Message Number: YG1118 | New FHL Archives Search
From: Edward Lipinski
Date: 2001-03-11 17:06:00 UTC
Subject: Re: [Ferret-Health-list] EIA and Aplasti Anemia Death

This msg on ferret health is probably more interesting to ferret breeders
than to the owners of the disease-prone, pet-store acquired ferrets.

The reason is that even though cancer is highly prevalent in pet store
prepubertic neutered (here neutered refers to both emasculated and
ovariohysterectomized ferret kits of 4 to 6 weeks) the malady of aplasic
anemia death of a female ferret may not occur in an ovariohysterectomized
subject due to estrogen imbalances that could result from the secretions
of ovaries and other glands.

I have a photograph in color of an albino ferret in death. Her paw pads,
her gums and her eyes are abnormally colored. The paw pads are pale,
almost white. Her gums are also a pale white. Her eyes are yellow. She
is emaciated.

This was a live ferret that FNW picked up as a result of a phone call to
us from animal control. The original owner turned her into animal
control because 'all she did was sleep'. Two days later she attained
room temperature.

This little girl had been in heat and for a long, long time, judging by
the size, discoloration of the vulva and the staining around the vulva.
Apparently the previous owner was not aware of the results of heat
(estrus) over a prolonged period of time. Or did know and didn't care.

My understanding of this condition of aplastic anemia is rather simple
and straightforward. It involves the lack of replacement red blood
cells. Where do they come from and why do the red blood cells need
replacement? The new RBC are grown in the bone marrow normally. RBC's
naturally die after a time (?) during which time one of the jobs of the
RBC's is to transport molecular oxygen (O-O) that is picked up on the
hemoglobin (iron, Fe) from the lung tissue and transported to the bodily
tissues, where the O-O is exchanged for carbon dioxide. The COO is
carried back to the lungs and given up (is exhaled) for another load of
O-O that is inhaled, und so weiter [G.] and so on.

Bodily tissue is oxygenated with the help of RBC's. Lack of RBC's leads
to a condition called anoxia, or the lack of oxygen. Pilots at high
altitudes can die from anoxia, just like ferrets can at sea level.

In simplistic terms I like to think of it this way: While in heat, the
female ferret is producing bone destroying estrogens. (Older women
suffer from osteroperosis for the same reason of producing bone
destroying hormones all their reproductive-enabled life.) These
estrogens gradually reduce the RBC renewal capability of the bone marrow.
Fortunately, the turn off switch is good old fashioned SEX. Not for the
woman but for the ferret.

Please note that pregnance is not required, as is exemplified by
vasectomized male coitus that successfully terminates estrus - always.
(Note: vulvar swelling is not always an indicator of estrus.)

Apparently, the coital act in ferrets, by turning on the mechanism of
ovulation, turns off the continuing secretion of bone killing estrogen
and gradually, over time, the bone marrow recovers and keeps the RBC
count at normal levels. It is the act of coitus that is the life saver
for the estral ferret. It's just like a double-pole switch: turns this
off and this other thing on.

OK, be that the case, why is it that some ferrets can survive estrus
without being mated? Well, some can, and that's for certain, but the
likelyhood of her doing that a second time is not at all good. A very,
very healthy ferret can probably survive with a low RBC and will likely
sleep a lot more than before she became
estral. This is a tipoff that not all is going well - the increased need
to sleep. However, when she starts her next estral cycle, she be
entering it with an already depleated RBC count and the further RBC
depletion will be most likely lethal.

Most ferret breeders know that coitus should not occur, for efficiencies
sake, until the female is in second stage estrus. Second stage estrus
is typified by the vulvar discharge of a clear, colorless, odorless,
slightly more viscous than water dripping that keeps the entire area
between the rear paws perpetually wetted. It is at this time that the
female ferret will actively seek out the male, viripotent or
vasectomized, and harass him mercilessly until he consents to coitus.

It is of interest to note that a female housed with a male as she's
developing estrus will not be mated by the male (he's apparently
non-stimulated until some time after second stage estrus, then he mates)
even though she harasses him mercilessly by treating him as though he's
one of her kits. However, if the male is replaced by another male not in
the same area as the two who have been together, mating takes place

It's like the old expression, 'Familiariy breeds contempt'. (Does not
apply to the happily married!)

Edward Lipinski
A nonprofit shelter and husbandry affiliated with the National Heritage