Measles (Canine Distemper Virus) in Ferrets

By PetMD Editorial on Sep. 11, 2008

Canine Distemper in Ferrets

Canine distemper virus (CDV) is a very contagious, fast acting disease that affects many different body systems in ferrets, including the respiratory, gastrointestinal and central nervous systems. It belongs to the Morbillivirus class of viruses, and is a relative of the measles virus, which also affects humans. Canine distemper is not only the most common viral infection in ferrets, it is also the deadliest.

Symptoms and Types

The virus has an incubation period of seven to ten days, after which the ferret will display various symptoms. At first, the ferret will be feverish and have a rash in the chin and groin area, followed by a lack of appetite and a thick mucus or pus discharge from the animal's eyes and nose. Other symptoms include:

  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Brown crusts on the face and eyelids
  • Hardening (and swelling) of the skin along the nose and footpads

Canine distemper may also spread to the ferret's nervous system, causing seizures and loss of coordination in the animal.


As its name suggests, canine distemper primarily affects dogs, but it can infect other animal species as well. Other than transmission via direct contact with an infected animal, the virus can become airborne and spread through the air.


Unfortunately, most diagnoses are made postmortem by taking tissue samples from the ferret's lungs, stomach, bladder, brain, etc., to identify the virus. However, your veterinarian may run distemper tests on the ferret if it is showing signs of pneumonia or any of the other symptoms listed above.


Treatment typically involves inpatient care and isolation to prevent the infection from spreading to other ferrets and animals. Some medications that are generally prescribed by a veterinarian include antiviral agents and antibiotics. Supportive care may help prolong the ferret's life, and intravenous fluids can help replace valuable electrolytes the animal has lost because of its loss of appetite or diarrhea.

Any medications that work to further suppress the immune system are not recommended because the ferret’s immune system is already compromised due to the long-term effects of canine distemper virus. To protect infected animals from pain or future complications, veterinarians will often suggest euthanization of the pet.


Yearly vaccinations against CDV is the best defense against this deadly viral infection.

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