Fluid in the Chest Cavity of Ferrets

By PetMD Editorial on Jun. 13, 2010

Pleural Effusion in Ferrets

Pleural effusion refers to an abnormal accumulation of fluid within the chest cavity. Typically, this is due to an increased fluid production or insufficient re-absorption of fluid in the body -- both of which may occur for a number of reasons, including an alteration in the lymphatic function, which is responsible for collecting and transporting tissue fluids throughout the body.

Symptoms and Types

The symptoms of pleural effusion vary greatly depending on the underlying cause of the condition, and also depend on the volume of fluid and rapidity of fluid accumulation in the pleural cavity. Some general symptoms that may occur include:

  • Coughing
  • Open-mouth breathing
  • Raspy, labored breathing (dyspnea)
  • Irregularly rapid heartbeat (tachypnea)
  • Bluish to purplish color of skin
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Sluggishness
  • Partial or full paralysis of hind limbs

A physical examination by a veterinarian may reveal further symptoms such as muffled or inaudible heart and lung sounds, and unusually shallow and rapid breathing related to dyspnea.


There are a variety of causes that can lead to pleural effusion, some easier to treat than others. The most common cause of pleural effusion is congestive heart failure (CHF). Another common cause is the presence of intrathoracic neoplasia, a tumor (medically referred to as a neoplasm) located in the chest cavity.

Other less common causes include infection (bacterial, viral, or fungal), over-hydration, liver disease, abnormalities in the lymphatic system, or a diaphragmatic hernia (a rip or tear in the diaphragm, the sheet of muscle separating the abdomen and thorax).


One diagnostic procedure that may be done in cases of suspected pleural effusion is thoracocentesis, in which a hollow needle is used to remove fluid from the pleural cavity. This can determine the type of fluid in the cavity and may help identify potential underlying causes. An exploratory thoracotomy, a surgical procedure in which the chest is opened, may also be done in order to obtain tissue samples from the lungs, lymph nodes, or pleura. Other diagnostic procedures that may be used include ultrasounds of the chest, heart-worm testing if cardiac disease is suspected, bacterial cultures if infection is expected, and urine analysis.


Treatment and care vary depending on the underlying reason for pleural effusion. Thoracocentesis (see above) is generally the first step. This relieves the pressure on the lungs and alleviates respiratory distress. If the ferret is stable after thoracocentesis, outpatient treatment (meaning outside of the hospital, at home) may be possible; however, hospitalization may be necessary.


Because there are such a variety of causes that may lead to pleural effusion in ferrets, there is no distinct prevention method that can be advised.

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