“Cold” or “Flu” (Influenza)
Ferrets are susceptible to human respiratory viruses: they can “catch” your “Cold” or “Flu” virus.
Ferrets can catch influenza from people, and they can pass it on to other ferrets AND people! Indeed, the ferret is the animal model that is used to test the influenza vaccines before they are allowed to be given to humans.
More than 200 different kinds of viruses produce “cold” symptoms in humans. You can tell when you get the sniffles, but not always when you have the influenza virus.
Ferret owners and handlers should take certain precautions when they are sick:
The signs of respiratory viruses are the same in humans and ferrets: runny nose, sneezing, conjunctivitis (swollen red membranes around the eye), decreased appetite, lethargy, and fever.
In most cases (as in humans) influenza in ferrets is self-limiting, lasting 5 to 7 days. However, it can also be fatal in very young, elderly or ill animals, particularly those that are immune compromised (e.g., cancer). Complications can be bacterial infections, particularly pneumonia.
As in humans treatment is generally supportive care: fluids, rest. Isolate a sick ferret from other ferrets (and from people). It is very important that your ferret does not become dehydrated. Contact your veterinarian if your ferret is not drinking or eating, or has difficulty breathing.
Besler J, Barclay W, Barr I, et al. Perspective: Ferrets as Models for Influenza Virus Transmission Studies and Pandemic Risk Assessments. Emerging Infectious Diseases 24(6) June 2018. https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/24/6/17-2114_article
National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease Facts Sheets – Cold-Flu-or-Allergy October 2014 https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2014/10/cold-flu-or-allergy
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