Message Number: FHL12571 | New FHL Archives Search
From: Sukie Crandall
Date: 2010-12-08 17:40:55 UTC
Subject: [ferrethealth] ferrets and 30 years ago; ah, the memories...
To: Ferret Mailing List <ferret-l@LISTSERV.FERRETMAILINGLIST.ORG>, fhl <>

This is a reply to an FML poster but it seemed like FHL members might=20
like the things that I looked up, so I am sending it to both as well=20
as to Joan.

Well, we are in a similar club, having had ferrets for something like=20
29 or 30 years now, Joan.

Back early on what existed of the internet was just some research=20
labs , some military labs, and some schools but people did exchange=20
information, a situation that expanded as the smaller groups like=20
Arpanet were linked with the other small groups and then the internet=20
itself began, and ferret people even rather early on found and=20
communicated with each other. I know because Steve was on the "pre"=20
internet first in Brookhaven National labs and then when he was in=20
Bell Labs I guess maybe the actual internet wound up beginning though=20
it is pretty hard to place a date on something which began gradually=20
from a series of smaller groups interconnecting. BTW, Steve and a=20
fellow grad student at the time, Jim Stekas, in BNL were the ones who=20
made it possible for two of those smaller original networks to speak=20
with each other.

One thing that seemed to be mentioned more often (eve with rates=20
adjusted for animal head counts) back then in electronic info sharing=20
was ruptured spleens. Another was lymphoma.

I recall ferrets with lymphoma early on but never heard of anyone=20
trying to treat any till our Helix. We lived here then so that was=20
about 25 years ago, maybe a few years less. No one had any idea what=20
to do so we smuggled her into NYC to the Animal Medical Center for=20
care, but sadly she had JL (though it did not have a name beyond=20
lymphoma when we took her in). Her remains were used to better=20
understand lymphoma in ferrets because no one had really looked at it=20
yet or treated it according to the experts there.

Something up to five years later (so I guess maybe no more recently=20
than 20 years ago) when Fritter and then later also Hjalmar wound up=20
with lymphoma (not JL in their cases) people were already trying Pred=20
for it in ferrets but even that was pretty new. Fritter had lymphoma=20
in her pancreas but the vets knew it was lymphoma there, too, rather=20
than insulinoma. I don't know for sure if anyone was treating=20
straight insulinoma by then but think that they were by then, at least=20
that is my recollection. Okay, the first journal article on it seems=20
to have been:
Pancreatic beta cell tumor in a ferret.
Kaufman J, Schwarz P, Mero K.
J Am Vet Med Assoc. 1984 Nov 1;185(9):998-1000
which also included surgery if I recall right.
BTW, late in her illness we added Diazoxide and it was such a new drug=20
then that the vet had to buy dregs from partially used hospital=20
bottles for patients in a university hospital trial. BTW, research=20
into lymphoma in ferrets was still so new that we got a letter from a=20
university research project asking if we could possibly give Fritter=20
to them. They were willing to transport her and to care for her like=20
she was their own family for the chance to learn more. We declined;=20
she needed her established family and we needed her.

It may have been as many as couple of years after Fritter got her=20
final illness (or perhaps they were closer together) that Hjalmar got=20
lymphoma based in an adrenal. By then people knew about adrenal=20
disease -- in fact, that was first studied about 20 years before=20
ferret insulinoma was studied -- and some specialty training hospitals=20
like the AMC and the people who had studied exotic med in such=20
hospitals after their doctorates were doing surgeries, including right=20
adrenal surgeries. Lupron depot and Suprelorin of course were not=20
around. The documented, careful first look at ferret adrenal glands=20
appears to have been:
J Anat. 1961 July; 95(Pt 3): 325=96336.3.
PMCID: PMC1244488
The adrenal glands of the ferret, Mustela putorius
R. L. Holmes
Department of Anatomy, University of Birmingham
and the first look at ferret adrenal disease appears to have been four=20
years later:
J Pathol Bacteriol. 1965 Apr;89:529-33.
(not shouting; that is how the notation is)
and the first documented adrenal removal was about 20 years after that:
Lab Anim Sci. 1985 Jun;35(3):294-5.
Adrenalectomy in the ferret.
Filion DL, Hoar RM.

The first ferret vet text was a thin, orange volume edited by Dr.=20
James Fox of MIT's Dept. of Comparative Medicine. Let's see, that=20
would have been 1989 (with the much larger second edition in 1998), so=20
the first ferret vet text was only 21 years ago, and the first=20
documented ferret adrenal surgery and insulinoma surgery were only=20
about 25 years ago, give or take a little. It is only very, very=20
recently that the mass of knowledge on ferret veterinary care has been=20

So, part of not hearing about those illnesses 30 years ago was not=20
just the lack of research into ferret illnesses but also that most=20
people with ferrets did not get vet care for them, there were not even=20
going to be any vet texts on them for about another decade, and there=20
was not even basic investigation into a number of these medical=20
problems or how to treat them yet.

