Ferret Distemper Symptoms And Cause: The Ultimate Guide

Ferret distemper is a disease you wouldn’t normally worry about as ferrets will receive their distemper vaccine at an early age at the breeding place. Nevertheless, it should still be taken seriously and you should look out for ferret distemper symptoms and know what the cause for it is.

It’s your responsibility to make sure your pet has received the vaccine and to also book booster vaccines. Distemper disease is fatal and is also contagious. This is why you should know what the symptoms look like, so you can act accordingly and quick.

Ferret Distemper Cause

The cause of ferret distemper is usually when the ferret has been in contact with another infected animal. Usually, it’s transmitted through body fluids. The causes for distemper virus in ferrets are the following:

  • In most cases, when ferrets get exposed to distemper virus through contact with airborne virus
  • If the ferret is in contact with an infected animal’s body fluids
  • In rare cases, when a ferret is in contact with an object that has the virus on its surface. Some of those objects can be shoes, clothes, etc. For example, if you have been in contact with the virus you can bring it in your home on your clothing or shoes.

Ferret Distemper Symptoms

Usually, it takes up to 10 days to be able to see ferret distemper symptoms. In this case, when a new ferret is introduced in the household a problem might arise if the ferret is infected as you won’t be able to tell straight away.

It’s recommended in these situations to quarantine the new ferret for minimum of 2 weeks and observe for ferret distemper symptoms or any other diseases in that matter.

Usually, symptoms of this disease can vary depending on the situation. In most cases, the first signs of the disease is discharge from the eyes or also known as conjunctivitis. The discharge would usually be green or yellow in colour from either one eye or both eyes.

In addition, the conjunctivitis would be accompanied by a high fever of around 104 degrees Fahrenheit. In other case, the fever would develop within a few days. Another symptom that you might notice is your ferret losing appetite and becoming weak and lethargic.

The most physically obvious symptom would be thickening of the skin around the lower face, lips and in some cases inner thigh area. As a result, the thickened skin would become crust. This symptom is especially important as it doesn’t occur with any other ferret disease.

Ferret distemper virus usually results in death. The reason for that is the development of a secondary infection or severe brain damage.

In addition to what we have already mentioned, other ferret distemper symptoms include diarrhea, seizures. If a young ferret gets infected with the virus this can result quickly in loss of appetite, high fever and soon be followed by death.

Ferret Distemper Symptoms – Summary

To summarise these are the ferret distemper symptoms that you should be keeping an eye for:

  • Leaky eyes
  • Skin inflammation and redness
  • Thickening of the pads that results in crust
  • Conjunctivitis with yellow or green discharge from the eyes
  • High fevers
  • Diarrhea
  • Seizures
  • Lethargy and weakness
  • Thickening of the skin on the lower face including lips and thigh areas

Ferret Distemper Diagnosis

If you start noticing ferret distemper symptoms, you should take your ferret to the vet immediately. Your vet would look for the following:

  • Clinical signs of the disease
  • Positive anti body test. If the test is positive this would indicate prior exposure to the disease.
  • Fluorescent antibody test. The test consist of a sample collected from the ferret’s eyelid lining, mucus membranes or blood samples. Then, those samples are examined under a microscope. In rare cases, this test can turn up negative whilst the ferret is actually infected.

Overall, it’s important to use a combination of methods such as observation of symptoms and blood tests to get the correct diagnose for ferret distemper virus.

Ferret Distemper Treatment and Management

Unfortunately, there is no treatment but you can manage the ferret distemper symptoms. In most cases death occurs within the first 4 weeks after your ferret being in contact with the virus.

The good news is that this disease is completely preventable if you get your vaccinated. Although, the vaccines is meant for dogs and is not licensed, it has been safely used on ferrets for years and years. If your ferret is strictly indoors it needs to be vaccinated every 2 years, whereas if your ferret is outdoors – every year.

There is no successful treatment for ferret distemper virus. Nonetheless, you can provide your ferret with support and manage the symptoms. Some promising treatments are the following:

  • Vitamin A supplement therapy
  • L-lysine and interferon to improve the immune system of your ferret in order to be able to fight off infections
  • Another option is to give them a serum from ferrets that have been vaccinated against the disease

Overall, there is no guarantee that any of those therapies would be successful. Therefore, if the ferret’s health is deteriorating quickly, the most humane thing to do would be – euthanasia. Sometimes you’d have hopes that your ferret will get better and you would want to hold on to that hope but you must keep in mind that ferrets can suffer silently for days.

In some rare cases, if your ferret has only been affected mildly, it can survive the disease. Those ferrets must be treated aggressively with antibiotics, fluids and fed through a tube.

Some after effects from surviving the disease include:

  • Skin lesions
  • Stiff limbs
  • Brain damage
  • Change in behaviour

Ferret Distemper Management

In the case of you having more than one ferret living in the same space and one of them displaying symptoms of the disease, it’s recommended to separate and quarantine them in separate rooms. The ones not displaying the symptoms, should be vaccinated immediately if they haven’t been before. Unfortunately, some ferrets with compromised immune system can still be susceptible to the disease even if they have been vaccinated before.

Ferret Distemper Vaccine

Vaccinating your ferret is essential for their health. The process of vaccination is injecting samples of the virus in a weakened form in order to create an immune response and build resistance against the disease.

It’s recommended to vaccinate your ferret for distemper virus at 6 – 8weeks to start with, followed by a yearly booster vaccination. Regardless if you have vaccinated your ferret, you should still be vigilant and look out for any potential infections and possible symptoms. In some cases, the vaccine might not be effective if your ferret’s immune system was weak when receiving the vaccine.

Currently, there is only one approved vaccine for ferrets – Purevax Ferret Distemper Vaccine in the United States. The vaccine lyophilized vaccine of a recombinant canarypox vector expressing HA and F glycoproteins of caninedistemper virus.

If you don’t live in the United States, the ferret is usually vaccinated with a dog distemper vaccine instead. Although, the use of the dog distemper vaccine on ferrets it’s off licensed, each ferret is individually assessed to decide if vaccination is recommended.

In some cases, there might be side effects from the vaccine. Therefore, it’s recommended for your ferret to stay in the hospital for 30 minutes following the procedure. Although, vaccine reactions are don’t happen often, when they do occur, you’ll be happy to know it’s treatable.


Usually, the ferret distemper virus is painful and results in death in almost all cases. The good news is that it’s completely preventable if you vaccinate your ferret and act quickly when seeing the first symptoms. As ferrets are susceptible to viruses and disease, it’s extremely important to take all the necessary measures to prevent your ferret from unnecessary pain and suffering.

Read about more disease your ferret can get here What Diseases Do Ferrets Get


My name is Iliyana and I'm a passionate animal lover and pet owner. As there is significantly less information online about unusual and exotic pets, I decided to found this website and recruit expert writers to help pet owners.

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