Aleutian disease is a parvovirus that ferrets contract from other ferrets and mink. As the virus spreads through a ferret’s body, the ferret’s antibodies -- the protective immune system -- attack the virus, forming complexes which collect in the kidneys, liver, spleen, and other organs causing them to fail.
The disease is incurable and if you have a multi-ferret household, you should consider testing your other ferrets for Aleutian disease and having them euthanized should they be positive.
Ferrets which contract this disease may appear healthy and act as carriers (persistent nonprogressive form), lose weight over time (progressive form) or become very ill and die (another progressive form).
It is also possible for a ferret to have caught the disease and to have fully recovered, not being a carrier (nonprogressive form). However, the vast majority of infected ferrets will become very ill and die (progressive form). Fortunately, this disease is not terribly common.
Symptoms and Types
- Muscle wasting
- Weight loss
- Enlarged abdomen
- Black-colored feces
- Weakness in the rear legs
- Neurological signs (e.g., stumbling, circling, difficulty walking, stupor, coma)
As stated earlier, Aleutian disease is contracted from other other ferrets or mink, specifically from the animal's bodily fluids (i.e., urine, blood, etc.). The virus was first recognized in mink and was later spread to the ferret species.
Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical exam on the ferret. He/she will take a thorough history from the owner and order a blood chemical profile, a complete blood count, an electrolyte panel, and a urinalysis.
Your veterinarian will also want to do more specific tests, such as a counter electrophoresis to check for high antibody levels. If the ferret is not showing signs of illness because it has a persistent nonprogressive form or a nonprogressive form, it can be tested with immunofluorescent antibody testing to see if it is a source of the parvovirus. Laboratory testing of samples using polymerase chain reaction can also identify the virus.
If your ferret is a carrier of the virus but it seems healthy, you could quarantine your ferret away from other pets. If you own other ferrets, you may want to have your ferrets tested and cull all the animals harboring the parvovirus.
Living and Management
This disease can take up to two to three years to become active and cause illness. The best way to prevent it is to keep your ferrets away from other ferrets and any mink. Also, you may want to have your ferrets tested (especially if you had a ferret ill with Aleutian disease) and cull the ferrets carrying the parvovirus.
Unfortunately, there is currently no vaccine for this illness.