Hank’s Close Call (as shared with Deb)
Hank is one of our three fur babies. He has a cinnamon coat, is one and a half years old, and is probably one of the most well-mannered ferrets around. He’s had many great adventures since he came to live with us but just last week after one of Hank’s big romps around the house is where his next adventure began.
Wednesday, January 4, 2017
Hank along with his one-year-old sable little brother Riley, and three-year-old marked white older sister Darla were having their daily fun time outside of their cage. Under the watchful eyes of their feline sisters Francine and Lucy, all three ferrets were bouncing around having a grand old time. The room was full of dooks and the pitter-patter of their little feet as they chased each other around. Hank was paying close attention to the new automatic cat feeder that had suddenly appeared in the room. Unbeknownst to him his feline food dish had been moved downstairs in order to be closer to their litterbox (Francine has a hard time remembering where to go when the time arrives).
Playtime continued until pretty soon we realized that it was suddenly a lot quieter and that someone was missing. After some investigation we realized that Hank had quietly retired back into his cage and was curled up under his blanket. Peculiar we thought, but he must just be tired after his playtime. Riley and Darla finished their play-time and soon it was bed time. Hank was still laying in his cage; he wasn’t sleeping though, just staring at nothing in particular. After picking him up we realized how lethargic he was. He just laid there in Teekca’s arms with his head down. Very strange. We thought maybe he was just very tired from his playtime so we put him back in his cage to sleep.
Thursday, January 5, 2017
In the morning Hank perked up like he usually did when we fill up their food bowl and he walked around a bit. He seemed to be well rested and back to normal. Fast forward a few hours to around 4:30pm after we were done work. Teekca noticed that Hank was just lying there in his cage like the night before. She picked him up and found that he was drooling… a lot. He also didn’t eat or drink anything all day. This was when we knew for sure that something was not right. We immediately got on the phone and called our vet at Tuxedo Animal Hospital. We needed him to be seen right away.
Unfortunately, Hank’s vet was not scheduled to be in until 9:00 am the next morning. They suggested we phone Henderson Veterinary. Same thing. No one would be able to see him until the following morning at 9:00 am. This continued for a while. Birchwood? Nope. Sage Creek? Nope. Centennial? Nope. Southglen? Nope. We were told to contact Winrose. Finally, someone would be able to see Hank at 7:30pm – a bit later than we wanted but this was better than waiting until the next morning. After the vet technician heard Hanks symptoms she briefly put me on hold and spoke with the vet. The vet wanted us to bring him in ASAP.
We packed Hank up as quickly as we could and drove down to Winrose Animal Hospital to meet with Dr. McDonald. Hank was brought into the examination room immediately. We took Hank out of his carrier and all he did was lay on the table like he was speed bumping. A very sad speed bump. We were both so worried for Hank because we have never seen him behave like this before. We brought Dr. McDonald up to date on everything and even mentioned that Hank ate some of Francine and Lucy’s kitten food the night before. Dr. McDonald immediately took his temperature and heart rate. She found that his body temperature was somewhere around 34 degrees (extremely low), and his heart rate was very slow as well. She said these are usually the symptoms of organ failure. Our little Hank was very, very sick.
They immediately brought him in for x-rays to check for a blockage and wrapped him in heat to try bring his body temperature back up. Nothing showed up on his x-rays to immediately to indicate a foreign body, but the area around his pancreas showed up foggy (usually caused by inflammation). They still did not want to rule out that Hank had eaten something that would have caused a blockage (objects like string and foam do not show up well on x-rays). They decided to give Hank fluids under his skin to keep him hydrated, force fed him some medicated digestive food, and gave him some anti-inflammatory medication. Dr. McDonald told us to take Hank home for the night and make sure we keep him warm. We needed to get Hank’s body temperature up again – this was very important. We scheduled a follow up appointment for 9:00am the next morning.
Friday, January 6, 2017
We brought Hank in for his follow up appointment first thing the next morning and found that Hank’s temperature and heart rate increased and was almost close to normal. Unfortunately, there was no improvement to his behaviour and he had still yet to eat or drink anything on his own. Dr. McDonald hospitalized him for the day so they could do blood work and more tests. Throughout the day they gave Hank a barium swallow followed by an x-ray. The barium in his body would ‘light up’ under x-ray and would give a better idea if there was a blockage.
They drew blood for testing, gave him an IV (which of course he pulled out twice), some pain killers, and kept him under heat. The new x-rays showed that the barium did not make it past his stomach except for a small amount that made it to his colon. This was an indication of a blockage although there was still no indication of a foreign body. The blood tests showed a high red blood cell count (sign of dehydration), low creatinine level (caused by low protein), and immature red blood cells (result of inflammation). His blood sugar was normal at 10.5 which ruled out insulinoma. His lipase level (pancreatic enzyme) was extremely high at 3475. Normal lipase levels for ferrets are anywhere between 0-200. This was extremely worrying. Dr. McDonald immediately began treating Hank for pancreatitis. Dr. McDonald gave us a brief lesson on pancreatitis.
This is a condition mostly found in cats and dogs and there is very limited knowledge of it in ferrets. Wonderful, right? She told us that the pancreas is an organ that produces hormones (like insulin) and secretes enzymes into the intestines to aid digestion. Nestled between the stomach and small intestine, it tends to swell (usually painfully and potentially fatally) when it’s egregiously insulted through a variety of different causes like rapid change in diet and/or high fat intake (perhaps kitten food?).
