Message Number: FHL12607 | New FHL Archives Search
From: Sukie Crandall
Date: 2010-12-17 20:36:01 UTC
Subject: [ferrethealth] Re: Terrible Reaction to Distemper Injection
To: fhl <>

1. What is currently suggested in relation to Canine Distemper
Vaccines for ferrets:

Many these days advise titers before vaccinating. In fact, we are
awaiting some titer results ourselves.

You can have titers done AND contribute data to a study of CD and
ferrets by going to:

and following the directions there. That is what we have been doing.

Then you do NOT vaccinate if there is a high titer number, but you
need to if the number is low. See:

but realize that costs may have changed through the years.

We have had two with titers so very high that vaccinating them could
have been risky and one who consistently wound up with low titers.
His immune system just was not very good at that at all so he
obviously needed his CD vaccines more often than the others in our
family. (That was our Hubble who late this year was found to have
multiple serious hidden health problems and who passed away.) The
rest fell into the middle ground.

It appears that many ferrets DO develop a longer resistance than for a

2: What is known and what is not known so far:

The ages at which kit vaccines are needed IS quite well known, so go
by what the VETERINARIANS write on that regard and forget the
recommendations from others. The timing is designed to deal with both
maternal antibody situations AND with the rates at which ferret immune
systems develop.

This USUALLY means THREE kit vaccines at pretty specific timing. Most
breeders and farms provide the first one. I know that there was a
GREAT past post on this from Dr. Bruce Williams and hope that I can
find it. He discussed the timing in detail showing why each vaccine
is when it is. Let's see if I can find it, but I will probably also
include some others to read:
> Ferrets receive ant--CDV
> antibodies from their mother in the colostrum - the thick milk that
> is pass for the first 24-48 hours. After this, little protective
> antibody is passed from the mother to the kits, and even if it was,
> the digestive system, which poorly digests protein inthe first few
> days for the very reason of absorbing immune globulins, ramps up its
> digestive processes and would break any antibodies down, thinking
> they were food. The colostral antibodies wear off over time - I can't
> tell you how fast, but certainly ferret kits of 12-15 weeks that have
> not been vaccinated are lacking significant protection.


> In young animals - the first vaccination is generally to initiate the
> immune response to an antigen which the ferret has not seen before.
> Also, the immune system of young ferrets is not as efficient at
> recognizing and presenting antigens, generating anti-CDV clones of T-
> and B- lymphocytes, and generating antibody, thus the extra vaccine.
> If a ferrret has a mature, functioning immune system, and has
> previously been vaccinated for distemper, then it should recognize
> the vaccine antigen, and the reaction should proceed at warp speed,
> and a third vaccination is generally not necessary. If it has never
> seen distemper antigen, then it is a gray area = three vaccines are
> better, but with a functional immune system it probably can get by on
> two.
> Another reason that three vaccines are given is that this is
> generally what is required to elicit the titers that are protective
> against challenge. If the manurfacturer can develop a vaccine that
> is protective with only one injection (such as rabies), then only one
> is necessary.

[Notice that does NOT apply to the rabies vaccine used in ferrets
which has so far been tested for only one year of coverage in ferrets,
though it might give more. Notice, too that vaccines vary in behavior
in different species. When one of the rabies vaccines (not IMRAB3) was
being tested in ferrets it provided rabies protection -- but only for
6 months and after that they could be infected -- so that one was
removed from the study even though it provided at least a year of
protection for most dogs.]

> Currently, approved distemper vaccine in most species
> need three injections to achieve sufficient levels of antibodies to
> be protective against challenge on a consistent basis. Can some
> individuals get by on two? - Probably. But it is difficult to
> identify which ones, and the safest bet is to give the manufacturer's
> recommended protocol.

A person should NEVER trust not vaccinating a ferret with a low
titer . That is like playing Russian Roulette. Hence, the value of
doing titers. You have a decent guess who to skip and who to vaccinate.

BUT realize that a challenge study has NOT been done, so the
on titer numbers for ferrets are based upon guessed based on the
numbers that
work for dogs. In a challenge study it is seen which levels actually
protection when the animal is actually exposed to the disease.

3. A supplemental approach that may help treat and prevent CD:
Vitamin A
(Yes, the dosing numbers in that are accurate.)

> I have communicated with Dr. Brian Ward who was one
> of the study authors and he sent this information for the
> FHL membership:
> Hello Sukie
> No typo or error ...
> When we launched this study, we had no idea what the
> kinetics of vitamin A deficiency and sufficiency were in
> ferrets and we decided to give a good large dose to
> replenish depleted stores. There was no toxicity
> associated with the 50,000IU daily dose x2 and this
> dose is not so different from the WHO recommended
> 100,000 IU daily for 3 days for small kids (a good sized
> ferret weighs ~1-1.5 kg in my experience).
> Brian

4. How an allergy develops/Why allergies usually involve things with
many exposures:

Allergies typically begin NOT at the exposure to which a reaction
happens but at the one before it (and sometimes the exposure is to a
similar source but not the same one, like when a person has has shrimp
before but then reacts to crab or lobster). That confuses a number of
people, but the exposure before the reaction is when the body
MISidentifies the item as an invading disease. Then the next exposure
causes the body to react to the thing, and if it thinks that the item
is a serious invading disease it may react so strongly that the
reaction itself can be life threatening.

