Paralysis and Paresis in Ferrets

PetMD Editorial
Jun 13, 2010
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Paresis is the medical term for a weakness of voluntary movement, while paralysis is the term for a complete lack of voluntary movement.

Symptoms and Types

There are various types of paresis and paralysis, each of which affect different parts of the body. Quadriparesis, also known as tetraparesis, refers to a weakness of voluntary movement in all limbs. Quadriplegia, or tetraplegia, refers to an absence of all voluntary limb movement. Paraparesis, meanwhile, refers to a weakness of voluntary movements in pelvic limbs (the back legs). And paraplegia refers to an absence of all voluntary pelvic limb movement.

The symptoms associated with paresis or paralysis are also numerous and vary depending on the underlying cause for the condition. Limb weakness is a key symptom. This may be accompanied by other signs such as sluggishness and excessive salivation (known as ptyalism). In some cases, paresis may progress to paralysis.



Metabolic disease is the most common cause of posterior paresis (or paraparesis). Other possible causes include cardiac disease, infectious disease such as rabies, traumatic injury, anemia (often associated with blood loss from the gastrointestinal tract, or leukemia), and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Tumors located in the central nervous system, bone tumors, and neurologic disease may also lead to paresis or paralysis. Severely obese ferrets may also exhibit paraparesis due to difficulty lifting their own body weight with their back legs.


A number of diagnostic tests are available to pinpoint the cause of paresis or paralysis. One test that may be done is an analysis of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), which is the protective fluid in the skull that the brain essentially “floats” in. Other possible tests include spinal X-rays, abdominal ultrasounds, CT or MRI scans, and echocardiography if cardiac disease is suspected.

Your veterinarian may also perform a urine analysis, glucose and insulin testing to determine if the ferret is suffering from hypoglycemia, and an analysis of bone marrow aspirate to test for anemia.

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