Message Number: YG1135 | New FHL Archives Search
From: Bruce Williams, DVM
Date: 2001-03-11 22:39:00 UTC
Subject: Re: ECE can be eliminated forever! Wishful thinking or a

--- In Ferret-Health-list@y..., Edward Lipinski <elipinski@j...>
> Dear Doctor Bruce Williams,
> Will you please tell us how you identified the reason (causative
> why ferrets come down with ECE.

Dear Mr. Edward Lipinski ;)

I have taken the liberty of posting the abstract of the article in
the August 15th issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary
Medical Association in which we described the findings associated
with approximately a three year investigation on ECE in ferrets. FOr
those who are interested, it is in the files section. (Or also for
those whose vet's may not be totally up on their ferret reading.)

The virus was identified in the feces of animals acutely infected
with extracts from feces of animals from several facilities
undergoing epizootics of diarrhea. Similar epizootics were seen in
the laboratory following inoculation. The patterns of outbreak
strongly supported a viral origin. The lesion seen in the intestine
of these animals was very similar to that seen in dogs, cattle, and
rats with coronavirus infection, so that was the first clue. Very
characteristic coronaviral particles were seen via transmission
electron microscopy of feces and intestinal tissue of acutely
infected animals. When culture of this virus proved elusive (as is
characteristic with this family of viruses, we developed a monoclonal
antibody to identify the presence of specific coronaviral antigen in
the enterocytes of affected animals. The antibody proved
exceedlingly specific, identifying with 100% accuracy animals which
were involved in outbreaks, as opposed to negative controls taken
from before the first outbreak of coronavirus was seen (1993) or
those with either normal tissue or other definitively diagnosed
enteric disease. The combination of appropriate lesion, virus
visualization, and identification of antigen is sufficient to
establish this diagnose, however until we are able to grow this virus
in culture, it will remain a "coronavirus-associated"disease due to
current, but somewhat outdated nomenclature standards in the
veterinary community.
> How did you come to the conclusion that the causative agent is a
> "coronavirus'? And just what is a this?

Coronaviruses are a family of virus that affect numreous species of
naimal. Enteric coronaviruses affect dogs, mink, cattle, cats, rats,
mice, swine, and man, usually causing diarrhea and occasionally death.
> Recently there are statements on this health list that ferret diet
> nutrition may play a more than previously thought impact on the
> development of this condition in the 72" of ferret intestine (and
> stomach?).

Indeed, I do believe that, although it has yet to be characterized.
A very plausible theory which might explain the increased severity of
coronavirus infections in older animals, and the rather inapparent
lesions seen in kits is the fact that coronviruses appear to have
trouble establising infection in a low pH environment. A older
ferrets often have concomitant Helicobacter infections, which result
in a higher (more alkaline) gastric environment, this may be a
contributing factor as to why they appear more significantly affect
(in addition to the fact that they often have other concomitant
> ECE is of particular interest to me here in Seattle at our shelter
> husbandry ferretarium for just one simple reason.
> In spite of the fact that we are in receipt of many different
ferrets, of
> all ages, in various states of health and nutrition, we've never
> experienced a case of ECE. Why? Why?

That I can't answer. But I have heard it before, and I have also
heard back from a number of poeple when it did hit, and they were
faced with tremendous morbidity. >

> Our ferretarium is certainly not the 'hospital' setting. It's more
> similar to an active farm (about 20 percent of our ferrets are not
> neutered nor descented) and conditions here are not the same as the
> conditions where just a few ferrets are being housed as typical in
> someone's apartment or house. We've been inspected three times by
> animal control agencies on the basis of complaints from women
visitors to
> our ferretarium, reception room, shelter and husbandry for reasons
> of these women (some with perfumed ferrets) found not to their
> Our practices of ferret husbandry have always passed inspection by
> control, so no trouble there. The majority of our wire cages are
> inches of neighboring cages, both horizontally and vertically.
> transmission of viral particles here would be so very, very easy.
Yet no
> ECE.
Indeed, yes it would be ripe for transmission of many viral
diseases. Not that all operations should be designed to ward off
viral disease, but operators in such facilities should certainly be
congnizant of the signs of viral diseases and ready to act should the
possibility of an outbreak exist.

> As you must already know, LUMPS (Lipinski's Ultimate Mustelid
> Soup, a home-made concoction of cooked meat and veggies, finely
ground to
> puree state and liquified) is a standard diet here on an every
other day
> schedule. Alternate with LUMPS is whatever ferret kibble or
> food I can lay my hands on for the purpose of giving the ferrets
> food. The also get cooked chicken, turkey, left-over steak,
> spare rib bones to chew on, including LUMPS saturated cooked
> strips, which we call LUMPSCHEWS. Most bones are cooked until soft
in a
> pressure cooker at high pressure to inhibit the excess loss of bone
> marrow nutrients that would occur is open-pot cooking. Also
included in
> the LUMPS, from time to time is the left-overs from our own meals.

I was not familiar with it, but I applaud your energy and the amount
of time which it must take to prepare this feast. Alas, my own poor
animals subsist entirely on kibble, with the odd Linatone and treat.
> Unlike the well known Duck Soup, which I understand is primarily
> for sick ferrets, LUMPS, on the other side of the spectrum, is
> staple which is fed to keep the ferrets from getting sick, or more
to the
> point, to ensure health. And it certainly does that - especially
> ECE is concerned.

Your claim proceeds on the assumption that they have been challenged
with the virus, which we do not know. There are still quite a few
facilities which have not seen ECE - it is common, but not ubiquitous
in the U.S.
> So what I am saying is this: the FNW ferrets will eat just about
> anything and the oldest ferret, Bousno-ichi by name, we have here
now in
> our geriatric ward was bred and born 4/4/1989 right here. She was
> on LUMPS and ate it as a juvenile. She was adopted for 10.5 years
> then returned to us 10/19/99 as required, since the original
> moved to California, as I remember. She's currently 12 years old,
less a
> month or so.
> Doctor Williams, yes I know that you are'nt a ferret nutritionist,
> what is it that I'm doing wrong that is right, or conversely, in
> opinion? Why never, ever: ECE?

My knowledge is not of nutrition, but of the virus. I would imaging
that no diet would render an animal immune to the actions of this
virus - to the invasion of villar enterocyte, the necrosis, of same,
and the reparative process of the gut - all of which contribute to
the clinical signs. While you may have found a preventative to
ferret coronavirus infection - it is apparently a multifactorial
solution given in the absence of evidence of challege.

The best way to prove it, and something which I am loathe to
recommend, because it takes risks which I cannot justify, is to
introduce a known source of virus into the population. That would
answer the primary question. Should there be no disease, then we
would have to examine the LUMPS formula, portion by portion, to see
what factors may be resulting in the prevention of this disease.

With kindest regards,

Bruce H. Williams, DVM, DACVP
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