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Did You Know?

- Ferrets lack a cecum to digest/ process fuits and vegetables.

- A ferrets left lung has 2 lobes, while the right has 4.

- A ferrets body contains 14 or 15 pairs of ribs.

- A kit has 30 baby teeth, while an adult has 34.

- Food fully travels throughout their system in 3 hours.

Ferret Distemper





Distemper is an airborne virus that is almost always 100% fatal to ferrets if not vaccinated against it. This virus can be picked up from grass, weeds, trees, shrubs, animals, etc. that you come into contact with, and can be transmitted by your other pets, visitors and even yourself. The incubation period can be up to 10 days long, so it is important to isolate any new pets from the household until such time has passed.

The virus is generally shed from the eyes, nasal and oral cavities, urine and feces. First noticeable signs include anorexia, fever, eyes blinking and serious nasal discharge. The development of a rash can appear on the chin and spread to the groin area which can cause additional infections. The nasal discharge eventually turns into brown encrusted material which grows to encompass the lips, nose, chin and eyes (which usually end up stuck closed). Secondary bacterial infections can develop such as pneumonia and black tarry stools indicating possible ulcers. Ferrets who manage to survive long enough develop CNS complications such as hyperexcitability, excessive salvation, muscular tremors, convulsions and coma. Death generally occurs within 12-30 days. Diagnosis is usually based on distinctive clinical signs, and euthanasia is recommended to end the ferrets suffering and spread of disease.

Though not legally required by law it is a necessity to protect your ferret from this deadly virus and have them vaccinated with a canine distemper shot. The first shot is generally administered at 8 weeks of age, again at 11-12 weeks, then at 14-16 weeks. Thereafter, your ferret should receive an annual booster. While this vaccine is vital to protect your ferret, it is not without controversy. There are currently two vaccines (fervac-D is no longer being made) that can be used on ferrets: Purevax-D, (only USDA vaccine approved for use in ferrets) and Galaxy-D. The dilemma is that they are not without side effects, one more so than the other.

Merial's Purevax-D USDA Approved)

Thanks to the ferret community, owners and veterinarians, Merial (maker of IMRAB-3 for rabies) has received FDA/USDA approval for their recombinant distemper vaccine for ferrets. To date it has demonstrated it's efficacy with only a few reported serious adverse reactions.

Galaxy-D  (Not USDA Approved)

Galaxy-D was previously used by veterinarians before the USDA approval of Fervac-D by United Vaccines, Inc (Fervac-D is no longer being made). When inoculating ferrets with this vaccine, the reaction rate was generally minor (soreness at injection site, sleepiness. etc) and even smaller for severe reactions. Once the USDA approved Fervac-D for use on ferrets, the majority of veterinarians discontinued the use of Galaxy-D and opted for the Fervac-D. Despite the numerous pleas by ferret owners and veterinarians to the manufacturer of Galaxy-D (Schering-Plough) to complete the necessary FDA/USDA testing to obtain the indication for use in ferrets, they have not proceeded. It is very unfortunate that they are under the belief that there is no market out there for them to recoup the expenses (which is hefty) associated in seeking it's approval. Fortunately, as this vaccine has proven itself in actual use, it is often an option a majority of veterinarian's go with.

Anaphylactic Shock

Unfortunately, the most common serious/life threatening reaction your ferret can experience from vaccines is anaphylactic shock, and this generally occurs more frequently with the distemper vaccines. Due to the severity of this reaction if it occurs, it is vital to the ferrets life to remain at your vets office for at least 30-60 minutes as immediate attention could be necessary. If no reaction occurs, it is equally important to keep a close eye on them for at least the next 24 hours, as a delayed reaction is still possible. You should also ensure that your vet is available at all hours or have a back-up if you need to quickly bring your ferret in for emergency treatment.


Anaphylactic shock will generally begin with your ferret gagging, have difficulty breathing, and their tongue and skin could turn blue. They can also throw up, experience loss of bowel movement, pass blood in their urine and feces, go totally limp and unfortunately lapse into a coma and die. All of these signs and symptoms can occur within minutes and even seconds, and your veterinarian will need to administer emergency care immediately, which is why it is vital to remain at the vets office and keep a close eye on them. Your veterinarian will generally very quickly administer injectable benedryl, epinephrine (which literally will jump start their heart/body) and supply them with oxygen. This procedure will generally repeat until your ferret begins responding and stabilizes. Once your ferret is stabilized and released to go home, it is equally important to keep a very close eye on the ferret to ensure there are no repeat episodes and don't slip into a coma. They will be very lethargic due to all the emergency care and injections they have received.

Experiencing a Severe Reaction

Depending on the severity of reaction your ferret might experience, there are options/alternatives that you can consider. First, in the event your ferret was NOT pre-treated with injectable benedryl, this should definitely be a must going forward. If your ferret suffered a reaction to one vaccine, you should try using the other. If the reaction was extremely severe/life threatening with either or all vaccines, you need to seriously discuss your future options with your veterinarian, as future vaccines might not be recommended as the chance of survival at the next reaction could be greatly reduced.


This is a choice not to be made lightly, as there are severe repercussions on both sides of the fence if you should have to face this decision. Distemper (airborne virus) is 100% fatal in almost all cases if contracted, however inoculating your ferret could lead to it's death. It is strongly recommended that you obtain a second opinion and gather as much information as you can before making a decision either way.

Drug Company Contact Information


Merial Limited

2100 Ronson Road
Iselin, NJ 08830
Ph: 888-637-4251
FX: 732-729-5015
Galaxy-D Manufacturer
Shering-Plough Animal Health

2000 Galloping Hill Road
Kenilworth, NJ 07033
Ph: 800-521-5767


To Report Adverse Events

If your ferret experiences any adverse events whether minor or severe, it is important that your veterinarian report it the drug manufacturer as well as the Center for Veterinary Care under the FDC and the Center for Veterinary Biologics-APHIS/USDA. The links are provided below for your reference as well as for veterinarian to complete and send in. This is the only way changes/modifications of a drug known to cause reactions will allow for their modification/reformulation. Also see Understanding Adverse Reactions for additional information.



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Health Tid Bits

- Ferret's normal rectal temperature is between 100 - 104 with 101.9 being the average.

- Heart rate is 180 - 250 bpm with 225 being average.

- Respiration is 33-36 per minute.

- Normal urine pH is 6.5 - 7.5

- Blood volume is 60-80 ml/ kg.

- Ferrets do possess toxoplasmosis in their systems. However, unlike cats they cannot release/ shed the infected eggs back into the environment, they hit a dead end, so humans cannot catch the disease.

All content on this site has been researched and authored by Brenda (webmaster).

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