Back in those days there were not things like green night-lights and=20
green and blue equipment lights (all of which greatly disrupt=20
melatonin production), and at least as important as that, and likely=20
more so there were very, very, very, very few fancies. These days the=20
standard markings with no signs of fancy breeding seem almost as rare=20
in places like pet stores as fancies were back then.

Oh, and back then most of us were feeding cheap cat food kibbles=20
because that is all that there were to feed.

In discussions with people back then -- and I have had this verified=20
by knowledgeable vets who were among the first to learn ferrets well=20
such as Dr. Karen Rosenthal -- the endocrinological diseases seemed to=20
be far, far, far more rare, and this has also been confirmed by others=20
who had ferrets back then and used similar foods, like Wolfy. That=20
was before those equipment lights, better foods with higher protein=20
levels, and all that danged (Pardon me. LOL!) breeding for fancies. =

Does this mean that the kibbles did not make a difference or that the=20
kibbles like Meow Mix were better then, or both? Perhaps, but maybe=20
(or maybe also) with so very many of **today's ferrets** possibly=20
having fancy genetics that MIGHT make them much more vulnerable to=20
endocrinological disorders so any perturbation may be a bit too much=20
extra load added to the genetics burden. No one knows. There is a=20
lot of speculation but you will notice no applicable scientific=20
journal abstracts unless a number of us here have somehow missed a=20
stray one.

Anyway, I have heard a large number of vets who did treat ferrets 20=20
and more years ago speculate that before people began breeding fancies=20
(for selling at a higher price and gaining notice in shows) the=20
ferrets were a LOT healthier in terms of endocrinological diseases=20
with adrenal disease and insulinoma much more rare, and they seemed to=20
also be longer lived usually. 7 and 8 year life spans were pretty=20
typical even with less that we could do to help them when they did get=20
sick, and many of us knew even older ones, even at times ones who were=20
btwn 11 and 14 years of verifiable age, though 14 was incredibly=20
rare. (BTW, I've been informed that there is now a verifiable aged=20
one who reached 15 years. Those very rare ones are like people who=20
reach 110 and over so pretty much all genetics and luck.) I have no=20
idea why there seemed to be so many more (per capita) mentions of=20
lymphoma back then, but the increased mentions of ruptured spleens=20
back then may have been due to an increased risk of infection.

So, the possible genetic vulnerabilities and how breeders have changed=20
those has to be taken into account as well as husbandry. Dr. Robert=20
Wagner of Pitt has already documented one genetic vulnerability*, and=20
Dr. Michelle Hawkins of UC Davis (for whom Bob Church has been=20
collecting ferret genetic material) is looking at some of the other=20
genetic vulnerabilities which may be possible.

BTW, that early book was wrong about colds and about feline distemper=20
and ferrets. Nope; not ferrets illnesses. People can check for past=20
posts by Dr. Bruce Williams on those in both the FML Archives (URL in=20
each day's FML and also in my sig lines) and the FHL Archives (in my=20
sig lines), but you already know those books were wrong about a decent=20
bit. I have no idea what that author back them meant by "hem-
strepts". It seems to be an old British term for hemolytic=20
streptococcus on searching. I have no idea if ferrets can get those=20
or the infection route if they ever do. Strep in general:
A quick look shows some in poultry (notable enough to be in a vet=20
dictionary even), some can cause tissue (often skin) necrosis, one=20
form is common in female genitalia and causes no problems unless it=20
gets into the bladder, etc, BUT any form of strep in ferrets appears=20
to be rare.

The other term you asked about is "Pseudocyesis" which is false=20
pregnancy and certainly people mention that often enough as something=20
which does happen with ferrets. (Actually, since people were used to=20
false pregnancy I wonder in relation to adrenal if some just assumed=20
that false heat could occur and had occurred, and with insulinoma I=20
wonder if they worried that distemper might be possible -- maybe the=20
source of the mistake that they got feline distemper if no dogs were=20
around -- and just put them down. To this day a number of novices=20
think that insulinoma is something neurological, sometimes even asking=20
about feline distemper, or canine distemper, or epilepsy.)

Sukie (not a vet)

Recommended ferret health links:
all ferret topics:

"All hail the procrastinators for they shall rule the world tomorrow."
(2010, Steve Crandall)
On change for its own sake: "You can go really fast if you just jump=20
off the cliff."
(2010, Steve Crandall)

[Interesting Note:
The FHL has been around for 10 years come February
(in a series of 3 locations) so it has been present for
the last 40% of the time when almost all ferret health
information has been discovered. That is one of the
reasons why the separate archives
are so useful.

-- Moderator]


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