Breeding ferrets is a long and often stressful process. It involves a lot of waiting—often with little information on what’s happening inside your ferret’s body.
Luckily, there are several signs you can look for throughout your ferret’s pregnancy, as well as several diagnostic tests that can help determine if your ferret is pregnant or not. These tests are highly recommended, as they are key in determining the mother’s and babies’ health.
Let’s look at the three signs that your ferret is pregnant, including some of these tests you can then do to confirm pregnancy.
The 3 Signs and Symptoms of Pregnancy in Ferrets
You may be able to pick out many signs of pregnancy when your ferret is pregnant but not all ferrets will have all of these signs.
1. Changes in Behavior
Your ferret may have several changes in behavior when they’re pregnant, and many of these can be challenging to predict. Each ferret reacts to each pregnancy differently.
For instance, pregnant ferrets may be more tired than usual, even very early in their pregnancy. It may be hard for them to play as much as they used to. They may also be more irritable, as their lethargy often drives their aggressive behavior. However, pregnant ferrets may not feel tired all the time. They may seem very hot and cold, changing at the drop of a hat.
Many ferrets become more protective of their nesting area, usually their cage. They may be more irritated when you clean their cage or even approach it. Alternatively, they may be fine with their most trusted human near the cage, but they may be unusually aggressive with those they don’t know as well.
2. Changes in Appearance
When ferrets are pregnant, they will have an enlarged belly. However, this doesn’t occur until late in pregnancy and some ferrets hide it very well. Therefore, this isn’t the most accurate symptom to look for.
Also, late in pregnancy, ferrets may have enlarged or pink nipples. This sign indicates that their body is preparing for nursing, which often means they’re reaching their due date. However, this sign can be hard to notice unless you’re looking for it. Plus, because it also occurs later in pregnancy, it isn’t a reliable sign of early pregnancy.
Many ferrets will gain weight, starting around the midpoint of their pregnancy. Almost all of the early pregnancy occurs without any weight gain, though. Because most physical symptoms don’t show up until the end of pregnancy, they aren’t an accurate way to detect pregnancy. You’ll need to rely on other signs and diagnostic tests for that.
3. Changes in Appetite
Many ferrets have appetite changes during pregnancy. However, this isn’t always what you expect. While some ferrets will feel hungrier during pregnancy, others may go through a period of a lower appetite. At the end of their pregnancy, ferrets don’t tend to eat much, as there simply isn’t much room inside their stomach.
In the early stages of pregnancy, a loss of appetite is also normal. This sign is due to the hormones that start changing at the beginning of pregnancy, which is why ferrets often feel lethargic.
With that said, your ferret should still be eating something. If your ferret stops eating or you’re worried about her appetite, speak to your vet. Not eating enough can be harmful to the mother and babies.
The 3 Tests Confirming Pregnancy in Ferrets
While you can watch for the above signs to know whether your ferret is pregnant, they can’t be used to confirm pregnancy. All of the signs above can also be caused by things besides pregnancy. Therefore, getting your ferret’s pregnancy confirmed by a vet is important.
Luckily, many tests can be done to make this determination.
Palpations involve a trained professional carefully feeling your ferret’s abdomen for the developing fetuses. Sometimes, the vet can feel the babies as soon as 2 weeks after conception.
This process is less expensive than other ways to confirm pregnancy, and it provides some other information beyond just a “yes” or “no.” For instance, the vet may be able to estimate how many babies the mother is carrying, which can help manage complications during the birthing process.
You may be tempted to try palpations since the process looks easy. However, doing it incorrectly can be dangerous for both the mothers and the babies. You don’t want to push down with the wrong amount of force or in the wrong spot. Therefore, it is best to get this done by a professional. If they feel developing babies, then it’s a very good sign your ferret is pregnant.
Ultrasounds are another way for trained veterinarians to confirm a pregnancy. They provide a bit more information than palpations. However, they can also be more expensive and may have more side effects (as the ferret may need to be medicated during the process, as they must keep still).
Ultrasounds can be performed in as little as 10 days after mating. They can visualize the fetuses, allowing the vet to determine their exact number and age. They can also pick up on several complications. Therefore, they’re a helpful diagnostic tool.
Sadly, ultrasounds aren’t as common for ferrets as other pets, like dogs and cats. Therefore, finding a vet experienced in performing them on ferrets can be challenging. Luckily, the process isn’t complicated, so even a less-experienced veterinarian can glean a bit from a ferret ultrasound.
When ultrasounds aren’t available, some vets may use an X-ray to get a more in-depth view of the developing babies. This test only detects babies when they are practically fully formed, so it isn’t commonly used for pregnancy confirmation. However, it can be utilized if the ferret is accidentally pregnant and the pregnancy isn’t noticed until the late stages.
There are several reasons X-rays aren’t commonly used, though. The radiation used by X-rays can technically injure the babies, though this is unlikely at the late stages of pregnancy when they’re already formed. Furthermore, the mother must be put under anesthesia, as she must lay very still for some time. There are always side effects to anesthesia, especially when the mother is pregnant.
For these reasons, other methods to confirm pregnancy are more common.
Knowing your ferret is pregnant is vital to caring for the mother and babies. Ferrets need special care during and after pregnancy. Performing this special care is impossible if you don’t know your ferret is pregnant.
Sadly, most signs the average owner may notice don’t appear until late pregnancy. Therefore, many pregnancies may go unnoticed for some time.
Luckily, vets can perform several diagnostic tests to let you know if your ferret is pregnant much earlier. Getting your ferret proper care during pregnancy is vital, and the first step is getting a confirmation done by a vet.
Featured Image Credit: Yasmins world, Shutterstock