We currently have 3 ferrets: Fred, Tammy, and Tina, Our first two ferrets, Ben and her sister Jerry, await us at the Rainbow Bridge, as do Buttercup, Bridgett, Jasmine, Bonnie, her brother Charlie, Lucy, Jenny, Teddy, and Tabitha, our dogs Lupi and Patrick, and our cats Felix and Eddie. Our current dog is a shelti, corgi, beagle mix named Riley.
Ben and Jerry, our first ferrets, came into our lives in January, 1990. They were two little silver-mitt kits. The pet store had booths for people to interact with prospective pets. Clare fell in love with Ben when Ben tugged on the bows of Clare's shoes. We wanted two ferrets to keep each other company. Bill picked Jerry, who had been Ben's cage-mate at the pet store, so that the pair could remain together. We were told that Ben and Jerry were litter-mates. We had already decided on the names Ben & Jerry but then discovered that the two new ferrets were girls. We were set on those names and kept them anyway. We then needed to decide which ferret would be Ben and which Jerry. Bill decided that the ferret Clare chose would be Ben because she has a dark black nose and the words Black and Ben both begin with a B.
Ben and Jerry were our only ferrets for four years. Around Valentine's Day, 1994, we decided to add another little kit to our family. We met Buttercup, a pretty little chocolate sable kit, in another pet store. She could fit easily in the palm of Bill's hand. She would rest in Bill's winter coat pocket, where she would gnaw on his little finger. Needless to say, we fell in love with her too. We definitely wanted a feminine name for the new ferret and the name of a flower suggested itself. We thought the name Snapdragon might be a cute ferret name, but it was rejected -- we did not want a self-fulfilling prophesy. We settled on the name Buttercup. For the first year she was mostly called Baby. Ben & Jerry accepted her surprisingly well, considering what a pest she was to them. This was especially surprising in retrospect considering what difficulty we later had in getting the older three to accept Bridgett. Buttercup was the most petite of our ferrets.
The fourth ferret was a rescue ferret. One of our former neighbors is an insurance adjuster. One day in April, 1995, she saw a ferret in a cat carrier in the basement of one of her clients. It had been given to one of the children of the family and was now unwanted. Our neighbor told the woman there that she knew of someone who might find a home for the ferret. Thus Bridgett came into our lives. She is a sable ferret, lighter in color and larger than Buttercup. Bridgett came to us in a cat carrier (which they wanted back) filled with cedar chips. Her possessions were a bag of cedar chips, a can of Sun-Seed ferret food, a piece of an old shirt and a small plastic dish. We were told that she was "less than a year old". The cedar chips went immediately into the compost pile. She was so thin that one could easily feel her ribs. Her spirit was so stunted by neglect that she didn't know how to play. She would just stare at a dangling toy and not know what to do. She also had a bad biting problem: she would bite hard. Bill trained her to moderate her biting in the first week, and with food available her body began to fill out. However, the hard part was yet to come. The other ferrets decided that they didn't like her. She, for her part, did not have any social skills with other ferrets. She would react to the other ferrets by staring at them. It took about 7 months (and a lot of work) until she was accepted by them. For the most part, Bridgett would run from them to a tube and then defend herself by biting at the other ferret's face. If she couldn't reach the face she did not know what to do. Buttercup could push her away by backing up into her.
We got Jasmine in October, 1995, at the same pet shop Buttercup came from. We were hoping that a younger ferret would be a friend and companion for Bridgett. Jasmine had arrived at the pet shop in late July. By October she was already four months old. She is a dark-eyed white with a sprinkling of dark guard hairs down her back and sides. She was our biggest ferret up until then, at her peak weighing in at 2.2 pounds. The name Jasmine, continues the flower theme: a white flower that "smells nice". The reaction of the older three to the newcomer was at least neutral rather than hostile. She would zoom around them before they would react. To our surprise and disappointment, the main hostility came from Bridgett. Bridgett, the ferret who did not know how to fight, now instantly discovered how to bite and shake Jasmine's neck. However, the coming of the newcomer brought peace to the house in an unexpected manner. Now Bridgett was not the newest ferret. The older three now tolerated her more, and the older three were now occasionally spotted sleeping with Bridgett. The older three also seemed to get along reasonably well with Jasmine and they were also occasionally spotted sleeping with her. By November, Bridgett seemed to be dropping her hostility to Jasmine and now occasionally would sleep with her. Bridgett would still chase Jasmine, but now some of it seemed like play. Jasmine is a big ferret and is quite capable of taking care of herself.
