Enlarged Heart in Ferrets

By PetMD Editorial on Oct. 1, 2008

Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is a rare condition that causes a ferret's heart to enlarge or become weak. Often, the animal's heart experiences increasing thickness, especially in the left ventricular. High blood pressure and other side effects can also occur because of this disorder.


Many times there are no overt or outward symptoms of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy in ferrets, at least not initially. There are many ferrets that simply die suddenly and are diagnosed only during a post-mortem autopsy. Some ferrets experience lethargy and weakness, while others suffer from depression or lose their appetite.

Upon physical examination, a veterinarian may find a number of clinical signs that may suggest heart-related problems, including:

  • Abnormally fast respiration rate
  • Heart murmurs
  • Tachycardia or rapid heart rate
  • Irregular heart rates (or arrhythmias)
  • Abnormal or loud chest sounds and crackles


There are many causes of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy among ferrets, including genetic causes. Sometimes the exact cause for the disease is not entirely known.


Many veterinarians will rule out other conditions before diagnosing hyerptrophic cardiomyopathy. These may include inflammation of the respiratory tract, pulmonary disease, abdominal distension associated with liver disease or hemorrhage, and central nervous system disorders resulting from neurologic disease or rabies, for example.

Results of biochemistry panels will often return normal. Also, if your ferret has hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, an echocardiogram -- an ultrasound of the heart -- will show a thickening of its left ventricular walls in the heart. Atrial enlargement should also be present on the left side, as should some valve abnormalities in the heart. Many times the ferret will have a fast heart rate (or sinus tachycardia); still others may have scarring in the heart.


Treatment may involve outpatient care and management to assist in various pulmonary symptoms, including supplemental oxygen for the ferret. In the case of arrhythmias, your ferret may be prescribed calcium channel blockers. The exact combination of treatments will depend on the severity of the condition, its underlying cause, and the ferret's symptoms. Consult your veterinarian.

Living and Management

The ferret's follow-up care, much like its treatment, will depend on the severity of the condition and the underlying cause. Generally, however, the more severe the case, the more likely the ferret will suffer from complications. Therefore, it is vital you bring it back to the veterinarian if any of the symptoms resurface.

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