Surgery Was a Success but we Misplaced the Patient


Second in a series

Avoiding the perils of female ferret fertility is simple nowadays; nearly all young jills are spayed prior to sale. Back in the day, they were adopted “intact”. We strongly advised spaying but not everybody listened. Our desperate attempts to save severely anemic never-bred girl ferrets often led to heartbreak.

Miss Ellie’s people, Sue and Davie, knew this and wanted only the best for their chaste pet. I explained our anesthesia, surgery, and recovery protocols. I promised to call them as soon as their slinky snuggler was awake. She’d be ready to go home at 5:30 that day.

Ferret anesthesia in the early ‘90s was initiated with oxygen mixed with halothane gas piped into a modified fish tank. We carefully watched Miss Ellie slip into unconsciousness. When her breathing was slow and steady I lifted her onto the prep table. Under a bright light my excellent veterinary nurse Amos held her mouth open as I slid a narrow endotracheal tube into her windpipe. He connected her to the anesthetic machine, clipped her tummy, completed a sterile prep, and carried her to surgery.

Ferrets are not challenging to spay, nothing like a rotund St. Bernard. I had the ovaries and uterus clamped off and removed and the blood vessels ligated in just a few minutes. After suturing Miss Ellie’s abdominal muscle layer I used adhesive to close the skin incision. Amos switched off the halothane gas and monitored our patient as she breathed oxygen. In just 20 minutes she was staggering around the recovery cage. At 1:30 I phoned Sue and Davie with the good news. Davie said, “Thank you, sir.”

I saw a few appointments and breezed into the treatment room for a peek at Miss Ellie. The cage door was still securely latched, her bedding was messed up, but our ferret was absent. No problem. Amos or Martha were probably baby sitting her. So I checked. Nobody, in fact, had seen Miss Ellie. She was MIA. We had 4 hours to find her. I fought back my rising panic. The staff was mobilized for search and rescue.
Next week: Lock the doors.
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Dr. Jeff Nichol is a residency-trained veterinary behaviorist. He provides consultations in-person and in groups by Zoom (505-792-5131). Each week he shares a blog and a video to help bring out the best in pets and their people. Sign up at no charge at Post pet behavioral or physical questions on or by US Post to 4000 Montgomery Blvd. NE, Albuq, NM 87109.