What is Difficult or Rapid Breathing?

There are a number of different causes of these three conditions, including heart disease, trauma, parasitic infections, inflammation, and immunosuppressive disorders. A vet will need to run various tests to identify the underlying cause of your ferret’s abnormal breathing and create an effective treatment plan.

Your ferret needs oxygen to survive, so each of these three conditions could be life-threatening if left untreated. If you see that your ferret is struggling to breathe or exhibiting abnormal breathing patterns, take him to a veterinarian as soon as possible.

There are three different conditions that describe abnormal breathing patterns in ferrets, including dyspnea, tachypnea, and hyperpnea. Dyspnea is characterized by labored breathing, while tachypnea is characterized by rapid, shallow breaths. On the other hand, ferrets with hyperpnea will experience slow breathing.

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Symptoms of Difficult or Rapid Breathing in Ferrets

Symptoms will vary depending on what type of respiratory issue your pet is experiencing (dyspnea, tachypnea, or hyperpnea). Some of the most common symptoms of these conditions include:

  • Breathing with an open mouth
  • Noisy breathing
  • Sneezing
  • Flared nostrils
  • Nasal discharge
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Restless behavior
  • Pneumonia
  • Increased or decreased respiratory rate, depending on the condition

Causes of Difficult or Rapid Breathing in Ferrets

Breathing issues can be caused by a number of different factors, which is why seeking medical attention immediately after spotting the symptoms is so important. Some of the most common causes of dyspnea, tachypnea, and hyperpnea are:

  • Heart disease
  • Trauma to the respiratory system 
  • Immunosuppressive diseases
  • Inflammation of the airways
  • Arrhythmia
  • Parasites
  • Central nervous system diseases

Diagnosis of Difficult or Rapid Breathing in Ferrets

Ferret owners should take their pets to a veterinarian’s office as soon as possible after spotting that the animal is having trouble breathing. Describe the symptoms you have observed to the vet, and make sure you let the vet know when they first began. 

Vets will consider this an emergency situation, so they will immediately begin to listen to the ferret’s breathing using a stethoscope. This will help the vet identify if the ferret has a heart murmur or fluid building up in his lungs. Complete blood count, blood chemistry profile, and urinalysis tests may also be done. The results of these tests will help the vet determine if your ferret has an infection or immunosuppressive disease.

The vet will also need to closely examine your ferret’s mucous membranes, especially the gums. If the color of any of these membranes is abnormal, this indicates the heart may not be pumping enough blood to deliver oxygen throughout the body. If the vet believes a heart condition is causing the symptoms, he may perform an echocardiogram to measure the shape, size, and motion of the heart and its valves.

The vet may perform X-rays to look at the chest and heart more closely. X-rays can help the vet identify the presence of fluid, inflammation, or any foreign objects that may be blocking the airway.  

Treatment of Difficult or Rapid Breathing in Ferrets

Treatment will need to begin immediately following the diagnosis. The treatment your ferret receives will vary depending on the cause of the symptoms. For example, if a heart condition is causing the symptoms, medications may be administered to improve the heart’s ability to pump blood through the body. Parasitic infections, many immunosuppressive diseases, and inflammation can also be treated with orally administered medications. If your ferret is having difficulty breathing because of trauma to the respiratory system or the presence of a foreign object, emergency surgery will most likely be needed.

Regardless of the cause of the condition, the vet’s first priority should be stabilizing your cat by administering oxygen. In extreme cases, an oxygen mask is not enough, and the vet will need to insert a breathing tube through the ferret’s trachea.

Recovery of Difficult or Rapid Breathing in Ferrets

Recovery rates for these conditions vary depending on the underlying cause. For example, heart disease is much more serious than a parasitic infection, so the two recovery rates will vary greatly.

Your ferret may need to remain with the vet for a short period of time following treatment to continue receiving oxygen. The vet will release your ferret once he believes he is strong enough to breathe on his own. Once you bring your ferret home, make sure you keep him calm and comfortable as he recovers. The vet may ask that you keep the ferret in a cage and away from other pets in the house to limit physical activity. Even if you don’t have your ferret in a cage, bring his water and food close to him so he doesn’t have to travel far to get what he needs.

Monitor your ferret closely and administer all medications as advised by the vet. If you believe the condition is worsening, take your ferret back to a vet immediately.