So, the more exposures, the more chance there is for the body to
MISlearn and react. Some things are more likely to produce allergic
reactions. The rate of ferret reactions to current CDV vaccines is
actually very low, something like 2% of the vaccinated animals, and
the ferret reaction rate to the rabies vaccines also is low. BUT some
families and some species are genetically more prone to reactions than
others and ferrets simply are more prone to reactions than some other
types of pets, so you can see why the manufacturers had to be so
careful to also also take reducing reaction rates into account in
vaccines for ferrets. (Yes, there were earlier ones with higher
rates.) Ferrets might simply be unusually good -- usually though not
all individuals -- at developing immunities, or they might be more
prone to their immune systems becoming confused, or both.

5. What is NOT a reaction:

There are a number of people who assume that a response is a
reaction. It is NOT unusual for ferrets or people to feel a bit sick
after a vaccination. What is happening is the body learning from the
vaccine is causing it to mount some protection and that why you feel
ill: from the body's healthy response to what it sees as an illness.

6. What happens during an anaphylactic reaction:

There are a number of types of allergic reactions, with some being
dangerous including asthma and the horribly painful Stevens-Johnson
(also known as dermal necrosis in which skin and mucus membranes
die). One of the dangerous forms for allergic reactions is anaphylaxis.

In anaphylaxis the body so over-reacts to a substance that fluids
begin to be lost from cells. This causes swelling which is often of
the respiratory tract (and it can kill that way), the head, and the GI
tract, and can cause either redness or paleness. Passing out is quite
common but always seen because the blood pressure can drop so suddenly
(and that also can be fatal or can cause brain damage). Diarrhea can
happen because so much fluid is being lost; if that is happening fast
enough then red blood cells are also forced through the membrane walls
and the flux can be bloody (the fluid loss is the riskier part of this).

Is it painful or is the treatment painful? Well, on that score I can
only speak from human experiences, but know multiple people who do
this and I do it. Many people just pass out so do not hurt. Some
feel like they are smothering; that's my norm but I have never
personally reached the point where it was truly horrid before
treatment. The diarrhea feels like just very bad diarrhea with some
cramping without after effects. There can often be dizziness even if
not passing out. The facial swelling just feels weird and makes it
impossible to see since the eyes are closed. It can become impossible
to swallow pretty fast. As to the treatment: some people get panic
attacks from the epi, and epi can be risky with some heart problems.
Some of us, including me just get silly and want to try dangerous
things with epi, so I personally get quite happy with it when I need
it, everything is funny and for some reason I tend to want to rock
climb but am barely able to climb stairs after a reaction so there is
no risk of my actually trying.

There USED to be a hypothesis that anaphylactic reactions and
treatments could set the stage for beginning heart disease, but that
has been discounted now so not a concern.

7. Treatments that save the majority of individuals with anaphylactic
reactions (but not all) when treatment is prompt:
Seriously, that is the single most essential medication when an
anaphylactic reaction occurs.

Additional approaches may include steroids, fluids, antihistamine, an
oxygen chamber, etc.

In humans Singulair is sometimes used instead of steroids to reduce
lung swelling. It's what they do with me due to my also having
glaucoma and I've found it very effective.

8. What happens if a ferret gets Canine Distemper or Rabies (or is
even considered to have been possibly exposed to rabies in some states):


There are still a lot of people who do not come out publicly and admit
when CD is present due to some attaching stigma to that. (It's the
same social problem with ADV a times.) so it is not unusual for people
who have not vaccinated or who have taken in an unvaccinated ferret to
request information privately and most years there will be at least
one who writes to me personally privately, though in most cases the
animal -- or more often animals when the household does not vaccinate
-- wind up getting mercy shots.) Again, a reminder: it may pay to do
titers on the ones who appear to possibly have some protection, to
vaccinate, and to give extra Vitamin A (See above.) Survivors --
incredibly rare individuals (though hopefully the Vitamin A addition
might change that) tend to have permanent neurological damage
extremely often.

There are some old epidemiology studies done in ferrets. If 75% of
the ferrets were vaccinated then introducing CDV to a large colony did
not kill all of the unvaccinated ferrets, but if only 25% of the
ferrets in the large colony were vaccinated then all of the
unvaccinated ferrets died.

Those studies were done back when egg-grown CDV vaccines for dogs that
had not been grown in ferret medium were used. Those vaccines had a
much higher chance of causing reactions than more recent vaccines do
and most types of vaccines are no longer produced that way but it did
offer longer protection and that type actually was studied in ferrets
for the length of protection (about 7 years) because results were then
naively thought to be able to be generalized to dogs. (You will have
heard of this technique with influenza vaccines and why in the past
there have not been able to be rapid responses to unexpected strains
of influenza since it requires a huge lead time; also, that
alternative techniques for producing influenza vaccines are under

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)


Yahoo! Groups Links

<*> To visit your group on the web, go to:

<*> Your email settings:
Individual Email | Traditional

<*> To change settings online go to:
(Yahoo! ID required)

<*> To change settings via email:

<*> To unsubscribe from this group, send an email to:

<*> Your use of Yahoo! Groups is subject to: