Putting a Ferret to Sleep, Saying Goodbye to a Dear Friend

Closeup of EmilyAs I write this, I just got home from putting one of our Jills down. Emily had a long battle with Insulinoma, and was having terrible seizures in spite of the medications we had her on. She couldn’t eat, drink or play. She couldn’t sleep, and breathing was a terrible strain. It’s an awful, raw, and terrible feeling, but I remembered that I’ve had some conversations both on the blog and in email about if and when to say goodbye. I read over them, cried a bit, and felt a little better.

I decided to do a couple of things, hoping maybe I can help some of you feel a little less pain when a cherished little ferret passes; or when you have to make the gut wrenching decision with your vet to help them along. That way maybe little Emily’s spark can live on in a positive way, touching another ferret owner in their time of need and grief. Here’s part of a discussion I had with Shawn on deciding if ending your pet’s suffering is right for both of you.

Wow Shawn, my heart goes out to you. This is probably the most agonizing decision a pet owner can make. When I volunteered at the shelter, the manager there would not put down a ferret unless they had repeated seizures. We had one that had a little wheeled carriage for her rear legs so she could get around. Another that had to have help going to the bathroom. Some with external tumors that were inoperable. She’s kinda the extreme case, but I certainly understand and I don’t fault her for holding on to them, she simply loved them so much she couldn’t let go.

Now I’ll tell you what I believe personally, and you can decide what’s right for you and your little one. When the quality of life is gone FOR THEM (in spite of what I want), it’s time. I don’t mean they’re sick, or deaf or old (one of our little girls is blind, another is seven). I don’t mean when they need medicine and it’s a pain to give it to them. When there’s no joy in their life and I’m holding on because I can’t let go- the last thing I think I owe them is peace- it’s not about me, it’s about them, I see it as being a responsible pet owner.

I had an older ferret that wouldn’t run and play with the rest of the business (her ferrety family). She would however still get out, and climb into the warm laundry and snuggle and sleep. It wasn’t time. I had another that had trouble going to the bathroom once in a while, but eventually things worked out. It wasn’t time.

They one day he couldn’t go anymore. He laid in the cage listlessly. No appetite, no thirst, just labored breathing. We rushed him to the vet crying. The vet pulled him out, he was a limp little noodle, so sick. He wasn’t going to get better- and the vet recommended we put him down. You see they don’t really have the capacity to understand sickness- or age. They just know they hurt without end, or that they can’t walk any more. We have to make that decision for them, and it’s awful. We put him down and I still miss him. But it was the right thing to do for him. It’s a terrible decision, but you’ll know when it is time. I can’t make this easier for you, but I do have suggestions if you do have to help them on.

1. Spoil them mercilessly. Not so many treats they get sick- but say one less than the sick point. 🙂
2. Bundle and keep them warm- spring for a good felt blanket. Put a favorite toy or sleep sack in the carrier.
3. Take pictures, you’ll want to be able to look back fondly on them.
4. If you only have one ferret- take down the cage and put it away before you go to the vet for the final time. It will hit you like a sledgehammer to see it after you come back.
5. Some vets offer a plaster pawprint, that can help having a little momento.
6. Decide if you’re going to have the vet take care of the body, or if you want to take your little one home for burial. This is a personal choice.
7. Decide how you’re going to let them pass. The vet will offer to administer the shot or the gas for you- with you waiting outside. You’re going to want to do that. It’s a decision you have to make, it’s best if you do it when you’re not upset. I absolutely hate it, but the last thing I’ll do for my babies is hold them when they get the shot. I talk to them, I rock them, they go to sleep and then they’re gone. Sometimes I throw up, all the time I cry, but I still do it, because they need to leave knowing they were loved, cared about, and safe. It’s not about me- it’s about them.

There’s a beautiful poem called The Last Battle, which expresses the sentiment more more eloquently than I can.

I’ve also created a Memory Lane page where there are a few comforting stories and poems. Many are for our canine friends, but they are every bit as applicable for ferrets as well.

Finally, if you would like a free, permanent webpage here on Laughing Ferret to remember your special ferret, just drop us a line at the contact page. You can include whatever text you would like as well as any pictures. Please understand that digital cameras can make REALLY big image files, so you may have to reduce them. If you don’t know how to do that, we have some tips on the page for ferret pictures. A few ideas on what to include are:

Please also consider donating to your local ferret shelter in your little one’s name. It doesn’t have to be money, they always need food, litter, and volunteers. There’s something comforting in helping other little furkids live with a final gesture of love. And you may not feel like it now, but if you open your heart up to another ferret, please adopt rather than buy from the store. Ferrets in shelters need loving homes. As you have had some experience with ferrets, perhaps you can give a special needs ferret a home? My blind little girl is smart as a whip. One of my girls who passed on had adrenal– but she was BY FAR the best behaved little pet I’ve ever owned.

Thank you taking care of one of these little Angels- I hope their gift of laughter and simple joy brightened your life. If you’ve lost your little friend, I’m so sorry. At the end of the day, the most comfort can be found in warm and loving memories, and the gentle passage of time.

If you simply cannot get over your loss, there is a very short, simple book called Tear Soup that may provide a little light in the storm. Please also speak to your family, friends, a pastor or a counselor. Grief from a lost pet is every bit as real and valid as other kinds of loss. Be well.

My darling Emily, sleep well my sweet baby girl, no more pain. We love and miss you.
Emily is Sleepy