Treating Common Ferret Diseases

SIGNS OF AN EMERGENCY Symptoms ferret owners might see include weakness, lethargy, coughing, and an increased respiratory rate (breathing fast)




  • Bleeding
    especially accompanied by weakness, rapid breathing, or paleness of the mucous membranes.
  • Choking
    Note that choking due to an obstruction to the trachea will cause the ferret to collapse within minutes.
  • Tense or bloated, tight abdomen.
  • Fever
    Normal temperature for ferrets is between 100.5 degrees F and 102.5 degrees F.
  • Seizures that last for several minutes.
  • Inability or difficulty urinating.
  • Broken bones.
  • The color of gums or tongue looks blue or gray. This indicates a lack of oxygen, cardiovascular disease, a toxic condition, or shock.
  • Very light pink or white gums. It indicates blood loss or shock.
  • Sudden weakness or unconsciousness.
  • Blood present in vomit or diarrhea. If vomiting or diarrhea occurs multiple times over two to three hours or is accompanied by weakness.


Gastrointestinal Illness

Major gastrointestinal illness of concern: These diseases can be under the heading of wasting disease. Any ferret showing the symptoms should have a complete work-up.

Epizootic catarrhal enteritis:
(Green slime disease) caused by coronavirus.

Symptoms: In adult ferret, it is the sudden occurrence of bright green diarrhea. Diarrhea can also be yellow, dark red, or black. The infected ferret will vomit, lose is appetite, become lethargic and dehydrated. Young ferrets are more at risk, middle age and older ferrets are at a lower risk.

Diagnosis: See clinical signs and laboratory tests.

Similar diseases: Diarrhea from any source.

Treatment: Antibiotics and supportive therapy.

Prevention: Isolation of infected ferret and cleaning the cage with bleach.

Helicobacter mustelae gastritis:
Are a gastric spiral bacteria caused by:

  1. Chronic Atrophic Gastritis
  2. Peptic Ulcer Disease

Both affect the stomach.

Symptoms: Lethargy, loss of eating, rapidly increasing weight loss, dehydration, anemia, periodic vomiting, teeth grinding, and black scabs.

Diagnosis: Surgical biopsy from stomach pylorus is rewarding not by the endoscope.

Treatment: Combination of antibiotics and supportive therapy.

Proliferative bowel disease:
Infects ferrets less than 14 months old. The organism infects illume and colon intracellular.

Symptoms: Chronic diarrhea with a dark liquid, bright red blood to thin bright green mucous stools. In some cases, prolapsed rectum is seen. Infected ferrets may be moaning and crying when they try to defecate. Extreme weight loss in a short time (two weeks). Dehydration and upper respiratory infection is a complication.

Diagnosis: Clinical symptoms and biopsy of infected tissues.

Treatment: Antibiotics and supportive therapy.


Fungal Diseases

Fungal disease is rare in ferrets. The most common fungal disease will be discussed in the following.

Ring Worm
Infects the ferret's skin, but is rare.

Symptoms: Circular lesion on the skin covered with a white crust.

Diagnosis: Based on isolation and identification of the causative agent.

Treatment: Topical or oral medication.

Prevention: Humans who are sick should wear gloves when handling a ferret.


Bacterial Diseases

The most important common ones are discussed in detail below.

Ferrets boarded with dogs can be infected with kennel cough. Ferrets manifest kennel cough symptoms similar to dogs. It can manifest in two forms: 1) Bordetella pneumonia: which is very hard to treat and 2) Bordetella bronchiseptica: responds to antibiotics.

Symptoms: Discharge from the nose usually from one side and respiratory distress.

Similar Diseases: Snuffles

Diagnosis: Culture and sensitivity should be done before dispensing antibiotics.

Treatment: Antibiotics

Prevention: Ferrets should be vaccinated against kennel cough 2 weeks before boarding.

Snuffles is a complex upper respiratory problem.

Symptoms: Sneezing with or without nasal discharge.

Similar diseases: 1) Sinus damage from a viral infection, 2) Fungal disease, 3) Nasal septum deformities, 4) Respiratory syncytial virus.

Diagnosis: Culture and sensitivity.

Treatment: Depends on culture and sensitivity

Pneumonia in ferrets is a complex disease. It can be caused by bacteria, viruses, fungus, and parasites.

Symptoms: Weakness, lethargic, difficulty breathing, fever, and dehydration.

Diagnosis: Clinical symptoms, x-ray, culture, and sensitivity.

Treatment: Medication on the basis of culture and sensitivity and supportive therapy.

Mycoplasma can cause infection in ferrets secondary to bacterial or viral infection.

Symptoms: Weakness, lethargy, difficulty breathing, fever, and dehydration.

Diagnosis: Clinical symptom, x-ray, CBC, and blood chemistry.

Treatment: Antibiotics, force-feeding, and supportive therapy.

Ferrets are susceptible to botulism. The cause of botulism is clostridia infection which produces a toxin. Sources of infection are spoiled food or dead animals.

Symptoms: Neuralgic signs due to the effect of the toxin to the brain. The first sign is usually some paralysis on hind legs then shallow respiration and salivation. Death occurs due to respiratory failure.

