Ferret Respiratory Disease

A sneezing or dyspnoeic ferret can be concerning, so be prepared by knowing what common respiratory diseases occur in ferrets.

Common differentials include;

  • Influenza
  • Canine Distemper Virus
  • Pneumonia


Surprisingly ferrets have similar viral attachments to birds and humans. For this reason, ferrets can be animal models to study influenza, and possibly respiratory coronaviruses. As with humans, transmission can occur via direct contact, aerosols, or fomites.

Clinical signs include;

  • Sneezing
  • Ocular/nasal discharge – serous or mucopurulent
  • Pyrexia

Diagnosis of influenza in ferrets can be inferred from known contact with infected humans or ferrets, and also by definitively diagnosis with PCR, serology and culture via nasal swab.

Predominantly influenza can be treated with time, supportive care, bronchodilators, syringe feeding water/food if necessary and potentially by empirical selection of antivirals. However there is no specific antiviral to select or use on label for ferrets.

Canine Distemper Virus

Distemper virus is the only vaccination recommended for ferrets in Australia.

Infection can occur in ferrets by aerosols, fomites and direct contact. It may take 7-10 days or more until the virus incubates in the ferret.
Clinical signs are very similar to influenza, and include;

  • Pyrexia
  • Ocular/Nasal discharge
  • Hyperkeratosis/Dermatitis – chin,anus, paws/pads
  • Pruritus
  • Dyspnoea

Unfortunately, if you confirm an antibody titre in an unvaccinated ferret, there is no treatment except supportive care. And death is inevitable. Euthanasia can be the kindest way to prevent suffering.


You need not think outside the box for pneumonia, severe bacterial infections can uncommonly occur in the lung tissue of the ferret. The clinical signs are similar to other animals;

  • Dyspnoea
  • Cyanosis
  • Harsh lung sounds
  • Nasal discharge
  • Pyrexia, lethargy and inappetance

Confirm your diagnosis with xrays, and treat with supportive care and appropriate antibiotics;

  • Fluoroquinolones
  • TMS
  • Cephalosporins

Of course this is not an extensive list, use your knowledge and stay safe!


  • Quesenberry, KE and Carpenter JW. Ferrets, Rabbits and Rodents: Clinical Medicine and Surgery. 3rd Ed. Elsevier.

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