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Ferrets and Waardenburg Syndrome: What You Need to Know

Tanya is the owner of multiple animals, including two ferrets. She has studied animal health and is a dedicated volunteer at a shelter.

Groot - Waardy Ferret

Groot - Waardy Ferret

The ferret is often plagued by a variety of health issues, yet there is one disorder that they can develop before they are even born that can have its own challenges.

Waardenburg Syndrome is a disorder that develops while the kit is still in the womb, but with a few special management techniques, they can still live a wonderful and happy life.

What Is Waardenburg Syndrome?

Discovered first in 1916 by a Dutch ophthalmologist it went through many studies over the years finally being named and formulated by Petrus Johannes Waardenburg in 1951. He broke the disorder into 4 categories. Type 2A is the type that ferrets are most often afflicted with.

Also called Neural Crest Disorder, Waardenburg Syndrome is a genetic disorder that runs on a spectrum. It can be found in small mammals and sometimes humans.

The neural crest cells in the brain are responsible for many different developments in the body. The cells travel through the neural tube from the brain down into the body to help form bones and cartilage of the face, the intestines and muscle formation. The neural crest cells also play a part in developing tissue around multiple glands, including the eye.

Symptoms and Signs

Not every Waardenburg ferret will have every symptom. It is common for them to only carry a few symptoms and depending on what your ferret struggles with will be equal to the amount of training and care they will need.

  • Deafness (partial or full)
  • White coat (blaze or panda fur colour)
  • Pigment changes in eyes, fur and skin
  • Babyface look
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Cognitive defects
  • Behaviour issues/lack of social skills
  • Abnormal walk
  • Eyes further apart
  • Flat head
  • Odd head movements
Celene Hoag Ferret: Leonard

Celene Hoag Ferret: Leonard

Managing Symptoms

Deafness

Having a deaf ferret can definitely be a challenge, but they don't seem to be bothered by it, as they were born that way and it is normal to them.

To test their hearing or lack thereof, start with general talking and noises. You can up the volume on this type of sound to see if your ferret responds or not. If they do not, try tapping the floor or stomping and see if they can feel the vibration. They also easily will become startled if they do not hear you coming.

The ultimate test is the “vacuum test” This simply involves running your vacuum cleaner to see if they have any reaction to the noise at all. If your ferret is partially deaf, they may respond slightly.

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Once you know the status of their hearing, it is time to work on some training. Some ferrets will respond to certain hand signals to help them understand. They can look at your body movements and facial expressions to help them learn what is good and bad. It is a good idea to try and make some sort of floor vibration to let them know you are coming if they are easily startled.

Both you and your ferret will adopt and learn each other's habits as time goes on.

Behaviour Problems

A big problem with a Waardy ferret is that they do not understand the cues that other ferrets are giving them. Since they can not hear, they do not know if they are being too rough or doing something the other ferret doesn't like.

Observation is your friend. Watch your ferrets play and correct your Waardy when you feel you need to step in. Often they will begin to learn how the other ferret likes to play, but they still can sometimes get a little too excited. You may need to step in from time to time to redirect their energy elsewhere.

Digestion

Some ferrets with Waardenburg syndrome have a sensitive digestive system. If you find this is the case, you should speak with your veterinarian who can help you come up with a diet suited to their needs.

McKenna Schmitt Ferret: Javik

McKenna Schmitt Ferret: Javik

Treatment

Unfortunately, there is no cure for Waardenburg Syndrome. It is a genetic mutation that they carry for life. It is not contagious, and it will never spread to other ferrets in this way.

You may need to treat certain symptoms simply for any relief of pain or other health problems that may occur.

Final Reminder

The majority of ferrets with Waardenburg syndrome live healthy and regular lives. Their care brings a few challenges, yet they are still capable of building a loving bond with you and other ferret friends.

A little patience may be needed, but otherwise, they will be just like any pet ferret. You also are giving a ferret a wonderful home who might otherwise be overlooked.

Sources

Sandy Hogan, Everything You Need to Know About Waardenburg Syndrome in Ferrets, Critter Aplenty, URL: https://www.crittersaplenty.com/waardenburg-syndrome-in-ferrets/

Cute Pet Care (April 15, 2022), Understanding Waardenburg Syndrome in Ferrets – A Complete Guide, Cute Pet Care, URL: https://cutepetcare.com/waardenburg-syndrome-in-ferrets/

Holistic Ferret Staff, Neural Crest/Waardenburg Syndrome, Holistic Ferret Forum, URL: https://holisticferret.com/health/waardenburg-syndrome/

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2022 Tanya Huffman

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