Ferret distemper the same as canine distemper virus, a highly contagious viral infection with 100% mortality.
And just like in dogs, it is easily preventable with vaccinations.
Distemper is of the viral family paramyxoviridae, a moribillivirus. The good news is whilst devastating and deadly (100% mortality – thats the bad news) it can be readily prevented with vaccinations.
Distemper can be spread in aerosols or via direct contact with infected exudate and secretions , and skin.
So pretty much it is VERY contagious, vaccinate, disinfect and stay away!
The Incubation period lasts for around 7 days, which is followed be shedding and a diphasic fever at days 7 and 12 approximately. Symptms can become more obvious in the second fever. Unvaccinated ferrets can die with 2-5 weeks after exposure
Clinical signs vary and include
Skin – “hard-pad” hyperkeratosis, pruritus, oedema of chin and lips, blepharospasm and crusting around orbits
Neurological – varying from ataxia to a coma
Respiratory – coughing, sneezing, respiratory discharge, tachypnoea
Gastrointestinal – pseudo prolapse, pasty faeces
“Diphasic” fever – once, goes away, then comes back.
Diagnosis can be definitively achieved by post mortem, which is not an option in most companion ferrets. You can also use smears of epithelial lining to look for inclusion bodies in epithelial cells. It can also be possible to diagnose distemper by history and clinical signs.
100% mortality, unfortunately this paints a fairly bleak picture for infected ferrets. Best case scenario is supportive care. Alternatively, Dr Lynda Bonning of Canterbury Vets – in her case study (in references), recommended Vitamin A injections at time of infection/exposure to reduce replication of distemper in Ferrets. Vitamin A may hinder viral replication in vivo. This was performed as at least 1 vitamin A IM injection, ideally once daily for 2 days.
Check out the case study here:
As with Distemper virus in dogs, the best defense is vaccination. It is recommended to start with two vaccinations, four weeks apart, then annual vaccinations. There are no ferret vaccinations on – label in australia, so canine vaccinations are used off label.
Bonning, L. Management Of a Canine Distemper Virus Outbreak in a Ferret Rescue Facility. Canterbury Vet. https://canterburyvet.com.au/2018/08/30/management-of-a-canine-distemper-virus-outbreak-in-a-ferret-rescue-facility/
Kondert, L. Mayer,J. Focus on Ferret Distemper: What You Need to know. Today’s Veterinary Practice. https://todaysveterinarypractice.com/focus-on-ferret-distemper-what-you-need-to-know/