What is Bacterial Pneumonia?

Bacterial pneumonia needs to be treated by a veterinarian as soon as possible to prevent dangerous complications. The sooner you take your ferret for treatment, the better off he will be. Bacterial pneumonia often indicates the presence of another health condition such as lymphoma or immunosuppression, which makes it even more important to take your ferret to a vet right away.

Pneumonia is a serious respiratory illness that causes inflammation of the air sacs in the lungs. The air sacs typically fill with fluid, which combined with the inflammation, makes breathing more difficult. It can affect one or both lungs, and can be considered either viral or bacterial depending on what has caused the condition. 

Bacterial pneumonia in ferrets is rare, but it can be life-threatening. It can be caused by various types of bacteria, including E. coli, Streptococcus zooepidemicus, S. pneumoniae, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and more. Once your ferret has been infected, you may begin to notice a number of symptoms including nasal discharge, fever, fatigue, difficulty breathing, and discoloration of mucous membranes.

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Symptoms of Bacterial Pneumonia in Ferrets

Respiratory illnesses can be very serious, so it’s important to keep an eye on your ferret and look for signs of these conditions. If your ferret has developed bacterial pneumonia, some of the symptoms he may exhibit include:

  • Nasal discharge
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Increased respiratory rate
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Blue discoloration of the gums and other mucous membranes

Causes of Bacterial Pneumonia in Ferrets

A number of different types of bacteria can cause bacterial pneumonia in ferrets, including:

  • E. coli
  • Streptococcus zooepidemicus
  • S. pneumoniae
  • Klebsiella pneumoniae
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa
  • Bordetella bronchiseptica
  • Listeria monocytogenes

Any ferret can develop bacterial pneumonia, however, it is especially common in ferrets who are already suffering from viral pneumonia, lymphoma, cardiomyopathy, or immunosuppression.

Diagnosis of Bacterial Pneumonia in Ferrets

If you notice any of the symptoms of bacterial pneumonia, take your ferret o a veterinarian as soon as possible. Discuss the symptoms you have observed with the vet. You should also let the vet know if your ferret has any other health conditions, especially if it is one that is often linked to bacterial pneumonia. 

The vet will begin by performing complete blood count, blood chemistry profile, and urinalysis tests. These tests will show if your ferret has an elevated level of white blood cells, which indicates an infection is present. The vet will also record your ferret’s vitals, which includes using a stethoscope to listen to your ferret’s breathing. He should be able to tell that your ferret is having trouble breathing, which indicates a respiratory illness. 

The vet will also take a chest X-ray, which would show inflammation in the lungs that indicates pneumonia. The bacteria may need to be cultured to determine what type of antibiotic should be used during treatment.

Treatment of Bacterial Pneumonia in Ferrets

Bacterial pneumonia is a serious illness, so treatment will need to begin immediately following a diagnosis. The testing that was done to diagnose the condition will help the vet determine which antibiotic should be prescribed to treat the infection. It’s possible a combination of antibiotics will be prescribed if the vet believes this is appropriate. The first dose of antibiotics may be administered by the vet.

Some ferrets with bacterial pneumonia will have more trouble breathing than others. If your ferret is struggling to breathe, the vet may need to provide oxygen through a respirator. Depending on your ferret’s condition, he may also need to receive fluids through an IV until he has regained his strength.

A number of conditions are linked to bacterial pneumonia, including viral pneumonia, lymphoma, cardiomyopathy, or immunosuppression. If your ferret also has one of these conditions, it will need to be treated in addition to the bacterial pneumonia. 

Recovery of Bacterial Pneumonia in Ferrets

The sooner you take your ferret to a veterinarian for treatment, the better his chances are of recovering. The prognosis for ferrets who have an underlying condition linked to bacterial pneumonia is unclear. If your ferret just has a bacterial infection, he should respond well to the prescribed antibiotics as long as you carefully follow the instructions and administer them on a regular basis.

Ferrets with bacterial pneumonia may struggle to eat on their own. Talk to the vet about how you can ensure your ferret is receiving the food he needs to stay strong. The vet may recommend a special diet, or he may show you how you can force feed your ferret at home.

Bring your ferret into follow-up appointments if they are requested by the vet. Most vets will want to check on your ferret multiple times to ensure the antibiotic therapy is effective. 

As your ferret recovers, make sure he does not lay in one position for an extended period of time. It’s best to rotate your ferret to break up the fluids in the respiratory system.