By December '95, all five ferrets were able to live together in one cage. Jasmine and Bridgett accompanied us to Ohio for Christmas '95. They shared a small cage for several days and were inseparable companions.
In February '96 we obtained a new cage for the ferrets, a three-story cage from Skip Martin's Critters and Cages. This cage was special ordered with a design that Bill drew up Skip also provided some hardware to attach a little door to the side of the the new cage and to the side of the old two-story cage. Then Bill used some plumbing to connect the two cages together through the little doors. "Scurry Palace", as we call it, now has 5 floors of ferret fun.
Around July and August '96. Jerry began to show signs of Adrenal disease. A blood test in September '96 also showed low glucose and impaired kidney function. On Oct 18, 1996 Dr. Charles Weiss performed surgery on her, removing her left adrenal and 3 tumors from her pancreas. The pathology revealed that both adrenal and pancreatic tumors were malignant. A blood test on December 9, 1996 showed that her blood sugar had returned to normal (GLU 106) but that her kidneys had continued to deteriorate (BUN 160's). Still when we took her to Ohio for Christmas she had fun stashing raisins and even could climb up a sofa to get them. Also, by the end of December '96 her adrenal condition had started to return.
Bridgett had her left adrenal removed by Dr. Weiss on Jan 23, 1997. The report from pathology was that the tumor was benign.
On a semi-annual checkup in January 1997, Dr. Stacey DiMaria (of West Frederick Veterinary Hospital) found what felt like an enlarged kidney. Dr. Weiss looked at the x-rays and thought it looked enlarged by a factor of two or three. A possible diagnosis was a cystic kidney. An ultrasound was taken February 4 which revealed that it was not a kidney but instead was above the kidney. It was then thought to be a very enlarged adrenal gland. Surgery took place on February 7. Ben lost quite a bit of blood during this surgery and had to be given a transfusion. Jasmine was the blood donor. The tumor was found to be growing in the pancreas rather than an adrenal gland. The left adrenal gland was slightly enlarged was also removed. A somewhat enlarged lymph node and some smaller pancreatic tumors were also removed. The report from pathology was that the large pancreatic tumor was a lymph node that had invaded the pancreas. Ben had lymphosarcoma.
Throughout January 1997 up to her death in mid February, Jerry, (Ben's sister), continued to require hand feeding and would not even drink water on her own. Every other day Bill gave her a hydration injection to flush out her kidneys to try to prolong her life. Every week she got an injection of Winstrol V (an anabolic steroid) that seemed to help her condition.
Jerry died on Saturday, February 15, 1997 at 3:25 pm on Bill's lap. She was 7 years 2 months old.
During the spring and summer of 1997 Ben received chemotherapy. She recovered from her surgery and had a period where she was active and playful. However eventually the cancer became drug resistant and her pancreas shut down. Ben died on Friday, August 22, 1997 at 11:10 am on Clare's lap. She was 7 years 8 1/2 months old. We miss Ben and Jerry very badly.
About a week after Ben's death Bill saw a kit in a pet shop that resembled Ben. He just had to have that kit. She had Ben's black nose and many of Ben's markings. There was also a male sable mitt ferret present who vaguely resembled Jerry and looked enough like the Ben-ferret that he could be her littermate. On September 15, 1997, a couple of weeks later, we adopted both ferrets. We named them Bonnie and Charlie. The name Bonnie was picked because it sort of resembles the name Ben. One of the names considered for Charlie was Charlie Brown, which was then shortened to Charlie.
Bonnie is a silver-mitt with a cute white tip to her tail. Her nose was originally black like Ben's but has faded to just a little bit of dark around the edges. Bonnie turned out to be a much more timid ferret than Ben (who was boss and knew it). She has taken possession of the little football shaped toys we call cow-toys (named that because of the cow-like black and white markings on the first one we owned). The toys belong in one of two corners on the top floor of the three story cage. If one of the other ferrets disturbs a toy and she is on another floor she looks up toward the toy, then runs up the ramp to check.
Charlie is a sable-mitt with white feet and a small white dot on the back of his head. He seems to have become the dominant ferret, because as a male he is bigger than the other ferrets who are all female. It is not as if he wants to be boss, he just wants to play.
