‘Jill-jabs’ and ferret fertility controls

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The husbandry and management of some animals has altered greatly over the last two decades.

With the exception of specialist breeders of ornamental poultry or ‘fancy fowl’, owners of hens would historically have looked upon them primarily as a source of eggs, and maybe meat, but more frequently they are acquiring pet status, with names and their individual personalities recognised.

Likewise the perception of a rabbit as an easy-care children’s pet, to be abandoned in solitary confinement in a hutch, has thankfully evolved to an understanding that they require at least as much attention as a cat and benefit from the companionship of another rabbit.

A third species, the care of which has advanced significantly, is the ferret. It remains popular, particularly in the North, but more commonly this is as a pet, rather than a “rabbiter”. Despite their reputation for nipping the fingers of vets, ferrets do make very rewarding companions.

Irrespective of pet or huntsman’s tool, however, the female’s reproductive system presents the same management challenges. She comes into season in spring, but will remain in oestrus until she mates. This does come with some health problems.

The longer a jill (female ferret) goes without being mated, the greater her risk of developing life-threatening anaemia. Ferret keepers have long recognised the problem and the commonest control method has been the introduction of a vasectomised hob (male ferret).

He will still mate with the jill (a castrated hob will not), without the production of kits. Ferret vasectomy requires the resection of a pair of tubes less than a millimetre wide, deep in the groin.

An alternative approach is to inject the jill with drugs to suppress her hormonal surge. Unfortunately, neither of these approaches is without complication and neither is 100 per cent effective. Neutering the jill is rarely considered because of a strong association with adrenal gland disease in later life.

The ideal control method is the insertion of an anti-homonal implant under the skin of the jill. This is safe and effective, but costly and temporary, working for no more than two years.

Control of jill anaemia is essential and spring is the time to discuss it with your vet.

By Sam Prescott, Director and Vet