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The influenza virus (commonly referred to as the 'flu') is an extremely common pathogen that can be found in a wide variety of animals. Strains of the human influenza virus are particularly well adapted to infecting Homo sapiens but are by no means exclusive to our species. The human influenza virus can be transmitted from humans to many other animals, amongst which are ferrets. Additionally, the human influenza virus can cause ferrets to experience some quite unpleasant symptoms, in some cases even proving to be fatal. As well as this, it can seriously compromise their immune systems long enough for other infections to take hold.
Fortunately, many of the symptoms of the flu virus are quite noticeable, meaning that owners will quickly detect that there is something wrong. However, it should be kept in mind that whilst the flu virus may outwardly seem like a relatively minor illness, it in fact requires immediate veterinary attention.
Loss of Appetite
A ferret infected with the human influenza virus will often display signs of nausea as the infection continues. The signs that owners will most often notice are the refusal of offered food, an unwillingness to engage in physical activity and a degree of sensitivity to touch. This loss of appetite can, if sustained, lead to rapid weight loss and an inability to properly fight off the infection.
Coughing and Sneezing
The influenza virus will cause a buildup of fluid in the ferret's lungs as the body attempts to trap the pathogen in the mucus in order to more easily expel it from the body. To accomplish this, the ferret will start to cough, drawing the mucus from the lungs and 'firing' it out of the mouth. Additionally, the body will try to remove the virus from the nasal passages by sneezing. Coughing and sneezing are one of the primary means by which the virus is transmitted, so any ferret exhibiting these symptoms should be kept away from other vulnerable animals.
The presence of the human influenza virus can also provoke a rapid increase in the animal's temperature, causing a great degree of discomfort. Owners can detect this by simply placing their hand against the ferret and noticing that its skin appears hot to the touch. Furthermore, the ferret may begin to shiver as its body attempts to produce more heat by rapidly relaxing and contracting muscles.
An infected ferret will also display a degree of redness around the eyes and nose. Additionally, this inflammation will typically be accompanied by a constant stream of mucus discharge from the nostrils and corners of the eyes. Owners may notice this mucus becoming matted in the fur of the face as it congeals, causing the ferret to often wipe its face with its paws.
Owners will notice a ferret infected with the human influenza virus becoming less and less energetic as the condition worsens. The ferret will oftentimes isolate itself and keep to only one area of its enclosure and ignore attempts to interact, preferring instead to simply lie in one spot for extended periods.
The main process by which ferrets contract the human influenza virus is via contact with infected animals. This can include directly touching the animal in question or even just coming into contact with mucus or germs that are lingering on surfaces such as used bedding material or food bowls. Additionally, as the virus is airborne, physical contact with an infected individual is not entirely necessary for the ferret to get the virus. Instead, simply inhaling germs that have been sneezed or coughed out of the affected animal is enough to cause an infection. For this reason, it is imperative to properly quarantine infected animals in separate rooms in order to prevent them from infecting other members of the household.
In the vast majority of cases, a vet will be able to diagnose influenza by a simple physical examination of the ferret. This will allow them to directly observe the symptoms and gauge the animal's overall health to see how far the virus has progressed. For a more detailed diagnosis, the vet may take a sample of the ferret's mucus for laboratory analysis, as this will help identify the exact strain of the flu virus that is at work. The vet may also have some questions for the ferret's owner regarding the source of the virus, as this can help establish a timeframe for the progression of the disease that can help greatly when determining which methods of treatment to use.
Depending on the state of the ferret's overall health, the vet may choose to start the animal on fluid therapy. This procedure intravenously puts extra liquids into the ferret's body and helps stave off dehydration and exhaustion that can be caused by a lack of appetite. Furthermore, they will typically prescribe a course of antiviral drugs in order to directly combat the infection, as the ferret's immune system will typically have become substantially weakened by the time an owner presents the animal at a veterinary clinic.
The majority of ferrets will make a full recovery within the space of two or three weeks, though older animals may need longer in order to properly recuperate. Owners should try to limit the ferret's activity during the early stages of the recovery period, as although the antivirals will quickly have an effect on the animal's energy levels, they will still need plenty of rest in order to get well again. Keep in mind that the vet may also wish to schedule a follow-up appointment in order to assess their wellbeing, especially if the ferret picked up a secondary infection.
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