Message Number: YG5593 | New FHL Archives Search
From: RRC
Date: 2001-07-17 08:48:00 UTC
Subject: Re: arthritis treatments?

CandiceBush@a... wrote:

>Overall, I would say the most common pathologies follow those for the
>thoracic skeleton, and are (in order) healed fractures, arthritis,
>reactive bone, bone masses.
>Bob C
> In view of the high incidence of arthritic changes Bob attests to, I
> wonder if we shouldn't be considering some sort of anti-inflammatory
> drug for older ferrets who appear to be having a hard time getting
> around. I know both my 6 year olds have greatly decreased their
> climbing this year. Vet comments?

Well, I'm not a vet, but I do feel I have to make a comment since I am
the source of the question. First off, your question is excellent and
deserves serious and thoughtful reply, which I will try my best to do.
Please do not consider this reply condescending or negative. I have an
old saying, "Any student can pass an exam, but only the best and
brightest students can ask good questions." This is a good one because
it illustrates the problem with tying data to a specific problem, and it
deserves a thoughtful answer.

Typically, when someone donates a ferret to my research, what I obtain
are ferrets that have been sick, some for a very long time. Regardless
if there is a connective link or not between a "sick" population and a
"normal" one, I would first have to PROVE that NO LINK exists between
the diseases present and the presence of arthritis prior to being able
to say that older ferrets ACTUALLY HAVE a high degree of arthritis. It
may be that age has nothing to do with it, but that SICK ferrets have
something going on in their immune system which increases the rate of
arthritic bone formation, or some other process is causing bone changes
which mimic the visual morphology of arthritis. There could be dozens of
other reasons and it really doesn't matter if they have any likelihood
of probability, because I still have to be able to prove they DO NOT
before I can draw any conclusions.

This is problem is exacerbated by the difficulties of diagnosing a
particular skeletal pathology based on visual morphology. For example,
you might have noticed my term, "reactive bone." All that term means is
that the bone surface displays tiny pin holes, rough or bumpy surfaces,
depressions, irregular projections, and/or other grossly visual
properties which have been defined by forensic zooarchaeologists as to
indicate the bone has undergone some sort of pathology which has
resulted in the changes present. It does NOT tell you what caused those
changes; in archaeological bone such diagnoses are usually impossible to
make. The problem is, there are a lot of agents which cause similar
changes, so the changes themselves cannot necessarily be used to prove
any one agent. Reactive bone frequently occurs along bone surfaces
adjacent to fractures. It has been seen on ribs and skulls what have had
an infection or chronic inflammation of surrounding tissue which never
directly involved the bone. The problem is, arthritis looks basically
the same (with a few differences), so how do I know one is arthritis and
the other is reactive bone? I can't. What I do is adhere to published
definitions, made by forensic zooarchaeologists, which basically say "if
the reactive bone is within a joint space, it is usually arthritis". Now
well trained zooarchaeologists know these definitions are subjective and
prone to error, and treat the data accordingly. But the non-trained may
not and frequently do not. Because the data lacks clear resolution, it
is skewed. The problem is, in which direction and to what degree is it
skewed? To know that, you have to know what a "normal" population is and
you have to be able to say what percent of reactive bone is actually a
form of arthritis.

I know neither, even after looking at hundreds of domesticated ferret,
New Zealand feral ferret, black-footed ferret, European polecat and
steppe polecat skeletons, so I actually DO NOT KNOW what the rates of
arthritis ARE in older ferrets (I actually have a really good idea, but
since I cannot compare it to a normal population, I am limited in my
statistical analysis). All I really know is that I have seen more
reactive bone changes inside joints than outside of joints, and those
more than either fractures or bone masses. Now, the truth is, what I am
seeing PROBABLY is arthritis, but in the world of science, "probably"
has no direct relationship to "probability." This is the exact point
missed by proponents of colloidal silver. CAN using ground elemental
silver particles suspended in distilled water result in subjective
changes? Probably. But that is a completely different question than
"What is the probability of colloidal silver use resulting in any one
specific change?" See the difference? Think of it this way: a tornado
will probably touch down in Kansas this year, but your probability being
sucked into the stratosphere and ending up in Oz is rather small.

I attempt to get around this problem by resorting to using a relative
scale, only saying one pathology is more common when compared to
another. My thoughts have been that if I reported the types of
pathologies which are diagnosable from studying the morphological
characteristics of the bone, then people will be more aware of them. My
only goal is to generate awareness. This gives people an awareness that
arthritis is common enough to be looked for when a ferret seems to be
limping all the time, but it doesn't suggest a treatment program simply
be started because X ferrets have Y% of arthritis. Using a relative
scale—as opposed to an ordinal scale—allows me to report a problem
without being required to statistically support the data. That way I can
fulfill my obligations as a scientist to not publish uncorrected or
skewed data, while still fulfilling my obligations as a ferret lover to
inform people of potential medical problems.

Personally, I would like to see some serious research done on the
subject of arthritis in ferrets, with some well thought out protocols
for treating the disease. But I think each ferret has to be diagnosed
independently, which ultimately throws the responsibility of treatment
back to the primary veterinarian. Personally, I wouldn't want a lot of
people to try to diagnose and treat their ferrets because the outward
signs of arthritis can be mimicked by infections, cancers, or even
fractures. People suspecting that their ferret has arthritis should see
a vet. Any ferret having limp which doesn't resolve in a few days, or is
associated with redness, swelling, hot skin, or obvious pain should
immediately see a vet for proper diagnosis.

Perhaps the vets on the list could discuss their preferred methods of
diagnosis and treatment protocols for arthritis?

Bob C