What are Epizootic Catarrhal Enteritis?

Symptoms typically appear between 48 and 72 hours following exposure to an asymptomatic ferret carrier. Most ferrets recover with no other symptoms than green diarrhea, but others develop grainy diarrhea if they do not receive treatment. Ferrets of older age are affected greatly by this viral disease, but males and females are affected equally. Epizootic catarrhal enteritis is highly contagious and large numbers of ferrets are typically affected, however, most make a full recovery with proper treatment. 

Epizootic catarrhal enteritis (ECE) is a highly contagious viral disease caused by the intestinal virus, enteric coronavirus. ECE is characterized by profuse green colored, mucus covered diarrhea, which is why this intestinal disease is commonly called “green slime disease.” 

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Symptoms of Epizootic Catarrhal Enteritis in Ferrets

Symptoms typically appear within 48 to 72 hours after exposure. Most ferrets recover with no other symptoms than green diarrhea, but others develop grainy diarrhea if they do not receive treatment. A ferret with ECE will show symptoms including the following: 

  • Green, mucus covered diarrhea 
  • Anorexia 
  • Lethargy 
  • Repeated episodes of vomiting 
  • Weight loss 
  • Intermittent diarrhea that can last months after exposure 
  • Chronic wasting 

Causes of Epizootic Catarrhal Enteritis in Ferrets

ECE is a highly contagious viral disease. Ferrets that are of older age are at high risk for contracting a severe variation of this disease, especially those that are already infected with other common illnesses such as adrenal, cardiac or gastrointestinal disease. Ferrets infected with ECE can promote coinfection parasites, certain bacterial species, and other viruses. Ferrets that are at high risk for contracting the virus include those that are housed in pet shops, animal shelters, and kennels. Overcrowding and poor sanitary conditions are the primary underlying reasons ferrets to contract this illness. 

Diagnosis of Epizootic Catarrhal Enteritis in Ferrets

If your ferret is experiencing diarrhea for greater than two or three days, it is important to have the pet evaluated by a licensed veterinary professional. Diarrhea is often diagnosed through an evaluation of the fecal matter, therefore, if you are able to collect a fecal sample prior to visiting the veterinarian, please do so. Fecal samples can be gathered the night before, collected in a plastic bag and stored in the bottom of your refrigerator away from food items. A veterinary technician will perform a fecal analysis and a fecal flotation test, which will identify the presence of parasites. The doctor will then proceed to perform a physical examination, checking the ferret’s vital signs and overall health. If the results from the fecal examination produce a negative result, the veterinarian may request a urinalysis and blood analysis. An ultrasound of the small and large intestines may be requested to identify a foreign body enlarged in the intestinal tract. Lastly, an exploratory procedure or a colonoscopy may be required to see the internal aspects of the intestinal system. 

Treatment of Epizootic Catarrhal Enteritis in Ferrets

The treatment option selected to treat ECE in ferrets greatly depends on the pet’s clinical signs and if a secondary infection is found. Initial treatment will be therapeutic, with the administration of intravenous fluids, electrolytes, and an antibacterial medication. An antiemetic drug may be administered to combat intermediate vomiting and an antacid will aid in decreasing nausea. If your ferret is experiencing long-term, intermittent diarrhea, a corticosteroid will be prescribed to reduce intestinal inflammation. If parasites are detected, an anti-parasitic medication will need to be administered to kill and remove all life stages of the parasites. In other cases, a dietary change may be prescribed and at-home medications may be required. 

Recovery of Epizootic Catarrhal Enteritis in Ferrets

Epizootic catarrhal enteritis is highly contagious and large numbers of ferrets are typically affected, however, most make a full recovery with proper treatment. Most ferret ECE cases have an excellent prognosis, as those that receive treatment promptly make a fast and full recovery. If your ferret has had chronic diarrhea and was taken to the veterinarian in a poor state, the recovery time will be much longer. Diarrhea in ferrets does not always need veterinary attention if the condition only lasts a day or two, but any diarrhea case that last longer than two or three days must be properly diagnosed by a veterinarian.