This inflammation and its effects on the body are referred to as pancreatitis. When pancreatitis occurs, the pancreas releases enzymes and other substances into the surrounding area of the abdomen. These substances cause localized inflammation that damages the pancreas and nearby organs and can lead to life-threatening complications. Essentially the organs begin to digest themselves. This is why Hank was so lethargic and quiet. His body was eating itself and he was dying. This was now a life and death situation.
Our options now were to simply continue his anti-inflammatory medication and hope for a change (anti-inflammatory medication takes around 1-3 days show change) or we could admit Hank for exploratory surgery. At this point Dr. McDonald still has not ruled out a blockage due to a foreign body. If they found a foreign body in his stomach and/or digestive tract they would remove it, if they found that there was nothing there then they would simply stitch him up and continue his medication. Dr .McDonald offered to give Hank an ultrasound free of charge to check if anything appeared that would indicate a foreign body. After the ultrasound there was still no indication of a foreign body. This was strange since there was obviously something preventing anything from going past his stomach.
At this point we had to sit down and have the hard talk about how far we were willing to go for Hank. We had spent over $700.00 on his vet bills up to this point. Would we pay the $1090 for Hank’s surgery? Would we just simply wait for things to get better? We ultimately decided that we would do whatever necessary to get Hank back to normal. Hank was the first ferret that both of us had ever seen and held, he was our first fur baby and he was part of the family. Both of us have very supportive families so we decided to start a GoFundMe page for Hank. We managed to raise almost $400.00 om our friends and family to put towards Hanks vet bills (Thank you Deb for your generous donation of $50.00!).
We thought about what to do logically. Hank already had two rounds of x-rays done and they could not find any sort of foreign body. He even had an ultrasound that indicated the same. His lipase levels were extremely high and his first x-rays showed up foggy around his pancreas. We figured that the inflammation around his pancreas was causing his organs to inflame so much that nothing would pass. This had to be it. Hank was dying and the last thing we wanted was for him to undergo a surgery that might ultimately be for nothing. We decided to just let Hank continue with his anti-inflammatory medication and wait for it to kick in. If there was no change by Monday, we would bring Hank in for surgery.
Dr. McDonald respected our decision and she showed us how give Hank his medication and how to force feed him with a syringe as he still was not eating at this point. They gave him enough liquid under his skin to keep him hydrated until Monday although this time they warmed it up to help him with his temperature and off we went. We brought Hank home and hoped that his mediation would begin to show change. We even went out and bought Hank a nice warm heated blanket. We attempted to give Hank his medication for the first time that evening and we found out how much a ferret can struggle regardless of how sick they are. It was like wrestling with a big old fish!
Saturday, January 7, 2017
We checked on Hank first thing in the morning and wonderful news… Hank pooped! We didn’t realize how happy one could get over a little bit of poop. Things were obviously getting back to normal inside Hanks little body. He was still a little lethargic but he perked his little head up to say good morning and as if to say “I’m feeling a little better today”.
We phoned the vet to give an update and we decided that we will not be bringing Hank in for surgery that day and that we were going to let his medication continue to do its job. Dr. McDonald was not scheduled to work this day but said she would stay on call for the weekend in case something happened and Hank needed to come in for surgery. Dr. McDonald is wonderful. We brought Hank in for a checkup because he didn’t eat or drink anything and we were unable to give him his medication the night before.
He was seen by another Doctor at Winrose. She took his temperature, checked his heart rate, and gave us more doses of medication. One of the nurses gave us some tips on how to make sure Hank takes his medication. This involved us making a Hank burrito. She also showed us that force feeding is even messy for her too. Hank stayed in his cage for the rest of the day, watching us from the comfort of his new blanket as we did our normal Saturday things.
Sunday, January 8, 2017
Teekca had to work today so it was just me and Hank at home. When I went to check up on Hank he jumped up and put his paws on the cage to meet me. I opened the door reached my hand in and he climbed right up my arm like he always does. Our little guy was feeling better! I decided to let him roam around the living room and what would you know… he started to play with me! Under the watchful eyes of his feline sisters Hank and I played until I brought out Riley and Darla. We kept Hank apart in our ‘sick time’ cage while he was feeling down. Even though they could always see each other they were so happy to be reunited.
Monday, January 9, 2017
Hank had a follow up appointment today. They gave him a checkup and what would you know, it looks like Hank is almost healthy again! His temperature is normal, his heart rate is normal, and he is back to his personable self. We will continue giving him is medication until he is done on Friday. Hank was on the mend!
Saturday, January 14, 2017
Well it’s been over one week since Hank had his near death experience and we are happy to report that he is pretty much 100%. He is done his medication, is back to eating and drinking, and is back to his playful, mischievous self.
We wrote this story in the hopes to show others how quickly things can go downhill for ferrets. Hank didn’t eat a mysterious foreign body like an earplug, but simply ate his sisters kitten food. We didn’t think anything of it because he eats a mixture of ferret food and cat food every day. What is a little kitten food going to do, right? While maybe adult food is okay for ferrets, definitely keep your kitten food away from them. Kitten food is high in fat which helps the kittens grow. The adult cat food that our ferrets have mixed in with their ferret food is super high in protein and is a bit higher quality than the kitten food we buy. As you already know ferrets are fairly sensitive little creatures and we definitely need to keep a close eye on what they eat. In total Teekca and I have spent around $1300 on Hank this past week on vet visits, medications, and his heated blanket. We hope that you can learn from our very expensive and scary lesson that we learned.