Saturday, April 4, 2009

Ouch! Cuts, scratches and puncture wounds

Let’s face it, ferrets LOVE to bug. They enjoy harassing cats, dogs and even other ferrets, playfully dodging any retaliatory strikes put forward by the aggravated animal. I will stop at this point and make one things perfectly clear: I do not condone allowing your ferret to play unsupervised with other animals or even unfamiliar ferrets.

Sometimes no matter how careful you are, bad things things happen.

So what do you do if your ferret gets a cut, scratch or puncture wound? First, I would suggest assessing the situation. Is the ferret badly hurt? If so, then an emergency trip to the vet is in order. Or is it just a scratch or shallow cut? If the ferret only has a small scratch, then an emergency trip to the vet is not necessary. I would suggest thoroughly washing the injured area with a strong soap such as a hibitane solution and keeping an eye on the wound over the next few days for signs of infection. If the injury was made by another ferret, a small amount of inflammation is possible in some cases; if the inflammation around the wound does not subside after a few hours, take the animal to the vet - it is better to be safe than sorry. Puncture wounds are particularly nasty creatures - they are difficult to spot and can be a source of infection. Sometimes, bacteria or foreign matter can get forced under the skin by a puncture, causing the injury to become infected or abscess.

Abscesses are not nice; they require regular cleaning and medication to help kill the bacteria inside the wound and force the infection causing matter out of the body. Abscess are also tough to treat, especially on a ferret. If the abscess is large, the vet may flush the wound, then lance (partially stitch) it and insert a drain to keep the wound clear of pus while healing. If the wound is not quite bad enough to be lanced and inserting a drain is not required or recommended, then it is up to the owner to keep the wound clean, as pus free as possible, and open. Keeping an abscess clean on a ferret is not easy - because of their low profile and ability to squeeze into small spaces, ferrets are DUST MAGNETS, and therefore their abscess must be cleaned AT LEAST twice a day. Abscesses are cleaned using a warm cloth. Often, the heat of the cloth will draw the pus out of the wound; if the infection is severe or the abscess has been neglected, the pus may have to be gently squeezed out of the wound; this should be done until no more pus comes out.

It is very important to remove scabs when cleaning as abscesses need to heal from the inside out. Allowing the outer layer of skin to heal over such a deep and bacteria laden wound will likely cause the abscess to reoccur.

Once the pus is out of the abscess, you may want to consider cleaning the area with a hibitane solution to prevent bacteria on the skin surrounding the wound from entering it, and perhaps applying a topical anti-bacterial agent such as polysporin**. Your vet will be able to tell you which products you should use to keep the wound clean while it is healing. If you notice that your ferret has an abscess, you should bring your ferret to the vet immediately: neglecting an abscess it never a good idea. A neglected abscess can cause your ferret a great deal of pain and discomfort. Swelling around the abscess leading to hair loss and thin skin on the affected area is possible in extreme cases, as is the infection entering the blood stream, leading to the death of the animal. Abscesses, if neglected, may become so infected that the infection spreads to other wounds, causing an entire area to become a giant pus pocket.

If you do everything right and the abscess returns, don’t give up! Sometimes the bacteria that has embedded itself in the wound is antibiotic resistant. If this is the care and the abscess returns as pussy as ever once the antibiotics run out, have the vet do a sensitivity culture - this can help determine which bacteria has entered the abscess and which antibiotics can get rid of the infection.

This ferret had been attacked by something. The wounds had not been properly or regularly cleaned and the ferret had not been treated; the animal had not been kept in clean conditions and was on no medication to help fight the bacterial invasion. The result: severe infection. Gently pressing on any single part of the neck (or on the pus-filled swelling located on the side of his neck) would cause pus to ooze out of all of the wounds. We counted approximately 7 abscesses total; it is likely that the infection began in one wound and spread. Due to infected abscesses, the ferret was almost completely bald around his neck and his skin was alarmingly thin. Allowing these wounds to get so infected would perhaps have been a bit more excusable if the infection was antibiotic resistant, or even potentially if treating it was extremely expensive; this was not the case. The abscesses were responsive to antibiotics, not too costly, and, after weeks of careful and thorough cleaning (which would not have been very time consuming had the infection not been allowed to spread), hair grew back, the skin began to thicken and the abscesses healed.

** when using a product such as Polysporin, make sure that the animal does NOT lick off the product as it may contain ingredients that are toxic when ingested. I suggest keeping the ferret separate from other animals and keeping it occupied until the Polysporin has 'soaked in' to the skin. Long term use is also not recommended due to possible negative effects on the kidneys.

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