Neutering and contraception methods for ferrets

Should I neuter my ferret?

Neutering is necessary for many pets in order to prevent unwanted pregnancy, protect against certain medical conditions as well as prevent some behavioural issues. Ferrets, like other pets, need to be neutered for these reasons. However, having your ferret neutered is more complicated than it is with other species and pets, such as cats and dogs...

In female ferrets, the outcome of not having them neutering can be serious. Female ferrets (or jills) are induced ovulators, (they require the act of mating to stimulate them to release an egg for fertilisation). This means that they will stay in season (or oestrus) until they are mated, or until day length shortens.

What are neutered male ferrets called?

  • A male ferret is called a 'hob'.
  • A vasectomised male ferret is known as a 'hoblet'.
  • A castrated male ferret is called a 'hobble'.

Can ferrets die if not mated?

Remaining in season can cause often severe health problems for a jill; including alopecia (hair loss) and even death from oestrogen-associated anaemia (deficiency in red blood cells).

For this reason, it's important to take action to prevent this serious health issue. There are various ferret neutering options available and each comes with its pros and cons...

Ferret neutering: What are the options?

Methods to prevent the health issues associated with ongoing oestrus include:

  1. Surgical (neutering)
  2. Chemical (contraception) 
  3. Or a combination of both. 

Some owners may use vasectomised hoblets (males) to bring their jills out of season through the act of mating.

All options also prevent unwanted pregnancy and can help reduce aggressive behaviour. They can also help reduce the typical musky smell associated with the maturing male (or hob). There are benefits and risks to each method. Please use our advice in conjunction with your vet's advice, to find out which method is best for your pet.

Having your ferret surgically neutered (castration and spaying)

  • Spaying is the term for the surgical removal of the ovaries and uterus from the female. Castration involves the surgical removal of the testes (a castrated male is known as a hobble).
  • Castrating hobs can reduce aggressive behaviour and also increase play.
  • Surgical neutering is a permanent procedure and is often the most cost-effective method.
  • However, surgical neutering in ferrets of both sexes has been linked with the occurrence, some years later, of hyperadrenocorticism (adrenal disease), and adrenal tumours.
  • If castration or spaying is performed, it's generally advised that it should not be done until after puberty, to delay the possible onset of adrenal disease.
  • We still recommend neutering as a permanent way to stop oestrus in females and reduce aggression in males. However, it's important to be aware of the signs of hypoadrenocorticism, and to be aware that treatment may be required in the future.

Chemical contraception methods (implants or injections)

  • Chemical-based contraception methods are available to manage a ferret's reproductive biology. 
  • The most common method is the chemical implant, placed under the ferret's skin whilst he/she is sedated - at regular times throughout the ferret's life.
  • 'Deslorelin' implants can be used in both sexes and works to reduce the release of sex hormones from the brain. It also removes the trigger for sex hormone production in the adrenal glands. These are generally very safe but can be costly.
  • The implant's slow-release action means that they are generally long-lasting - depending on the strength of the implant used (different doses are available) as well as the time it is implanted. Implants can generally last up to 18-24 months before another implant is needed.
  • Yearly hormonal injections for the jill were a common method of stopping oestrus. These are still available but are difficult to source and also expensive unless many ferrets are being injected at one time.
  • 'Jill jabs' are usually given at the beginning of the breeding season in early spring.

Vasectomy

  • A vasectomy is a process of sterilising a male ferret by cutting the tubes that carry sperm from the testicles to the penis. A vasectomised male is known as a 'hoblet'.
  • The process of vasectomy does not affect the hob's capability to mate. Mating jills with a vasectomised hob, or 'teaser', to bring them out of season has been common practice in Great Britain for many years. This is largely due to its ease and low-cost.
  • However, although mating is a natural behaviour, the act itself is often violent and very stressful for the jill. Repeated matings may result in damage to the jill's neck, and so this practice is not recommended.

Neutering can cause Hyperadrenocorticism

  • Neutering of both male and female ferrets can result in the development of a hormonal condition called hyperadrenocorticism. This generally occurs several years after neutering.
  • Signs of hyperadrenocorticism in ferrets include some that are similar to prolonged oestrus in jills (e.g. hair loss, swelling of the genital area). As well as, urinary blockage and cyst formation in hobs, and pruritus (itchiness), lethargy and muscle wasting in both sexes.
  • Early detection, treatment with a deslorelin implant, and appropriate monitoring can all help manage symptoms.

What's the best neutering or contraceptive method for ferrets?

It's important that owners of ferrets are proactive in managing reproductive issues. Please always discuss your options with your vet, to avoid unwanted pregnancy and health issues. Here, at the RSPCA, we advise that ferrets are either surgically neutered or that a chemical method is utilised. A combination of both may also be used.

It's advised that ferret owners speak to their vet to assess the right option for their ferret, discussing possible side-effects and costs. Knowing the benefits and risks involved in all methods will help you make an informed decision as to which is best for your pet.

For animals rehomed by our animal centres, surgical neutering is our standard approach. This is our choice as it's the most cost-effective and permanent method. Adopters should be advised of the signs of hyperadrenocorticism and informed that treatment may be required. Our animal centres cannot be held liable for any costs associated with this. If you have any questions please talk to your local animal centre or vet.

Find out more about caring for ferrets as pets.

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