What is Fungal Pneumonia?

A fungal infection can be caused by a variety of fungal agents, dependent on the geographic area in which you live. In most ferrets, the immune system fights off the infection before the fungi can colonize and create health problems. However, ferrets with immune-mediated disease or those with weakened immune systems due to the contraction of other illnesses are at high risk for developing fungal pneumonia. 

Fungal pneumonia in ferrets is a type of respiratory infection caused by the inhalation of a fungus in the environment. Like all forms of pneumonia, fungal pneumonia is a very serious infection and can result in fatality without any warning symptoms. 

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Symptoms of Fungal Pneumonia in Ferrets

Fungal pneumonia in ferrets will cause symptoms of fever, nasal discharge, difficulty breathing, lethargy and sometimes coughing. On occasion, ferrets have been known to die suddenly without the presence of any clinical signs of disease whatsoever, which makes this form of pneumonia so risky for ferrets. If a ferret has contracted a fungal lung infection, he/she could be affected by all or only a few of the following symptoms:

  • Weakness 
  • Depression
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chronic weight loss
  • Anorexia 
  • Runny nose
  • Lameness 
  • Fever
  • Skin bumps (specifically on the chest and neck) 
  • Yellowish to green colored nasal discharge
  • Coughing

Causes of Fungal Pneumonia in Ferrets

Fungal pneumonia in ferrets is caused by the inhaling of a species of fungi from the air or environment. Fungal infection of the lungs are not uncommon in the US, especially in the Midwest regions, but most infections go unnoticed. The immune system of a ferret, or any other animal, will fight the infection and only a small group of ferrets will develop clinical signs. In ferrets with weakened immune systems, however, the inhaled fungi is allowed to colonize and spread throughout the lungs. Fungal pneumonia in ferrets is caused by a variety of fungal agents and truly depends on your geographic area of residency. 

Diagnosis of Fungal Pneumonia in Ferrets

The diagnosis of fungal pneumonia in ferrets begins with a review of your ferret’s medical history, an exchange of notes between the owner and the doctor, followed by a physical examination. The vet is likely to listen to your ferret’s lungs through the use of a stethoscope, which may reveal a harsh breathing tone. The doctor may then ask for a routine blood test to be completed on the ferret including a biochemistry profile and complete blood cell count. A high number of white blood cells is the common result in fungal pneumonia, as the ferret’s immunity produces these cells to fight the infection. If the results from the blood test do not show a high number of white blood cells, the exams will give the doctor a baseline for your ferret’s health, proceeding to the following diagnostic tests: 

  • Blood-Gas Evaluation: measurement of circulating oxygenated blood. 
  • Chest x-ray
  • Tracheal wash: exam used to collect cells from the trachea with bacterial traces.
  • Lung aspiration: a collection of cells from within the lungs using fine needle aspiration.  

Treatment of Fungal Pneumonia in Ferrets

Due to the fact that a ferret suffering from fungal pneumonia will have a difficult time breathing, the veterinarian will begin treatment of fungal pneumonia by stabilizing the patient. Oxygen therapy or a nebulizer may be used to return the ferret’s breathing rate to a normal bpm (breath per minute). If the ferret is experiencing dehydration, your veterinarian may also provide intravenous fluid therapy before directly treating the cause of the pneumonia. 

Once the ferret is stabilized, the veterinarian can directly treat the source of the fungal infection. As a fungal infection of the lungs can be caused by more than one species of fungi, your veterinarian may prescribe a different drug than the ones listed here. In many cases, ferrets are commonly treated with sulfa antibiotics like trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole, or other drugs like pentamidine isethionate. Your ferret may spend a few days in the veterinary hospital until he/she is stabilized and the veterinarian feels the ferret is well enough to return home. 

Recovery of Fungal Pneumonia in Ferrets

Upon returning home, your ferret will be required to rest and avoid strenuous activity. The veterinarian will likely recommend a change in diet during the time of recovery, as nutritional support aids in the healing process of respiratory conditions. The medications administered to your ferret in the hospital will likely continue at home as instructed by the veterinarian. All forms of pneumonia can be life-threatening and, even with treatment, can end in a fatality. The key to a proper recovery is early detection and proper in-hospital treatment, paired with proper at-home care.