There were three excellent responses to my question on the best ages
at which to spay or neuter ferrets, from Debbie Riccio, Pam Grant, and
Bill Killian (on the FML last week).
All three recommend six to seven months of age as the "best"
earliest age for both spaying and neutering. Of course, as with any
recommendation, there are cautions and exceptions. Chief among these
is that the recommendation assumes that the ferret's new owner is
responsible and sensitive to the need for spaying and neutering.
Kits sold through pet shops should be (and generally are) fixed
before they are sold, regardless of age, because it is difficult to
ascertain how responsible a pet buyer will be. The best case for a pet
shop means that a ferret will be altered at 12 weeks and sold at 14 or
older. Sadly, we know that this is not always the case.
Pam Grant mentions that rescue shelters or breeders who provide kits
before they reach six months should issue a "strict contract with
manadatory neutering". She mentions that when she sells her own kits,
she builds in a financial incentive for alteration before seven months
(a portion of the purchase price is applied to or refunded for
alteration). IMO, an excellent idea.
SPAYING: Jill kits must be watched closely in the weeks before they
reach six months of age, as they could come into season as early as
four months. We are looking for a moist genital area and particularly
a swollen vulva. (Other signs of impending puberty--mood swings,
sassing back at parents, slamming doors, spending hours in the
bathroom--may be too subtle for us to catch in ferrets ;).
If the kit starts exhibiting a swollen vulva, she should be checked
into a vet immediately. However, as Bill points out, it may be tricky
to spay a female already in heat (because of increased blood flow to
Bill points out that as ferrets have moved indoors as pets, some
jills enter season earlier because artificial lighting is playing
havoc with their breeding synchronization system. So, here's another
question: if it's at all possible, would it be better to keep a jill's
artificial "daylight" times relatively short (<12 hours) until she
reaches six or seven months, so she doesn't come into heat too early?
Would this just be "healthier" for her in general?
There seems to be some consensus to wait as long as possible (up to
eight months) before spaying, if the jill has yet to show signs. As a
first-time owner, I think I'd be a little nervous about this, since
her life is riding on it.
So, *another* question: do we want to wait until six (or eight)
months because the kits will be physically bigger and so will better
tolerate surgery? Are we waiting to get some kind of hormonal effect
before we stop the sexual maturation process? I guess I'm wondering
why eight months as opposed to six...or six as opposed to, say, four.
NEUTERING: Before neutering, the testicles should be descended. This
has usually happened by six months. As Debbie says, if they haven't
descended by then, abdominal surgery may have to be considered to see
whether tumors or something else may be interfering with them. Debbie
also notes that ferret farms perform abdominal surgery to neuter male
kits, since the testes may not have descended by the time they are
released to shops.
OLDER FERRETS: At the other end of the spectrum, are males who have
been allowed to mature intact, or females engaged in breeding. Bill
notes that breeding stock is "retired" and altered at age three or
four, to spare them the strain of continued breeding cycles. I assume
that we would want to alter both sexes "out of season": healthier for
the jill, anyway; and I can imagine probably less of a shock to a hob
to get snipped out of rut than in it.
Thanks Debbie, Pam, and Bill, for your help.
[Posted in FML issue 1241]