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Vaccinations for Ferrets

Routine veterinary care for pet ferrets includes yearly vaccinations. It is currently recommended that all ferrets be vaccinated against two deadly and life-threatening diseases: canine distemper and rabies. The ferret vaccine products available are specific for ferrets and have undergone extensive laboratory testing to determine that they are effective in preventing both diseases. Unfortunately, some ferrets may have adverse reactions to either vaccine.

Canine Distemper

Canine distemper is caused by a virus. There are a variety of symptoms, usually starting with fever, appetite loss, clear nasal discharge, and a rash on the chin. As the virus progresses, infected ferrets typically develop severe eye inflammation (conjunctivitis) and dermatitis with red blotchy skin and thickened footpads. Within several weeks, distemper causes inflammation of the nervous system resulting in incoordination, convulsions, coma, and death.

Unfortunately, ferrets with canine distemper almost always die of the disease. Ferrets can acquire canine distemper from other animals sick with the disease. Since the virus can live for a short time in the environment or on clothing, ferret owners can potentially pick up the virus from infected animals and bring it home. Once exposed, unvaccinated ferrets typically begin showing signs of the disease within 7–10 days. Ferrets vaccinated against canine distemper with an approved vaccine are usually well protected against the virus.

Rabies

Rabies is caused by a virus and is transmitted through the bite of an infected animal. Rabies in ferrets is rare, as most ferrets are kept indoors where exposure to rabid animals is uncommon. However, accidental exposure may occur, and given that rabies is a serious cause of human illness and death, it is highly recommended that ferrets be protected against the virus.

Many communities require rabies vaccination of pet ferrets, along with dogs and cats. If an unvaccinated ferret bites a human, the health department is called in to make a determination of likely rabies involvement and, in some cases, may require that the ferret be killed and tested for rabies.