After Ben's death and after the arrival of Bonnie and Charlie, Buttercup seemed to withdraw within herself. The death of Ben seemed to affect her (she used to try to get Ben to play) and the arrival of Charlie ended the role of dominant ferret she briefly inherited from Ben. She began to show nesting behavior which she had not shown before. She would pick a pouch and pull various toys and other pouches inside it, then go inside and curl up with her treasures. She particularly favored a set of stuffed mice which became "hers". Possession of the cow-toys, however, was a matter of dispute with Bonnie.
Early June 1998, Buttercup seemed to be acting uncomfortable. A barium xray indicated some kind of blockage. Dr. Weiss performed surgery on her and removed what looked like a hair-ball from her stomach. While she was opened up he inspected her internal organs and also removed an enlarged left adrenal gland. We had no idea that she had adrenal problems. Unfortunately, she started to develop adrenal symptoms after the surgery the removal of that adrenal gland.
During this time is was also becoming painfully obvious that Bridgett was going to need a second adrenal surgery. A low glucose reading indicated that insulinoma was also present. The surgery was performed by Dr. Weiss in July of 1998. Two thirds of the right adrenal was removed as was a third of the pancreas containing a single large tumor. Unfortunately the adrenal tumor was malignant. In the summer and fall of '98 Bridgett seems to be doing well, although we know that she is on borrowed time.
Buttercup's adrenal symptoms continued to progress. In order to not subject her to a second surgery in so short a time we tried a experimental treatment. The drug tamoxifen, used on women with breast cancer, was tried. The first round did not seem to do much for her. Then in October, a respiratory infection (the flu or a cold) swept through the three oldest ferrets. Jasmine came down first, then Buttercup, then Bridgett. It seemed to hit Buttercup the hardest. As Buttercup was recovering from the coughing she stopped eating and drinking on her own. We were wondering if we were smelling on her the "kidney failure" smell that Jerry had in her last months. A Blood Urea-Nitrogen (BUN) level of 88 confirmed that there were problems with her kidneys. We hoped that the problem is that dehydration caused by her cold has temporarily damaged her kidneys i.e.that her kidneys would recover and she will not follow Jerry's path. In the mean time she was no longer a candidate for surgery unless her kidney problem was brought under control. Bill again had to give periodic fluid injections to keep her hydrated and to give the kidneys the best chance to recover. On Thanksgiving weekend '98 she seemed somewhat better. On December 11 she had another blood test. This time the BUN measured 37! She had another BUN test in January with her BUN measuring 36. On Dr. Weiss's advice Bill then went to hydration injections once a week. Her next BUN test then registered 44. After going back to two injections a week her BUN went back down to 39. We were afrade that she would need these injections the rest of her life.
By mid-February it was clear that the Arimidex was no longer helping her. She was getting bald on her back. She had her second adrenal surgery on March 5. Dr. Weiss removed two-thirds of her right adrenal and 20% of her pancreas. Unfortunately her adrenal tumor was also malignant. Her recovery was a bit rough. She seemed to need cortisone (in the form of a small dose of prednisone) to replace the cortisone that had been produced by the mostly missing adrenal gland. At least her BUN as of March 29, 1999 was 39, the same as it was before the surgery. For a time we spotted her occasionally eating and drinking on her own leading up to hope that we could wean her off of hand feeding. However, that soon stopped and she still requires to be hand fed.
By mid May Jasmine started to overeat and was beginning to get fat. We began to suspect that she had adrenal disease as well. Her coat still looked full, although if one looked carefully one could see subtle signs of the effect of adrenal disease. Her spleen at this point was very large. After a round of antibiotics had no effect on the spleen, we scheduled surgery with Dr. Weiss for June 15. We suspected that he would remove the spleen and a small adrenal tumor. Instead there was a large tumor of the right adrenal which nearly blocked the vena cava. The tumor had caused the spleen to enlarge by blocking the vessels draining the spleen. Dr. Weiss removed the tumor and tied off the vena cava. As the spleen deflated to normal size the spleen was not removed.
Jasmine seemed initially to be recovering well from surgery, getting up shortly after surgery to move away from a source of heat intended to keep her warm. Unfortunately 2 days later she died. An autopsy was performed which was inconclusive -- no obvious cause of death was seen. The time of death was 12:05 on June 18, 1999. She had just turned 4. Jazzy, we miss you. You were too young to die.
