Parvovirus Infection in Ferrets
Aleutian Disease Virus (ADV) in Ferrets
Parvovirus infection, also known as Aleutian Disease Virus (ADV), is an infection from the parvovirus that can be contracted by ferrets and minks. This chronic (long-term) illness is characterized by wasting and nervous system symptoms, but not all ferrets infected with ADV become clinically ill. In fact, ferrets may be persistently infected and still remain asymptomatic (meaning, they show no symptoms) or eliminate the virus. ADV in ferrets occurs most commonly in breeding facilities, animal shelters, and pet stores.
The name of this disease is derived from the Aleutian mink, a type of mink bred for its diluted grey color that is especially susceptible to ADV. Severe illness is seen in ADV-affected Aleutian minks, while other varieties of mink show varying degrees of illness. In the cases of ADV-infected ferrets, the severity of illness depends on the strain of the virus and the animal’s immunity to it.
Symptoms and Types
Ferrets with ADV may exhibit symptoms over time, including chronic, long-term weight loss, sluggishness, loss of appetite (anorexia), and an unhealthy coat of hair. Some neurologic signs may appear as well, including partial paralysis in the rear limbs, fecal and/or urinary incontinence, and head tremors.
A physical examination by a veterinarian also may reveal symptoms such as emaciation and muscle wasting, head tremors, limited movement in the rear limbs, pale mucus membranes (the moist tissues lining the openings of the body; e.g. nose), and signs of dehydration.
ADV results from an infection with the parvovirus. The exact mode of transmission of this virus has not been documented in ferrets; however, it is thought that the virus can be transmitted through aerosol and oral routes (the nose and mouth, respectively). Direct contact with urine, saliva, blood, or feces may also lead to ADV.
Risk factors that may increase a ferret’s chances of contracting ADV include exposure to minks or ADV-positive ferrets, and living in crowded, unsanitary areas such as pet stores or breeding facilities.
If APV is suspected, a DNA probe or electron microscope examination may be used to detect the virus in tissue samples. X-rays may also be done in order to rule out other causes for the symptoms, such as a spinal cord disorder. Other typical diagnostic procedures include serologic tests, which can detect the presence of the ADV antibody in saliva or blood.
Because there is no “cure” for ADV, your veterinarian will only treat the symptoms associated with the disease. Symptomatic therapy, which will depend on the severity of the symptoms, may include fluid therapy to rehydrate the animal, diet modification to encourage appetite, and a reduction in environmental stressors. High-calorie dietary supplements are available to improve health, and antibiotics are typically prescribed to treat secondary infections to APV.
Living and Management
It is important to prevent the spread of ADV by isolating infected ferrets. If other ferrets live in the same space as the infected patient, the area needs to be sanitized. Be aware of anorexic patients; encourage them to eat and administer dietary supplements if necessary. Keep an eye out for secondary bacterial, parasitic, or viral infections, which may require additional treatment.
There are no vaccines available to help prevent ADV. You should keep your pet away from ferrets suspected of infection. It is also advisable to keep your ferret out of crowded, unsanitary settings such as pet shops.
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