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Believe it or not, deaf ferrets are more common than you think. If you have any ferrets in your care, it is important to know if any of them are deaf. This is especially necessary if you have your suspicions about it. That’s why in this article, we will look at everything necessary. It’s everything you must know to understand if their ferret is deaf. How to further care for the deaf ferret is also provided.
To understand deaf ferrets, we need to understand:
- The causes of deafness in ferrets,
- Understanding the behaviors of deaf ferrets,
- How to identify deafness in ferrets
- And how to care for deaf ferrets.
Causes of Deafness
Waardenburg Syndrome is a genetic condition which is also termed neural crest disorder. It leads to white patches and marks. ‘Blaze’ (white stripe on the head) and ‘Panda” (white fur covering most of the head) colored ferrets are most likely to be deaf. The syndrome leads to the improper development of the inner ear hearing mechanism, which results in profound hearing loss and deafness. Pigmentation of the eyes may also be affected. The skull is also differently formed and shaped in those with Waardenburg syndrome (Flattened appearance of the head and eyes more widely spaced than usual). Other cranial issues (due to mutation of the neural crest cells during embryological development) may be present in Waardenburg Syndrome, along with higher chances of developing Juvenile Lymphosarcoma and digestive problems.
Administration of ototoxic drugs to ferrets, especially baby ferrets (and even human babies) such as gentamycin causes deafness due to its ototoxicity.
Ear Mites, Infection, and Other Diseases
If these are not treated promptly they are capable of causing certain degrees of (if not total) deafness.
Behaviors of Deaf Ferrets
A remarkable behavior seen in deaf ferrets is head flipping. When being held, the ferret insistently likes to hang and flip its head upside down and backwards.
Deaf ferrets have a fearlessness of water and enjoy dunking their heads in water (doing a ‘snorkeling’ action), much more than ferrets who aren’t deaf. They may also have no reaction to splashing and running water.
Sensory Seeking Activities
The deaf ferret may be more exploratory in its behaviors. Digging more, mouthing more objects, lying and trying to feel different surfaces, all may be seen in a deaf ferret. They may sniff their surroundings more with deeper inhalations than normal smelling and breathing.
Deaf ferrets may be either extra cautious, and will make sure they don’t bump into anything, or extremely clumsy instead. Baby ferrets (deaf and those who aren’t deaf) do happen to bump into objects a lot, However deaf baby ferrets have a higher tendency to exhibit this behavior than non-deaf baby ferrets.
Deaf ferrets are seen to prefer to play alone away from other ferrets, and even people. Sometime they may try to join in with other ferrets, but only from the sidelines. It appears they want the company, but don’t know exactly how to interact with others.
Excessive Vocalization or Muteness
Many deaf ferrets may make inappropriately loud screeching or squealing noises while playing and many times out of the social context of the ongoing activity. They may also be completely mute.
Some deaf ferrets may excessively hiss more than the ferrets who aren’t deaf. Unlike non-deaf ferrets, they hiss much more randomly for no apparent reason. Non-deaf ferrets usually hiss more for discomfort and as a warning.
Deaf ferrets seem more aware of their surroundings visually and compared to non-deaf ferrets who do stare, deaf ferrets seem to stare even more.
This is such a deep sleep in which the ferrets appear dead, since even the breathing becomes so shallow. Normal ferrets also do this, but deaf ferrets do it to a much larger extent. They appear limp and cold to the touch while being difficult to awaken.
Sudden Energy Burst
This sudden energy burst is seen in both normal and deaf ferrets, but much more in a deaf ferret. The ferret wakes up suddenly out of a deep sleep and exhibits a sudden burst of energy-running up and down the stairs etc.
You must understand that every ferret is different. While they do have their own individual traits, these are some of the most commonly reported behaviors by multiple pet owners and caretakers of deaf ferrets. Sharing this information amongst each other has made it easier to understand deaf ferrets for all.
Checking/Testing if a Ferret is Deaf
The Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response (BAER) or Brainstem Auditory Evoked Potential (BAEP) tests can be carried out. Brainstem Auditory Evoked Potential is the evoked potential caused by hearing a sound, which may typically be a series of clicks. Electrodes are connected on the ferret’s head to check for electrical impulses in its middle ear. If you suspect your ferret may be deaf you should bring your ferret to the vet to carry out these tests. Keep in mind these tests may not be readily available with every vet.
You should also understand that some of the most reliable testing may occur at home, where there will be more quiet and less over saturation of odors, noises, etc. In your home, you may take your ferret to a quiet empty room, with no smells or any other distraction. Use all frequencies ranging from low to high to test your ferrets deafness. Do the test by making all the noises with the ferrets back turned to you, since they should not be able to see what you are doing. Also, do not let them feel any vibrations on the floor or in the air. Test over numerous days and when you’re more sure you have identified deafness, it is best to then visit the vet to confirm the diagnosis.
Other suspicions of your ferret being deaf may arise from different scenarios you may have encountered with your ferret. You may make loud noises but the ferret does not wake up or react to them if awake. They may react to movements and vibrations however you see their lack of response to sounds. If you have multiple ferrets you may compare their behaviors and observe signs of deafness. The deaf ferrets are not affected by the vacuum cleaner but the normal ones react and run away. If you talk to your ferrets first and then touch them from behind, you can observe their reactions. The deaf ones will be the most startled because they did not hear you talking and approaching them.
Caring for a Deaf Ferret
Once it is confirmed that your ferret is deaf, you must understand how to care for a deaf ferret. Caring for a deaf ferret isn’t too different from caring for a normal ferret. However, you must take the deafness into consideration here. Your ferret cannot hear you or anybody else. You must realize that you cannot train this ferret to understand vocal commands or try to get their attention by speaking to them. Clicker training is also not useful here since the ferret cannot hear it. Learn to avoid startling your ferret as it will be scared and bite you. Avoid approaching from behind instead do it from the front. Don’t try to pick up the ferret without it knowing your presence and inform guests that your ferret is deaf, so they don’t unnecessarily end up startling it either.
Keep an eye on your ferret and make sure that it is not putting objects in its mouth. Supervise any playtime with other ferrets. The hearing ferrets may not understand the deaf ferrets strange vocalizations. Stop any fights between the ferrets immediately.
Training can be done using visual cues, such as the light switch or hand gestures. Vibrations may also be used. You may tap the floor to let the ferret know you are here. Visual cues can also involve the ferret being trained to recognize and identify your facial expressions. Blowing on their face gently (the way you blow on hot chocolate, tea, coffee, or soup!) is a good way to indicate your presence to them.
Scruffing can also be done, but carefully. Grip the loose part of their neck and head, firmly but not tight enough to hurt them. The ferret shouldn’t be lifted without first holding the lower body in a stable position. Then you may lift the ferret.
Remember, your ferret being deaf is not the end of your world, or theirs! After getting a confirmation of your ferret being deaf, you may feel overwhelmingly disappointed as a pet owner or care taker. You need to realize that it’s okay! For ferrets born with Waardenburg Syndrome, they have never known anything different and you should realize that. It becomes your responsibility to accommodate for this slight disability of your ferret. Deaf ferrets can and do lead fulfilling lives! The bond you will create with a deaf ferret is not any less than that created with a normal ferret, in fact, it may be stronger!!