Ferret Influenza, or Ferret Flu

Filed Under: Pocket Pets, Diseases, Ferrets

Have you been feeling under the weather lately? Running a temperature, feeling achy and coughing? You may be suffering from the flu. If it is indeed the flu, you might not want to socialize with your ferret buddies. Ferrets are extremely sensitive to the influenza viruses, both types A and B, as well as the swine flu or H1N1 variety.

Most ferret infections are a result of contact with a flu-infected person. Transmission can, however, occur through contact with another infected ferret via aerosolized droplets given off from sneezing, or through contaminated fomites such as contaminated food and water bowls, etc.

Clinical signs of the flu in a ferret include sneezing a nasal discharge, typically a serous (clear) discharge initially, which progresses to a mucopurulent discharge when there is a secondary bacterial infection. The productive discharge may result in crusting around the nose. The ferret is pyrexic (has an elevated temperature) that typically occurs in two phases. The affected ferret is lethargic, may be reluctant to move or eat, and may become dehydrated. Coughing is common, and in severe cases dyspnea (difficult breathing) may occur. The course of the disease is typically 7 to 14 days with the exudative, or nasal discharge, occurring at 2 to 7 days following infection. Most ferrets recover unless the flu is complicated by a secondary bacterial pneumonia.

A preliminary diagnosis is based upon the presence of clinical signs and possible exposure to influenza. A diagnosis may be confirmed through the use of paired serum samples indicating a rising titer to influenza or viral isolation of nasal swabs.

Treatment is primarily supportive. Two antiviral drugs may prove helpful. Amantadine hydrochloride or Symmetrel®, is available as a syrup, and given twice daily at 6 mg/Kg, it decreases the shedding of influenza A viruses and may help lower the body temperature. Symmetrel is not effective on Influenza B viruses. Parenteral use of the same drug at elevated levels may prove toxic. Ribavarin or Virazole®, another antiviral drug, has been given at a dose rate of 100 mg/kg/day on days one through 5 post-infection and have been shown to decrease the severity of the clinical signs associated with influenza. Virazole also helps lower the febrile response.

There is currently no vaccine for prevention due to the influenza viruses’ uncanny ability to redefine itself through recombination with genes incorporated from humans, swine, birds and possibly horses; effective vaccine development would be difficult and ever- changing. Control is therefore primarily aimed at preventing exposure.

References:

Fox, James. Biology and Diseases of the Ferret. Lean & Febiger. 1988. Pp. 225-227.

Johnson-Delaney, Cathy, Ed. Exotic Companion Medicine Handbook. SNBL USA Ltd. 2000. P.98.

Topics: flu, influenza, swine flu

Symptoms: dehydration, fever, lethargy, nasal discharge

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