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The measles of ferrets

Canine distemper is a very contagious, fast acting disease that affects many different body systems in ferrets, including the respiratory, gastrointestinal and central nervous systems. It belongs to the Morbillivirus class of viruses, and is a relative of the measles virus which affects humans. Canine distemper is not only the most common viral infection in ferrets, but it is also the deadliest.

Coughing Ferret

Symptoms and Types

The virus has an incubation period of seven to ten days, after which the ferret will display various symptoms. At first, the ferret will be feverish and have a rash in the chin and groin area,
followed by a lack of appetite and a thick mucus or pus discharge from the animal’s eyes and nose. Other symptoms include:

  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Brown crusts on the face and eyelids
  • Hardening (and swelling) of the skin along the nose and footpads

Canine distemper may also spread to the ferret’s nervous system, causing seizures and loss of coordination in the animal.


As its name suggests, canine distemper virus infects many different animals, including dogs. Other than via direct contact with an infected animal, the virus can become airborne and spread through
the air to inanimate objects around the house.


Unfortunately, most diagnoses are made postmortem — taking tissue samples from the ferret’s lungs, stomach, bladder, brain, etc. to identify the virus. However, your veterinarian may run tests on
the ferret if it shows signs of pneumonia or any of the other symptoms listed above.


Treatment typically involves inpatient care and isolation to prevent the infection from spreading to other ferrets and dogs. Some medications that are generally prescribed by a veterinarian include
antiviral agents and antibiotics. Supportive care may help prolong the ferret’s life, and intravenous fluids helps replace valuable electrolytes the animal has lost because of its loss of appetite
or diarrhea.

Any medications that work to further suppress the immune system are not recommended because the ferret’s immune system is already compromised due to the long-term effects of canine distemper
virus. To preclude the animal from pain or future complications, the veterinarian will usually suggest you euthanize the ferret. 


Yearly vaccination appointments for the ferret is its best defense against this deadly viral infection.

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