What is Aleutian Disease?

The greatest danger of Aleutian disease in ferrets is that the disease can be either active or non-active. This means that your ferrets could be infected with Aleutian disease and not show any visible signs of disease. Without visible signs, the virus has a chance to spread throughout the ferret’s body, which will make it harder to treat when symptoms do eventually appear. Your ferret can also spread the Aleutian virus to other ferrets in your home, which can create a devastating situation. In order for you to prevent such a case, it is important to take preventative measures and follow-up with routine veterinary appointments. 

Aleutian disease in ferrets, commonly abbreviated ADV, is a form of parvovirus, but it is not the same viral strain that affects felines and dogs. Instead, this form of parvovirus doesn’t seem to affect any mammals outside the Mustelidae family. In other words, Aleutian disease is only known to affect raccoons, skunks, mink and, of course, ferrets. Aleutian disease was first reported in the 1940’s but it wasn’t until the 60’s that Aleutian disease was documented in ferrets. Like all strains of parvovirus, Aleutian disease in ferrets is the result of a hardy virus that can survive for months in unfavorable environments where other viruses cannot survive. Aleutian disease is easily spread from one ferret to another.

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Symptoms of Aleutian Disease in Ferrets

Aleutian disease in ferrets is can be either active or non-active, which means symptoms may not appear right away. The symptoms of this viral infection that do appear can mimic other common ferret diseases, therefore, the clinical signs may be mistaken for other illnesses. Symptoms of Aleutian disease ferret owners should watch for include: 

  • Chronic muscle wasting 
  • Progressive hind end paralysis 
  • Tremors 
  • Urinary incontinence 
  • Lethargy 
  • Pallor 
  • Spleen enlargement 
  • Tarry feces 
  • Suppressed immune system 
  • Vascular degeneration 
  • Inability to clot 
  • Liver failure 
  • Kidney failure 
  • Death 

Causes of Aleutian Disease in Ferrets

Aleutian disease in ferrets is a form of parvovirus, different from the viral strain that commonly affects felines and dogs. This viral infection affects members of the Mustelidae family such as raccoons, skunks, mink and, of course, ferrets. Aleutian disease is easily spread from one ferret to another through direct contact with a placenta (birthing tissue), urine, feces, and saliva. Although not fully proven, studies have revealed the possibility of Aleutian disease being an airborne virus, similar to the strain that affects other domesticated pets. If your ferret comes in contact with another member of the Mustelidae family known to be infected with the parvovirus strain, the likelihood that your ferret will be infected is great. 

Diagnosis of Aleutian Disease in Ferrets

Your veterinarian will begin the diagnostic process with a review of your ferret’s medical history and a physical examination. The symptoms associated with Aleutian disease in ferrets are rather vague, as intestinal complications can be the clinical sign for a variety of underlying conditions. Therefore, your veterinarian will likely discuss any changes in your pet’s diet as well as run a fecal examination to detect the presence of internal parasites or other irregularities. A fecal examination proves ineffective for detecting Aleutian disease as a viral infection is likely to be detected through digested material. Your veterinarian will likely conduct a cell cytology assay and ELISA test on the ferret’s blood samples, combined with an anaerobic culture. 

Treatment of Aleutian Disease in Ferrets

There is currently no effective treatment for Aleutian disease in ferrets. Your veterinarian will put your ferret on supportive care including intravenous fluids, anti-inflammatory drugs and other medications used to treat clinical signs associated with this viral infection. Since there is no way to remove the toxic virus from the body, immunosuppressant drugs, such as cyclophosphamide and azathioprine, may be recommended to slow the damage to internal organs. Your ferret may require hospitalization for the duration of supportive therapy to be properly monitored. 

Recovery of Aleutian Disease in Ferrets

Treating Aleutian disease in ferrets is a management of clinical signs and an attempt to slow the damaging process of the virus. If the condition was caught early, before the kidneys and liver were damaged, your ferret has a higher chance of recovery. Unfortunately, many ferrets die from Aleutian disease because the liver or kidneys have failed before treatment was sought out. There is no vaccine specifically designed for ferrets. However, if you follow your veterinarian’s recommendations for preventing this fatal disease, you have a higher chance of keeping your ferret safe from contraction.