Ferret health: Canine distemper
Overview of the signs and treatment available for canine distemper in ferrets
Canine distemper in ferrets: Signs and treatment
Canine distemper is caused by a virus known as ‘paramyxovirus’. It is a virus of the same family as measles. As well as dogs, wolves and foxes, canine distemper can be contracted by ferrets. This disease is particularly nasty as it has no cure in ferrets, and is usually fatal. But, there are steps you can take as an owner to help prevent your ferret from catching it.
Canine distemper in ferrets will first show up with the same symptoms as a cold or eye infection, and can easily be misdiagnosed by a new owner. If any of the signs begin to show in your ferret, you should seek immediate veterinary advice to rule out canine distemper.
•Conjunctivitis – a discharge may appear from one of both eyes. This discharge can vary from yellow to green in colour.
•Runny nose – a nasal discharge will be one of the first signs to present itself. The discharge might be a brown colour that forms a crust around the ferret’s nose and mouth.
•High temperature – a fever of 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius) should always be checked by a vet.
•Lack of appetite – a ferret with canine distemper will eat less and may stop eating altogether.
•Thickening of the skin and pads – showing signs of hardened footpads and skin around lips and anus are classic signs of the canine distemper virus.
•Diarrhea – any form of diarrhea should be checked by a vet. With canine distemper the diarrhea may be tinged with blood.
•Seizures – a high temperature can cause a fit known as ‘febrile seizures’. Infections in the brain can also cause seizures.
If the ferret is not treated death will occur. It is vital that a ferret, especially one that may have been in contact with a wild animals such as coyotes or wolves and non-vaccinated dogs, is seen by a vet as soon as any of these symptoms are shown.
As there is no cure for canine distemper in ferrets, the only treatment that can be provided is based on the symptoms shown. Sadly, most vets will suggest that any ferret that is diagnosed with canine distemper is euthanized.
•Antibiotics – although antibiotics will not kill a virus, they may be given to prevent any secondary infections from settling.
•Fluid therapy – diarrhea and a lack of appetite can cause a ferret to become dehydrated. Fluids may be given under the skin or intravenously.
•Gentle diet – offering a ferret their favourite foods and easy to digest foods such as Hills a/d may be prescribed to encourage them to eat.
Unfortunately none of these treatments will fight off the canine distemper. However, rather than trying to treat the virus there are ways of preventing it.
Some vaccines have been licensed for use in ferrets in certain countries. In the UK, canine vaccines are currently used but research is currently continuing into preventative vaccinations for ferrets. As well as vaccinations, keeping your ferret treated for parasites and fed a good quality diet will help to keep them healthy and fight any infection or virus that comes their way.