- Do ferrets even need vaccinations?
In short, yes. Ferrets are susceptible to rabies and canine distemper. Vaccinating against them ensures your ferret won't contract these disease. For a more in depth response, see the third question.
-I bought my ferret from a pet store, doesn't it have its shots?
Unfortunately, no. Ferrets are shipped to stores with 1 temporary distemper shot. They do not receive any sort of rabies shot before being shipped to stores. Unless the store took the initiative to vaccinate the ferret (unlikely!), then your ferret will need to have its vaccines updated. If in doubt, always ask to see the vaccine record/shipping record for the ferret.
-Should I vaccinate my ferret?
Here is where it gets tricky. Vaccinating is a very personal choice. I think it's up to the owner to read up on the pros and cons of each, and then make an educated decision. If your ferret is already prone to reactions/ has had a reaction in the past, then in may be best to not vaccinate.
Distemper is an airborne disease. There is no cure. This means that if there is an outbreak in your area, you could potentially introduce distemper into your home and expose your ferrets. That said, outbreaks are not very common. I myself opted to vaccinate for distemper because I work in a pet store, and come into contact with lots of animals every day. I wanted my ferrets to be protected just in case.
Rabies can only be transmitted through the blood or saliva of an infected animal, so it is not likely that your ferret will contract rabies. However, it does cover you if your ferret bites someone. The only test for rabies is to euthanize the animal and examine the spinal cord. So, if you do a lot of public outings, or there is a chance that a lot of people may hold your ferret, you may want to opt for a rabies shot.
If you plan to attend ferret shows or events, it is usually required that your ferret be vaccinated for both rabies and distemper.
-What vaccinations are safe for ferrets?
The only approved distemper vaccine for ferrets is PureVax. Unfortunately, the company has stopped producing this vaccine (UGH!) Many vets are out of stock now. The alternative is Nobviac-DPV, also known as "the puppy shot" Although it is technically "off label" use for ferrets, it has been widely used for many years with good success.
Imrab-3 is the approved rabies vaccine.
-How often should I vaccinate?
For Kits: They have had one distemper shot at 8 weeks. They should receive a second shot at 10 weeks, and then a third at 14 weeks.
Rabies shots should be given at 12 weeks.
Ferrets older than 9 weeks, or those with unknown history: One distemper shot, and then a booster 3 weeks later.
Rabies shots don't need a booster, just give one shot.
It is important to note that you should never give both vaccines at the same time. If your ferret has a reaction (which can happen), you won't know which vaccine it was to.
It used to be common practice to vaccinate yearly, but it is now becoming more prevalent to do a titer test instead. Titering checks the blood's resistance levels and helps determine whether re-vaccinating is necessary. Over-vaccinating can lead to an increased risk of reactions.