Message Number: YG2489 | New FHL Archives Search
From: Jacqueline Snyder
Date: 2001-04-11 19:33:00 UTC
Subject: a different kind of hind leg weakness

Probably more than 99% of the ferrets with hind end weakness are sick or
injured, but there is a likely genetic flaw in a few ferrets that causes
ataxia. I think this deserves some mention here, since there has been a lot
of discussion of hind leg weakness this week.

One of our ferrets, which came from a local small breeder, had dragged one
back leg slightly when he was a kit. The vet who looked at him then decided
it was a ligament pull or similar injury. He seemed to recover from this
injury with no problems. At one year of age, however, he started walking as
if his back end were drunk--he lost control of his hind legs, although
otherwise he looked and acted quite healthy. Radiographs indicated that the
fifth lumbar vertebra was possibly damaged. (It looked 'fuzzy'-we at first
thought it was a bone infection.) Tests didn't really support that. Then
the ferret was tested for everything we could think of. His diet, kit
environment, and so forth were reviewed. Finally, a myelogram showed some
some pinching, so to speak, in the area of the fifth lumbar vertebra. (The
dye wouldn't move past that point.)

Since the ferret wasn't getting worse and seemed to feel well, we stopped
testing then. Over the next few weeks, I spent a lot of time studying
ferret gaits. I decided that our two half siblings (male) of this ferret
also had a subtle gait difference compared to our unrelated ferrets. The
vet agreed that their gait wasn't normal. When another ferret, also a
half-sibling, at age six months started throwing one leg wide when whe
walked, it was obvious to me that we had a genetic problem.

The male with ataxia is slowly losing all muscular control of his back
legs. Now, a year later, he drags them. I suspect he'll eventually lose
bladder control. So far, the female isn't worsening. The other two males
still seem fine--their gait is subtly different, but isn't changing.

All four are short but very muscular. They were bred for broad,
short-snouted faces. The male with ataxia and the youngest, a female, are
considerably shorter than normal, but are very stocky. Temperamentally,
they are all considerably more active and aggressive than our MF ferrets
have been.

So it really does seem to be a genetic flaw. These four are
neutered/spayed, and the breeder has spayed all but one of the mothers. The
breeder also got a new, unrelated longer-faced male and is retiring the
male that sired my four. I've spoken with another ferret owner who has a
half-sibling to mine who says that ferret is fine. With luck, whatever flaw
that emerged will not spread. As for future ferret acquisitions, I would
definitely not rush into getting any ferrets that did not look
'weaselly'--pointy snouts, slim, streamlined bodies, sable coats.

Jacqueline Snyder