Diagnosis: Culture has done on vomit or stomach content after death.

Treatment: Antibiotics and supportive therapy.

































Parasitic Diseases

Similar to dogs and cats, ferrets can be infected with internal or external parasites. The most common ones are discussed below.

Internal Parasites
Protozoa is a one-cell organ parasite that can cause disease in ferrets. Some of the most critical of these are:

Infects the brain.

Symptoms: Anemia, eye lesion, inflammation of liver, blindness, CNS sing, respiratory disease, and diarrhea.

Diagnosis: Laboratory test on blood.

Treatment: Antibiotic and supportive therapy.

Prevention: Do not expose the ferret to infected animals.

Usually infects young ferrets.

Symptoms: Bloody diarrhea.

Diagnosis: Laboratory test on fecal.

Treatment: Antibiotics and supportive therapy.

Cause disease in immunosuppressive ferrets and can infect immunosuppressive people.

Symptoms: Diarrhea, fever, abdominal pain, constipation, and weight loss.

Diagnosis: Laboratory test on fecal sample.

Treatment: Is not effective.

Prevention: Wash the contaminated area with 10% ammonia.

Infects ferrets.

Symptoms: Soft stool, listlessness and weight loss.

Diagnosis: Fecal test

Treatment: Antibiotics and supportive therapy.

Prevention: Clean the environment thoroughly and disinfect with 5% pine tar or 1% house bleach.

Ferrets are susceptible to all dogs and cat parasite including heartworm and to some rabbit, mice and other rodent parasites. The most important ones are discussed below.

Round Worms:
Infect ferrets' intestine, lung, and other organs. The parasite egg can transmit to the owner. Children are in high risk.

Prevention: Fecal worm check is recommended annually and treats the infected ferret. If the ferret is positive, dogs and cats in the same environment should be checked and wormed. Children should consult their physician.

Infect ferrets.

Symptoms: Vague with anorexia and coughing.

Diagnosis: SNAPS test and x-ray.

Treatment: In early stage is possible.

Prevention: Heartworm preventive medication (at this point there are none that are label approved). Consult with your vet for a possible preventative medicine.

External Parasites

One of the most important external parasites in ferrets. It transmit from bacillus to tape worm to ferrets.

Symptoms: General inflammation from the flea bites, heavy scratching, and anemia.

Diagnosis: Visual.

Treatment: Treat the symptoms and prevent reinfestation.

Prevention: Be careful not to use any product with out consulting your veterinarian.

Ear Mange:
infects ferrets external ear. If not treated will infect internal ear and may rupture the tympanic membrane.

Symptoms: Head shaking and rubbing.

Diagnosis: Take a swab from the ear and examine under microscope.

Treatment: Possible

Foot Mange:
The infection starts in the foot caused by mange and is highly contagious to people.

Symptoms: Yellow incrustation covers the foot.

Diagnosis: Examination of skin scraping under microscope.

Treatment: Clean or destroy all the bedding. Treatment is hard but possible.


























































Viral Diseases

Ferrets receive rabies vaccine in single doses at age of 12 weeks and annually.

Canine Distemper:
Infects ferrets through aerosol. The incubation period for this virus is from 7 to 10 days.

Symptoms: Loss of appetite, rash on the chin and inguinal area, within the next 2 days a thick discharge will come from the eye and nose.

Diagnosis: Isolation and identification of virus.

Treatment: None successful.

Prevention: Vaccine

Ferrets are highly susceptible to human influenza virus.

Symptoms: Fever, depression, loss of appetite, and a thick discharge from the nose.

Diagnosis: High temperature 40 f and clinical signs.

Treatment: Antibiotics to prevent secondary infection and supportive therapy.

Aleutian Diseases:
Is very highly contagious viral disease.

Symptoms: Start with back leg paralysis then progresses to all four leg paralysis, weight loss, game bleeding, and respiratory singe.

Diagnosis: Laboratory testing.

Treatment: None

Prevention: Test the newly introduced ferret to the colony.























Affects ferrets in any age with single organ or multi organ involvement. It may be caused by a virus. The survival rate after diagnosis is from 2 months to 5 years.

Symptoms: Lethargy, anorexia, weight loss, vomiting, enlargement of organs without fever.

Diagnosis: X-ray and biopsy.

Treatment: Surgically remove the tumor and chemotherapy.

Adrenal Gland Tumor
Affects middle aged and older ferrets.

Symptoms: Losing hair on tip of tail and both sides of abdomen, lethargic behavior.

Diagnosis: Physical appearance, blood work, and ultrasound.

Treatment: The best treatment offered at this point is surgery. Tumor can be controlled by medical therapy.

Pancreas tumor (insulinoma):
Affects middle aged and older ferrets. Most of the time insulinoma accompanies an adrenal tumor.

Symptoms: Lethargic behavior and coma if the ferret does not eat for more than 4 hours.

Diagnosis: Check the ferret's blood glucose after the period of not eating.

Treatment: Surgical removal of the tumor or medical treatment.