Dedicated Experts and Owners Tackle Rare Ferret Disease | Life


There was something wrong with Maia. The young ferret had a fever, was losing weight and was not as active as usual. But even after her local vet performed initial blood tests, the results did not lead to a separate diagnosis.

Fortunately, Maia’s vet saw Dr. Krista Keller. Dr. Keller is one of many faculty members at the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois who is a board certified specialist in zoological medicine. Only around 400 physicians worldwide are eligible for this specialty designation.

“There are two main illnesses to look for when you have a fever of unknown origin in a young ferret. These are the systemic ferret coronavirus and disseminated idiopathic myofasciitis, ”said Dr Keller.

According to Dr. Keller, both diseases are very serious for the health of the ferret. The systemic ferret coronavirus is unrelated to the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 in humans. It causes a severe inflammatory reaction in many internal tissues. Disseminated idiopathic myofasciitis is a rare autoimmune disease involving inflammation of the surface of muscles throughout the body.

Diagnose disseminated idiopathic myofasciitis

The diagnosis of DIM was confirmed when her local vet took a muscle biopsy from Maia’s thigh and sent her to the college veterinary diagnostic lab. In this disease, the attacking autoimmune system can be seen via microscopic inspection called histopathological evaluation. Inflammatory cells lie outside the muscles in a characteristic pattern.

Left untreated, DIM is fatal in ferrets. However, due to the complexity and danger of handling the required drugs, treatment is usually only offered in a specialized hospital, such as the University Veterinary Hospital.

Despite the expense and inconvenience of making six trips to Urbana – a two hour drive away – over the course of four months, as well as special accommodations for their ferret at home during treatment, Maia’s human family members opted for for the treatment.

Not the stereotypical companion

Dr Keller was not surprised to learn that Maia’s parents were up to anything for their sweet ferret.

“I have always known that the human-animal bond is not specific to a species,” said Dr. Keller.

She works with canids that are not canines (like wolves and foxes) and equines that are not horses (like zebras in the zoo). She even works with big cats like tigers and servals. However, his passion is working with animals that are part of people’s families. Many people might be surprised at what others will include in this family.

“Whether it’s fish, lizards, snakes, parrots or other species,” Dr. Keller said, “while I treat the animal in need of veterinary care, I try hard to work. as part of the human-animal bond to heal the whole family.

In Maia’s case, her owners made an important commitment. They even faced health issues for the humans in the house.

“I think it is truly commendable to see how our clients devote their time, effort, finances, life to a family member, regardless of the species of that family member,” said the Dr Keller. “Working with my clients to provide the best veterinary care for their non-traditional pets has been one of the greatest joys of my career. “

Treatment of disseminated idiopathic myofasciitis

Drugs used to treat an autoimmune disease like DIM require a lot of care and planning. Cyclophosphamide, a chemotherapy and immunosuppressive agent, has the potential to be excreted by the patient who receives it. Thus, it is possible to expose other family members to the toxic drug.

“Due to the formulation of cyclophosphamide, we had to schedule afternoon visits so that the drug could be prepared by our veterinary pharmacists in the morning,” said Dr Keller. “When Maia arrived for the visit, we had to make sure that the people handling her did not have any health problems and were wearing protective gear.”

At home, Maia had to be handled with care and isolated from the rest of the family, ferret and human. Another medicine that was prescribed for Maia was chloramphenicol, an antibiotic with risks of manipulation, such as bone marrow suppression in some people if they are exposed.

Fortunately, Maia was very good at taking her medication. (The flavor of her chloramphenicol was changed several times to encourage her to take it.) Sometimes Maia had to be syringe-fed because DIM prevented her from eating on her own. She needed extra nutrition to regain the lost weight while recovering from the illness.

What Are the Causes of Disseminated Idiopathic Myofasciitis?

The first case of disseminated idiopathic myofasciitis in ferrets was reported in 2003. Since then, the disease has been linked to a compound formerly used in a canine distemper vaccine given to ferrets.

“The problem is caused by the body’s immune response, and we think it’s something in the formulation of the vaccine,” Dr. Keller said. “I hope DIM will become even rarer now that ferret vaccines have been reformulated.”

She stresses that ferrets should be vaccinated against rabies and distemper despite the low risk of DIM.

“DIM is treatable and cannot be passed on to other animals or humans. Rabies and distemper, on the other hand, are fatal and can be spread, ”she said.

The American Ferret Association recommends USDA-approved, species-labeled vaccinations against these two diseases for all ferrets.

Happy end for Maia, training for veterinary students

Towards the end of her treatment regimen, Maia felt brighter and gained weight. When treatments were interrupted, the care team at the University Veterinary Hospital were overjoyed to play and interact with Maia without layers of protection between them.

This case provided an excellent learning opportunity for future vets.

“Maia’s complicated and potentially dangerous treatment course has given our veterinary students the experience of practicing safety and educating owners about these drugs,” said Dr. Keller.

Maia is in remission now and is once again a playful and happy young ferret.

“I hope her DIM doesn’t recur,” said Dr Keller. “But if it does, we’ll be there to help her and her family again.”


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