Vaccinations & Vaccine Reactions for Pet Ferrets

Fervac-D Canine Distemper Vaccine

The manufacturer recommends shots (1 ml subcutaneously) at 8, 11, and 14 weeks. (Some vets recommend four shots, three weeks apart, instead. Two is not enough.) Then a yearly booster shot. Although rabies gets more press, the canine distemper vaccine is much more important for your ferret’s health. Adults who have never been vaccinated, or whose vaccination status is unknown, should get two canine distemper shots, three weeks apart, then yearly boosters. If you know they’ve been vaccinated within the last year, then one shot is enough. If you can’t get Fervac-D, or if your ferret has reacted to them in the past, Galaxy-D is an acceptable third choice. If you can’t get either of these, you’re taking the risk that your ferret won’t be protected, or worse, that he’ll become sick from the vaccine. At least be sure that it’s a vaccine for canine distemper which is a MODIFIED LIVE virus and was NOT cultured in ferret tissue. Chick embryo culture is best.

Imrab-3 Rabies Vaccine

One subcutaneous vaccination at 14-16 weeks, separated from the distemper vaccines by 2-3 weeks, then boosters yearly. This is the same rabies vaccine that’s used for dogs and cats, so your vet should have it around. It’s good for three years in cats, but only one year in ferrets, mainly because the company hasn’t done tests to see how long it lasts in ferrets. This is the only rabies vaccine approved for ferrets.

Possible Vaccine Reactions

Like any other animals, ferrets occasionally have adverse reactions to vaccinations, typically on the second or third exposure to a particular vaccine. Reactions are rare, and giving the rabies and distemper vaccinations two weeks apart is thought to reduce the chance, but they can be life-threatening.

There are several kinds of vaccine reactions. The most dangerous, anaphylactic reactions, usually occur within an hour after the vaccination. You may want to stay at your vet’s for 30-60 minutes after a vaccination, just in case. Watch for vomiting, diarrhea or loss of bladder/bowel control; signs of nausea or dizziness; dark bluish-purple blotches spreading under the skin; difficulty breathing; pale or bright pink gums, ears, feet or nose; seizures, convulsions, or passing out; or anything else that’s alarming – bad reactions are hard to miss.

Get the ferret back to the vet right away, probably for a shot of antihistamine (Benadryl) and perhaps a corticosteroid or epinephrine. Ferrets who have had mild to moderate anaphylactic reactions to a particular vaccine can be pre-treated with an antihistamine the next time, or you might consider switching to a different vaccine (from Fervac to Galaxy or the other way, for instance). If your ferret had a severe reaction, you and your vet can discuss the relative dangers of leaving that ferret unvaccinated.

Most delayed reactions aren’t dangerous. You might notice the ferret acting tired, showing flu-like symptoms, or possibly even vomiting a little within a day or two after the vaccination. As long as the symptoms don’t last longer than a day and don’t seem too extreme, there’s no need to worry. If the ferret has trouble breathing, is more than a little lethargic, or shows other worrisome symptoms, call or visit your vet. Antihistamines don’t help much with delayed reactions, but your vet might suggest pre-treating the ferret next time anyway, in case it helps.