During the Summer and Fall of '99 the four remaining ferrets did well. Buttercup's hair loss started to come back in May '99 but a shot of lupron caused her hair to grow back. A normal BUN in June meant that Bill was able to stop giving her fluid injections. Both Buttercup and Bridgett received lupron shots in September and Bill was able to wean Buttercup off of prednisone in November. Buttercup and Bridgett were active for most of this period and Bonnie and Charlie stayed bouncy and active. We had to spend a great deal of time from November until January 2000 in New Jersey tending Clare's parents during their illnesses. We purchased a ferret pen which we kept set up there, giving the ferrets a place to play during our travels.
By February 2000, as Buttercup's adrenal symptoms were beginning to return again, she received a third lupron shot. As lupron did not seem to be helping Bridgett we tried Casodex, a testosterone blocker, which did seem to help. Bridgett's coat was better than it had been in a long time. This time lupron was slow reversing Buttercup's adrenal symptoms. Her spleen was also starting to become very large, pushing her other organs to the side of her abdominal cavity. An ultrasound in late April showed a large adrenal tumor, which, fortunately, was not blocking the vena cava. It did look like surgery was the best option. However, with Jasmine's death fresh in our minds, coming to a decision was hard. We scheduled surgery, then canceled it and rescheduled it for a week later.
Dr. Charles Weiss performed surgery on May 17, 2000, removing the tumor and her spleen. The spleen had two tumors, which, fortunately, were benign. Charlie was a a blood donor for a transfusion for Buttercup. This was one of the smoothest recoveries from surgery we've seen. Five days after surgery Buttercup put a pile of toys away in her tent -- an act that has been one of her trademarks.
Through the of the summer of 2000 her condition improved but then toward the fall she began to act uncomfortable. In September, after an xray seemed to show another stomach blockage and surgery was again performed. However rather than a blockage, the surgery showed a thickened stomach lining. The pathology of the stomach tissues reported Inflammatory Bowel Disease. A large dose of predisone did not help. After some rounds of antibiotics and more blood tests, in December she was started on Imuran. At first it seemed to help, but then blood tests showed that she was fighting an infection. We stopped Imuran and started her again on antibiotics.
On Friday Feb 9, 2001 we almost lost Charlie to a vaccine reaction. He had a severe reaction to Fervac even after pretreatment with Benadryl. Our primary care vet, Dr. Stacy DiMaria, gave him dexamethasone, which has always been sufficient to stop reactions we've seen in other ferrets. Charlie's reaction was so strong that he also needed epinephrine and oxygen. Two hours after the reaction, in spite of all the treatment, he still had some respiratory problems. Dr. DiMaria stayed with him until 10 p.m., and then we took him to an emergency clinic to be monitored overnight. He didn't require further treatment except for Benadryl. We kept him on Benadryl a few more days. Fortunately, he recovered completely. No more distemper vaccination for him.
By the end of March 2001, Bill thought he felt a lump on Buttercup's right side below her ribcage. Unfortunately, on a March 30 appointment, Dr. Weiss confirmed its presence and verified that it was of large size. It was probably a return of the cancer of the right adrenal. That infection she was fighting may have been in a necrotic region inside that tumor. Through April we tried to keep her comfortable. Bill brought her into his office at work every day to keep an eye on her. In mid April she seemed to have another good period, begging for treats and putting some of her toys away in a tent in the cage. But then she began to get worse again.
On Saturday, May 12, it was clear Buttercup was dying. We took her to Dr. Weiss for euthanasia but she left us in her own time dying in the waiting room before we were called in. Bill was holding her as her heart stopped. The time was about 11:45 am and she was then about 7 years 4 months old.
1) UPDATE NOTE! Bridgett died on Bill's lap on May 11, 2002 at 2:56 pm. She was about 8 years old, our oldest ferret. More details will be furnished later.
2) UPDATE NOTE! Bonnie died on July 7, 2003 at about 3 pm after a long fight with lymphoma. She had just turned 6. More details will be furnished later.
3) UPDATE NOTE! Charlie died March 17, 2005.
4) UPDATE NOTE! Lucy died November 20, 2007.
5) UPDATE NOTE! Teddy died April 13, 2009.
6) UPDATE NOTE! Jenny died November 20, 2009.