Common Ferret Diseases; Their Symptoms and Treatments
Author: Lana Bogusz
Adrenal Disease: Adrenal disease is a very common ferret disease resulting from a tumor on one or both adrenal glands. This disease may also be referred to as hyperadrenocorticism. This condition can occur at any age but is most common in ferrets over 3 years of age. Although, there are many theories as to the cause of this condition, the cause at this time is not known. The most common sign of this disease is hair loss. The hair loss can occur anywhere on the ferret's body but usually first occurs on the tail, above the tail base, tops of the rear feet and over the shoulder blades. About half of the female ferrets with adrenal disease show a swollen vulva. Male ferrets may become more aggressive. Muscle atrophy is also common in ferrets with adrenal disease.
Adrenal disease can be treated surgically by removing the effected adrenal glands or with medical treatment with drugs that inhibit the production of hormones that are elevated by this disease. Most drugs used to treat adrenal disease treat only the symptoms (hair loss and swollen vulva) and do nothing to shrink the tumor.
Aleutian Disease: Disease caused by Aleutian disease virus (ADV) Ferrets may contract the disease (Aleutian Disease) and never develop signs or symptoms but act as a carrier. Symptoms are widely variable and may include weight loss, hind quarter weakness, lethargy, blood in the stool, twitching or seizures, anemia, and enlargement of the liver or spleen. Please note that all of these symptoms can be associated with more common diseases. No cure or treatment is available for Aleutian disease at this time.
Cardiomyopathy: A condition where the muscle of the heart becomes progressively weaker, and the heart is no longer strong enough to pump all of the blood. As the muscle weakens, it stretches, and the heart gradually enlarges, sort of like a balloon. As the blood begins to back up, it will accumulate both within and around the lungs (often also in the abdominal cavity), resulting in coughing, which is the most commonly noticed sign. Actually, most animals have decreases in activity first, as they tire easily. Symptoms include lethargy, labored breathing and coughing.
Cardiomyopathy can be treated with some drugs, including diuretics which help it manage the load, but the damage is progressive and cannot be reversed. The vast majority of cases are probably due to genetics Cardiomyopathy in the ferret is an insidious disease - the majority of the damage to the heart occurs long before the owner ever realizes that the animal is ill. Ferrets with cardiomyopathy should be kept on a low sodium diet and not overstimulated.
ECE: Epizootic Catarrhal Eneritis is a highly contagious, ferret specific, viral disease. This disease is an infection of the intestine, causing production of excess mucous, which causes diarrhea and damages the intestinal lining responsible for absorbing nutrients and water. Your veterinarian may prescribe antibiotics such as Amoxicilian and/or Flagyl to help prevent secondary infections. Kaopectate or Pepto Bismol are sometimes also prescribed to help protect the intestinal tract and may make the ferret more comfortable. Pepcid AC may be prescribed to help prevent ulcers caused from stomach acid attacking the digestive tract. Prednisone, a steroid, may also be prescribed to increase appetite as well as reduce inflammation and stabilize blood sugar levels.
Gastrointestinal ulcer: Stomach ulcers in the ferret which can lead to internal bleeding. Symptoms of an ulcer are grinding the teeth, black tarry stool, weight loss, lethargy and vomiting. Ulcers are caused by stress, bacteria (Helicobactor mustelae) or substances such as alcohol, aspirin or other medicines. Ulcers are life threatening and should be treated by a qualified veterinarian as soon as symptoms are noticed. They can be temporarily treated with Pepcid AC to stabilize the ferret until you can get to a vet.
Isulinoma: Isulinoma is cancer of the pancreas resulting in tumors in the pancreas. These tumors cause over-secretion of insulin and bouts of rapid drops in blood sugar. Symptoms are weakness, especially hind limb weakness, a dazed and confused look, seizures, weight loss and vomiting. Symptoms may come and go and are aggravated by stress, exercise and diet. Surgery may slow the process but is rarely a cure. Change in diet and medication, such a prednisone may help improve your fuzzie's health.
Lymphosarcoma: Lymphosarcoma is cancer of the lymphatic system. Symptoms are lethargy, wasting and enlarged lymph nodes. Chemotherapy may be an option for treatment. Consult with your vet.
Lana Bogusz, director, Northern Ohio Ferret Association, www.ohioferret.org