What are Canine Distemper Virus?

Symptoms typically begin within 7 to 10 days after exposure to the virus and will vary depending on how far along the virus has progressed. First, ferrets may begin to develop yellow or green eye discharge, and then they may slowly start to grow red or crusty skin patches on their faces, abdomens, and anal areas. One of the last symptoms you may observe is the thickening of your ferret’s paw pads.

There is no treatment for canine distemper virus so, unfortunately, this condition is fatal. However, you should still bring your ferret to a veterinarian as soon as possible after spotting the signs of canine distemper virus. Infected animals will need to be isolated to prevent the virus from spreading to other animals.

Despite its name, canine distemper virus does not just affect canines. It can affect many animals, including ferrets. Canine distemper virus is an airborne virus that is extremely contagious and can be spread from animal to animal through direct or indirect contact. 

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Symptoms of Canine Distemper Virus in Ferrets

The symptoms of canine distemper virus will vary, and will typically begin about a week after exposure to the virus. Symptoms will change as the virus progresses. For example, eye discharge is usually observed in the beginning, whereas thickening of the paw pads usually does not occur until much later. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Yellow or green eye discharge
  • High fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Coughing
  • Dehydration
  • Thickening of the paw pads
  • Seizures
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Red and thick skin around the abdomen and anal areas
  • Swelling and rashes on the face, especially near the chin, lips, and nose
  • Tremors

Causes of Canine Distemper Virus in Ferrets

Canine distemper virus is caused by an airborne virus that is highly contagious. Your ferret may become infected when exposed to this airborne virus, or when exposed to bodily fluids of an animal that is already infected. If you have come into contact with an animal who has canine distemper virus, it’s possible you could carry the virus home with you on your clothing or shoes and pass it along to your ferret.

Diagnosis of Canine Distemper Virus in Ferrets

If you spot any of the signs of canine distemper virus, take your ferret to a veterinarian for treatment as soon as possible. Describe the symptoms to your vet in detail, and let him know when you first observed them. If you or your ferret has come into contact with an infected animal, let your vet know immediately.

The vet should know your ferret has canine distemper virus based on the symptoms alone, however further testing will be needed to confirm this diagnosis. The vet will need to perform a fluorescent antibody test by collecting cells either from the eyelid, a mucus membrane, or the blood. The vet will usually choose to collect the cells from a blood sample. This test utilizes an antibody that is marked with a chemical that glows in the dark. When the antibody is placed in the sample of cells, it will cling onto the canine distemper virus and glow underneath a microscope. It’s possible that this test will be negative even if the ferret is infected. Multiple tests may need to be done to confirm a diagnosis.

Treatment of Canine Distemper Virus in Ferrets

Unfortunately, there is no treatment for canine distemper virus. Ferrets that have been infected with canine distemper virus will not recover and typically die within a few days or weeks after becoming infected. The vet can make your ferret more comfortable if you choose not to euthanize him right away or if you are waiting on a second opinion to confirm the diagnosis. This can include providing supportive care such as IV fluids.

Your ferret will need to be kept in isolation if he has been diagnosed with canine distemper virus. Because the virus is highly contagious, the vet will need to do this to prevent him from coming into contact with other animals and spreading the virus.

Recovery of Canine Distemper Virus in Ferrets

Ferrets will not recover from canine distemper virus. However, this virus can be prevented if ferret owners have their animals vaccinated with a canine distemper virus vaccine. Even if your ferret does not go outside or come into contact with other animals, he will need this vaccine on a regular basis to avoid contracting canine distemper virus.

Ferrets should receive their first vaccine around eight weeks, and then receive boosters at 11 weeks, 14 weeks, and every year afterwards. Some ferrets may experience side effects after being vaccinated. The side effects can range from mild fatigue to a full-blown allergic reaction that requires emergency treatment. Despite the risk of side effects, it’s still recommended you have your ferret vaccinated to avoid this fatal disease.