CDV – Canine Distemper in Ferrets
Canine distemper is the most lethal, yet also the most preventable diseases in ferrets.
As a member of the canine family tree, the mustelid family is highly susceptible to canine distemper. This includes our companion pet’s “cousin” the rare and endangered black-footed-ferret of North America. They were nearly wiped off the continent by exposure to canine distemper.
Also susceptible to the canine distemper virus are ferrets other “canine family tree” cousins: fox, wolves, coyotes, raccoons, skunks, several types of seals, and even bear.
The greatest threat to our pets are unvaccinated dogs, many of which do not show symptoms of canine distemper. You say you do not have a dog? And you never see fox or raccoons. Yet you could silently carry the illness home and pass it on to your pet ferret when you innocently pat an unvaccinated dog somewhere; or unknowingly track in a bit of infected domestic or wild animal fecal material on your shoes. It happens. No one plans it. How does one get the flu? That is why we vaccinate against viruses because we cannot expect every possibility. Think of it as an insurance policy.
What is Canine Distemper – here is an excellent article on the subject written by Dr. Susan Brown, DVM in 2006. However, we want to amend the information she provides on the topic based on our first-hand experience following an outbreak in the FACT shelter in the summer of 2011.
Both the Washington Ferret Rescue in Washington State as well as Greater Chicago Ferret Association in Illinois both reported situations like ours where ferrets with up-to-date vaccinations died of during our outbreaks. We also both experienced situations with ferrets that had out of date vaccination histories that never experienced symptoms. HOWEVER, by far, those with vaccinations had the best chance of never showing sysmptoms and if they did, surviving the disease with only minor effects.
Survival Following Symptoms
Yes, ferrets can survive major symptoms. But it is very rare, and they are never the same afterwards. The suggestion to euthanize upon seeing symptoms is, we believe, arbitrary. However, we do feel that when the symptoms have progressed to a point where the crusting (see images) and breathing have become labored, that euthansia is a better course of action for the ferret’s welfare. This is a highly personal judgement, of course. But rebouts seem to occur with symptoms not dissimilar to COPD – chronic obstructive pulmonary disease – essentially progressive lung disease with difficult breathing. It is not a good life – but the choice will also depend on the age of the animal and one’s willingness to deal with the after-effects and ongoing cost of treatment.
Much has been made of Merial’s Purevax® being the only approved vaccine in the US. That is great – as far as it goes. Unfortunately, Merial has become a very unreliable provider of the vaccine with a history of shortages and long-periods where the vaccine is NOT available. While we applaud thatthe vaccine was submitted and approved, we cannot support a manufacturer that cannot manage their supply chain adequately. Their excuses are feeble at best and from our understanding seem to permeate their product lines – not just this minor, “fringe” product in thier multi-million dollar enterprise.
Veterinarians can use whatever vaccine they want in the United State according to the AVMA (Read down to “Are Vaccines Subject to ELDU?) unless there is a specific state law barring them from their use. State law trumps which is most likely with respect to human health issues like rabies or with respect to farm animals for human consumption. While no trials have been done, many shelters in the US have been using Nobivac Puppy DPV® by Merk aka Progard Puppy DPV®. This is very similar to the vaccine used in the UK, Europe and Australia for many years. While it also has parvovirus vaccine (ferrets are NOT susceptible to parvovirus), it seems to be effective, is available and not subject to the vagaries of Merial’s production cycles. It also happened to be cheaper and has been shown to be safe to be used in ferrets with no side effects.
NOTE: there is another, similarly named, product that is NOT made by Merk. That has NOT been tested on an adequate number of ferrets to prove safety. DO NOT USE IT!
Vaccine reactions are extremely rare and usually involve a bit of vomiting or diarrhea. Sure beats death which is pretty permanent. People overreact to “reactions” as they are visible and usually immediate. However, they also don’t recall that their ferret may have just eaten; were plied with treats for being a “good ferret;” or had their routine upset for that day. Perhaps the vet did two shots during the same visit: Rabies and distemper. That is why you go to a vet for shots. They are prepared for reactions and can treat. Do not allow fear of the unknown to prevent you from providing the most basic protection your pet needs from you besides food and housing.
What Does Canine Distemper in Ferrets Look Like?
Here are photos of ferrets from the FACT shelter taken during our outbreak. They are not pretty. However, we provide them for informational and instructional purposes. All the ferrets in these images showing symptoms succombed and are now at the Rainbow Bridge. We at FACT will forever mourn them.