Sad LukeDepression

Can ferrets really suffer from depression?  Absolutely!  Illness, loss of a buddy, sudden change in lifestyle - all can be factors that contribute to a ferret's depression.  But there are many ways to help your friend through a difficult time and see your critter get back to living a happy life!

Death of a best friend
I suppose the most common cause of serious depression is the death of a best friend. Ever heard of when one spouse follows the other shortly after one dies - "died of a broken heart?" Well...perhaps we are projecting a bit on our critters, but depression can certainly come upon the heels of a pals death.

If you have an ill critter (one who will not be around much longer) I strongly recommend making plans for the best friend to visit with buddy after death. I know this is not a pleasant topic - but it's something I feel is important. Ferrets who are able to see their play mates after death don't necessarily do any better or worse than those who don't - but in my view, better to try than not.

What to watch
After a play mates death, a move, a sudden change in play time, a move to a new home or a bout of illness, critters can become depressed. You probably won't notice many "symptoms" - other than reduced playing. Of course, if there has been a death, probably everyone will be a little down. But you must make sure to pay attention to your critters eating habits. How's that? Well - make sure critter does not stop eating!

Vets speculate that most ferrets naturally carry "Heliobacteria" in their innards. This is a bacteria which can become opportunistic and go on the attack upon the onset of stress in your ferret. As a ferret knowledgeable friend (the oh-so-wise-Melissa) said so well: "What's important to realize is that it may start out as depression, but it can quickly turn into an actual medical ulcerative condition that won't go away without meds. Very often Helicobacter is brought on by extreme stress, such as the loss of a cagemate and it's really difficult to get rid of. Not impossible, just a lot of work for about a month. The point is, that once that happens (and it could happen very quickly) it's not just a matter of getting him "un-depressed" - critter will need medical intervention."

Additionally, as evidenced by one friend's ferret in particular, sometimes the death of a beloved buddy can either bring on or enhance an existing medical condition in the ferret left behind. Please keep in mind that this area is highly speculative, but I do think there's something to it. Perhaps the onset of stress from the death occurs, it overwhelms the little system - which is already fighting off the original malady. Again, getting your vet involved early and being very conscious of critters overall health and behavior is critical to securing proper care.

What to do???
Now, there is a difference from critter being a bit "off" and eating less - to giving up and refusing food entirely. If your critter has stopped eating altogether, please visit the adjoining page - you'll find directions there for how to assist him. Also - because you are aware of the heliobacter being possibly in play, do visit a vet. The heliobacter will attack the stomach lining and cause aggravation - and possibly ulcerations. Some vets don't like to acknowledge depression...but as Melissa so eloquently summed up - critter will need meds along with your supportive care. Get that heliobacter treatment into critter while you force feed!

As for how to "cheer up" your critter...well, there are many things you can do. However, I do not recommend rushing out to find a new fuzzy as one of them! Many of us think "Well, buddy has died - I'm sure my ferret is only lonely and will appreciate having a new playmate!" While this many be true in theory, in practice it can be more difficult.

I think the worst thing you can do is simply bring home a baby for your middle aged weasel. Babies are insane, as many of us remember (snicker) and the grownups sometimes have difficulty taking them! Sometimes an adult will simply look at the whirling dervish you're cooing over and kind of "sniff-sniff - oh god, a baby! Nope - no patience for that - Bye!"

A better choice, one that seems to work in each instance where real care is taken, is to get an adult - one that your critter picks out. Of course I recommend a shelter for this adventure and selection - as time can be spent with critters to find the one your furry likes best. I mean even making several visits - to make sure a bond is possible. Not all ferrets will get along - believe me, I've had near wars in my own home! But with care, you can find a buddy for your bereaved critter. However, upon bringing the newbie home, you'll again have to be very aware of everyone's habits - to make sure no one is stressed!

As for what you can do immediately: well, I think you can imagine what I'd advise. More play time, more snuggle time, new toys, lots of treats. Perhaps don't wash those binkies right away after buddies death. Perhaps put buddy's favorite toy in with surviving fuzzy. Then again, I think new experiences are good too. If critters have one room they can play in, perhaps give surviving critter access to a whole new room. But most important, I think, is to spend lots of time with your weasel. This is essential whenever your critter goes through a rough time, whether from illness or depression. They will appreciate being able to visit with you whenever they like. Stop washing dishes to address them - pick 'em up and take them 'round to see what you're working on. If you're at the computer - get 'em up there to see what it is that has all your attention (snicker)! This may make them feel more involved - let 'em know that you are still there and will provide for their happiness.

Will my critter really get through this???
YES!  Although this adventure may sound scary - and it is, believe me, to have your ferret refuse to eat and get so emaciated - treatment is at hand! Along with your loving care, critter will pull through. As always - if you ever find yourself in this type of situation and need more information, please visit the medical information links on the link page to learn more. Also feel free to drop a line!