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Heartworm in Ferrets

Dirofilaria immitis Parasite

 

Heartworm disease is a dangerous parasitic infection that is transmitted by mosquitoes. The worm, a Dirofilaria immitis parasite, lodges itself in the pulmonary artery of the ferret's heart and grows, causing the organ to increase in size, high blood pressure and/or blood clots (much like in dogs). It may be seen in ferrets at any age, and is usually more common in tropical and semi-tropical zones. Also, infections consisting of very few worms (one to two adults) is sufficient enough to cause severe heart disease (and death) in ferrets.

 

Symptoms and Types

 

Because the heartworm(s) disturbs the normal function of the ferret's heart and circulatory system, these are some symptoms which may be present:

 

  • Rapid heart beat
  • Weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Depression
  • Weight loss and muscle wasting
  • Fluid accumulation in the abdomen or chest

 

In addition, heartworm disease affects the distribution of blood to the lungs, leading to such breathing difficulties as:

 

  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Rapid breathing
  • Rales or crackles (clicking, rattling, or crackling noises heard during inhalation)

 

Causes

 

This disease occurs when the ferret becomes infected with D. immitis, usually transmitted through a bite from a mosquito carrying the parasite.

 

Diagnosis

 

This is not an easy disease to diagnose. However, the heartworm antigen test, which detects adult heartworm skin in the animal's blood, appears to be the most useful. An echocardiogram can produce a picture of the ferret's heart and help identify any heartworms, too.

 

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