us back out into the 90+ degree weather with no food, two antsy ferrets, and a truck with temperamental a/c.
We rushed back to the vet hospital’s climate control to sit and wait for the next 3 hours in the lobby. We looked to every single vet that passed us in the hallway, begging for updates. We bugged the front staff way too much. Mostly, we just sat and tried to think about something else.
Our First Update
Finally, one of the vets on the case gave us an update. They were half way through their tests for Moose and it was looking better than they had previously thought. Plus, his prolapse had retreated into his body by about 50%. Good news! They recommended we go check into our Airbnb (finally!) and wait for a call.
Waiting and Praying
I bet this is normal, but it felt awful. Channing and I both had this horrible burning pit in our stomachs and the very strong urge to cry – while at the same time feeling like we’d already been crying for hours. We were so emotionally drained at this point.
The Phone Call
We got a phone call around 5pm asking us to return to the hospital for an update. We met with two vets on Moose’s case and went over all his test results. His blood work was slightly abnormal but they cited his recent internal trauma as the likely cause. His prolapse had almost completely retreated back into his body. His energy level and appetite had returned to normal. We were so relieved.
Then they pulled up his ultrasound and showed us the location and size of the cyst. It looked HUGE to us but they assured us that he didn’t need surgery -now or ever.
They told us simply to monitor it and come back in a month for another ultrasound (to see its rate of growth). When I asked “how much growth in the next month would warrant a surgery” they said they didn’t know.
Did we seriously just drive 3 hours, almost kill our ferret, and spend over $400 just to be told ‘looks fine, come back in a month to do it all over again’?
Moose passed a stool that was half blood, half poop that night.
We have lost so much sleep over this -I don’t know how much more we can take.
At the time of writing this, we had one vet saying Moose is about to die and another saying he’s fine. Who would you believe??
I received another call last week from a third vet saying that ferrets don’t live that long anyway so the cyst likely wont rupture in his lifetime (“another illness is likely to claim him instead!”). What a sad outlook.
I have to wonder, is that it? It’s either too early to remove the cyst or it will rupture and be too late? That can’t be our only options.
As the fur parents to a marginalized pet, we feel completely out of control and without the proper resources to make a big decision like this. So few vets really ‘go to bat’ for ferrets and we are left googling at home.
Reflecting on Past Experiences
I’m left thinking about the other times veterinary medicine has left me with more questions than answers during the course of Moose and his brothers’ lives. Sadly, the events surrounding our visit to K-State are not an isolated incident:
History #1: Moose’s Obstruction
Three years ago, Moose got a life-threatening obstruction. To this day, I still have no idea how he passed it (though I think it was the Vaseline). He vomited and choked all night long. We tore our room apart trying to find what he swallowed. Channing slept on the bathroom floor next to Moose, waiting for the only exotic vet in town to become available.
We took him in for an x-ray and body exam. Moose had glazed eyes and was hardly moving. After the physical exam she said “Nope, there’s no evidence of an obstruction.” Okay, what is it then?? Because Moose barely made it through the night. “Take him home and watch him,” they said.
Well, we took Moose home and he pooped out a piece of foam the size of a blueberry. That’s like one of us humans passing a softball into the toilet! You’re honestly telling me that Moose showed ZERO signs of an obstruction? I’d argue he showed textbook symptoms.
If an obstruction THAT BIG can go unnoticed by a vet with a physical exam AND an x-ray, WHY did we even bring him in?
Ferrets are notorious for eating things they shouldn’t. I have to think there HAS to be better protocol out there for diagnosing and treating an obstruction.
History #2: Moose’s Big Fall
Two years ago, Moose fell 3 stories off of our apartment balcony (we have since ferret-proofed it).
Note: Please view our transparency as first-time ferret owners as a privilege and an opportunity to learn, rather than an invitation to criticize <3.
After running downstairs to rescue him, Channing brought Moose straight to the emergency vet. They cited “no internal injuries, just a little shook up”. Really? Because when Channing brought him home to me after work, I did a quick exam myself and noticed multiple injuries -Moose’s chin bloodied and bruised and BOTH of his front teeth majorly chipped! Where was that on his chart?!
Our vets at the time missed some serious red flags during the examination and yet again we paid for a bunch of expensive imaging to be told “we found nothing, monitor him”.
History #3: Moose’s Bad Cold
Before Moose turned one, he contracted a terrible cold.
Again, we took him to the vet and there was little they could do beyond weighing him and taking his temperature. I can do that stuff at home! They sent us home with no more than a “if it doesn’t pass in a week, call me. ” As a vet with years of schooling far beyond my own veterinary knowledge, surely you can provide more!
Well, thank the ferret gods we came home early one day to find Moose unresponsive in bed, so sick he couldn’t even lift his little head. We finger-fed him food-paste and watched him like a hawk for the next 12 hours. He could have died. Where was the protocol for that?
Recognizing Our Gaps in Knowledge
Before we got Moose (our first ferret) , a vet told me “don’t get a ferret. They have too many health problems. You’ll spend thousands in vet bills and they wont live very long.” Well, we got Moose anyway and obviously we will have ferrets until the day we die. But she was right – ferrets are basically walking vet bills (Marshall Ferrets, anyway).
But you know what I was never warned about? The complete and utter lack of resources to even give these ‘walking-vet-bills’ the care and treatment they deserve! I will be here for my ferrets through sickness and in health but I will NOT stand idly by while vets continue to treat ferrets as an afterthought.
There are so many books dedicated to the proper veterinary care for dogs and cats. Do you want to know how many books my vet recommends to learn about ferrets? Three.
“If you read those three books you will know more about ferrets than most vets in the world,” she said.
Even beyond better breeding practices and diet, there must be more we can do – more research we can do to prolong their lives, better at-home training resources, something! Right now, mainstream veterinary care of ferrets seems so …rigid and outdated.
What We ALL Need
Everyone on this page wants to be a better ferret owner. I know that. So why aren’t we able to bridge the gap better between pet owners and vets? We should all know emergency protocol for the most basic ferret emergencies. We should all be taught how to give subcutaneous fluids. How hard would it be to learn how to palpate a ferret’s abdomen or conduct a full physical at home? Much like doing a monthly breast exam on yourself, can you imagine how regular at-home exams could improve the lives of our ferrets and potentially catch a fatal illness much earlier on? These skills aren’t hard to learn, the resources are just hard to find!
I am sure many of us become inspired to be a vet after such an experience as this one. But what if we don’t need another vet? What if what we actually need is a teacher to explain what the vet is saying and someone to teach us the many procedures we can actually do at home to save money and improve our ferrets’ chance of survival?
If there aren’t enough vets that are willing to go the extra mile for our ferrets, we have to take it upon ourselves to learn and conduct the care that is necessary for their survival.
Everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong during our trip to K-State Animal Hospital. We are lucky to have Moose by our side today but our experiences highlighted the serious lack of resources for ferret owners. Ferret owners need to band together to make a better world for our unique pets!