When It's Time to Say Goodbye
Judith A. Bell, DVM, PhDVeterinarian
Author, Internationally recognized expert on
This article was adapted from the "The Pet Ferret Owner's Manual" for PetEducation.com
Most of the time, people outlive their pets. Dogs and cats sometimes survive far into their teens, but ferrets rarely live more than 7 or 8 years. Eight years is not long in the life of a human being. But it is more than enough time to become so attached to a favorite ferret that the thought of losing that busy, furry little body and wonderfully bright spirit is unbearably painful.
A 'senior' ferret, sleeping old ferrets, and, sadly, even young ferrets, sometimes contract terminal diseases, usually cancer. Ferrets have such an optimistic outlook that they get along extremely well in the face of chemotherapy and surgery. They have a very high threshold of pain and do not appear to suffer much post-surgical discomfort. The pet-human bond becomes so strong that even a ferret that does not feel like eating will swallow hand-fed food for the person he (or she) loves. There comes a time when the disease has taken all his reserves. He loses weight and becomes skeletal thin. He barely has energy to get up to use the litter box. He sleeps most of the time, and eats only when his person of significance begs him to take one more bite. He begins to lose control of his hind legs. There is no medical treatment that will reverse all this. Your little friend tries to go on only because he knows you expect him to. He licks your face as usual, but he never does a dance of joy, never gets out of his bed unless you pick him up. You suddenly realize that you are forcing your pet to fight a battle that is already over, not because you really believe he will get well, but because you can not face losing him. He is waiting for you to let go. It is time to say good-bye.
If you have had a good relationship with your veterinarian, you can call him or her almost any time of the day or night when you have made the decision to release your friend from his struggle. Euthanasia means giving a very high dose of anesthetic, from which there is no waking. You can hold your ferret in your arms while he falls asleep for the last time. You can wrap him in his favorite bedding and cry all the way home. You can bury him with his most cherished toy in a spot you can see from your window, and plant flowers there in the spring. If you have a hundred other ferrets, you will still remember what this one meant to you. Every special ferret dances into his own place in your heart and stays there forever.