Message Number: SG7633 | New FHL Archives Search
Date: 2004-01-30 02:01:28 UTC
Subject: Mystery disease
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Recently, a number of veterinarians and pathologists have observed a spike in mortality in young ferrets less than one year of age with similar symptoms. The deaths occur in animals which appear to have overwhelming bacterial infections which are unresponsive to a wide range of treatments. Several unusual findings have been seen in animals autopsied on both the east and West Coast of the United States.

Investigations on these cases have failed to disclose a cause for the condition, and this is probably attributable to the slow progression of disease and the number of antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs and other treatments that are often used in a valiant attempt to keep the animals alive.

An approach that would be useful in this investigation would be to alert veterinarians and shelter operators to this potential disease in hopes of identifying these animals early and obtaining diagnostic samples prior to any attempted therapy. This may be in the form of surgical biopsy of abscessed skeletal muscle or lymph nodes, or necropsy tissue from animals that have been euthanized without treatment. The prospect of euthanizing an animal without attempting treatment is loathe to all of us; however, the use of antibiotics in these cases (even those to which the organism is not particularly sensitive to) lowers the concentration of bacteria to an extent where we cannot successfully culture it, or view it under the microscope. There is no indication that antibiotics are causing the problem - however it is very likely that they are masking the true culprit.

Let me also clarify that this particular disease has not been linked to any breeder, pet store, distribution center, activity or anything at all- we simply don't have this type of information as of yet. However, there are always people who seek to politicize a disease outbreak or point fingers - this is not only unrewarding, but counterproductive, and will not help any investigation.

In short, we are looking for ferrets under one year with a high fever with evidence of lymph node enlargement or inflammation of the surrounding subcutaneous tissues. The one consistent finding has been a very high fever (upwards of 104 in most cases.) If you know of a current case that would fit these criteria, please contact me at or 202-782-2392.

With kindest regards,

Bruce Williams, DVM