Although the principles of emergency medicine critical care are universal for all species, this approach must be balanced with an understanding of the unique aspects of small mammal medicine. Use this summary page to review the basic approach to the exotic companion mammal patient and select additional links to supplement your knowledge base.
The approach to analgesia and sedation in exotic companion mammals faces special challenges, including small patient size and unique features of the prey species mentality. Recognition of pain is more difficult in rabbits and rodents because many small mammals are very good at hiding the signs of pain commonly observed in predator species. Instead pain in a rabbit or rodent is often inferred from the patient’s clinical condition as well as the absence of normal behaviors. The diagnostic and therapeutic plan frequently requires some form of chemical restraint in exotic mammal medicine. When compared to general anesthesia, sedation is a safer option for the debilitated or critically ill small mammal.
This presenting problem article reviews the basic approach to the dyspneic ferret beginning with clinical signs of the dyspneic ferret, key points of urgent care, as well as case management. This latter section reviews tips on taking the history, performing the physical exam, important differential diagnoses, as well as the diagnostic/therapeutic approach.
Exotic small mammals can be challenging to safely induce, maintain and recover from general anesthesia. View the recording of this AAVSB R.A.C.E.-approved webinar, which explores clinical anesthesia in exotic companion mammals from patient assessment and anesthetic induction to monitoring and recovery. The use of common premedications, induction agents, maintenance drugs, and post-operative analgesics will be compared and contrasted in exotic companion mammals. Multimodal anesthetic techniques, such as epidural anesthesia and constant rate infusions, will also be discussed. After reviewing the recording, take the brief post-test to earn 1 hour of continuing education credit.
A variety of agents may be used in small mammals with ectoparasites. Download this easy-to-use table for a list of agents used to manage lice, flea infestation, mange or acariasis.
Released for National Veterinary Technician Week 2014, Nursing Care for Exotic Companion Mammals is part of an Exotic ICU series providing advice on the management of small exotic companion mammals in a critical care setting. Specific recommendations on caging, medicating, feeding, and monitoring the critical small mammal are explored as well as important potential sequelae to the stress of hospitalization.
Although the overall incidence of urethral obstruction is probably low, this condition is an important reason for emergency presentation of the male ferret. n the United States, urethral obstruction is most frequently caused by…
In 1985, a spiral-shaped microorganism was isolated from the duodenal ulcer of a ferret. Since that time, gastritis and peptic ulcers have been routinely reported in ferrets. In fact one of the reasons ferrets are kept as laboratory animals, is for the study of Helicobacter mustelae…
Urolithiasis is characterized by single or multiple calculi throughout the urinary tract or by the presence of sandy material within the bladder and urethra. Uroliths are fortunately more of a historical disease in the ferret, while calculi are still an important problem in rabbits and rodents.
Although some diseases are merely arranged alphabetically, other lists are based on the mnemonic acronym DAMNIT. This commonly used veterinary medical record scheme divides disease mechanisms into the following categories: degenerative, anomalous, metabolic, neoplastic or nutritional; infectious, inflammatory, idiopathic, immune-mediated, or infarct/vascular; and traumatic or toxic. Exercise professional judgment when evaluating this information. Differential Diagnosis in Ferrets is designed as an aide or reminder system for use by qualified veterinarians and should never be used for diagnostic decision-making.
As in other species, to manage pain successfully, one must know when pain might occur. Several common medical disorders can result in acute pain such as otitis, conjunctivitis, and acute gastrointestinal disease. Chronic pain can arise from conditions such as arthritis, which commonly develops in older…
Diarrhea is the most common clinical sign in ferrets with gastrointestinal disease, with the exception of gastrointestinal foreign bodies where anorexia and weight loss are the primary presenting complaints. Important causes of diarrhea in young ferrets include coccidiosis and rotavirus. Ferrets of all ages may be afflicted with Helicobacter gastritis, ferret enteric coronavirus, and stress-induced diarrhea while middle-aged to older ferrets may suffer from inflammatory bowel disease and intestinal lymphoma. Although signalment, history, and physical exam findings may be sufficient to reach a tentative diagnosis, additional diagnostics may include cytology such as fecal parasite testing, and imaging. Treatment will vary with the specific condition identified but frequently includes…
Providing nutrition to the hospitalized small mammal is a fairly straightforward process. Encourage owners to bring their pet’s “regular” diet to minimize the risk of food refusal or gastrointestinal upset. Also consider keeping the following food items available…
There is no cure for insulinoma. If the ferret lives long enough, eventually it will reach a point where clinical signs cannot be controlled and euthanasia will need to be selected to address quality of life issues.
The principles of fluid therapy are basically the same in exotic companion mammals as in other species. The biggest difference is that changes can occur very rapidly in these tiny patients. For instance, fluids should almost always be warmed or your patient will cool down quickly. Intraosseous or intravenous fluids can be heated with…
Lymphoma is one of the most commonly diagnosed diseases in the domestic ferret. In one large study by Li et al, lymphoma was the third most common neoplasm seen in 574 ferrets after adrenal disease and insulinoma. Although a possible retroviral etiology has been proposed, no virus has yet been identified.
The ferret is a carnivore with a short, simple gastrointestinal tract and a relatively rapid gastrointestinal transit time. Diarrhea is the most common clinical sign in ferrets with gastrointestinal disease, with the exception of gastrointestinal foreign bodies where anorexia and weight loss are the primary presenting complaints.
Hyperadrenocorticism is a common and complex clinical condition in the pet ferret. This disease occurs most frequently in ferrets three years or older but has been reported in animals as young as one year of age. Presumptive diagnosis of adrenal disease in the ferret is based on history, clinical signs, imaging diagnostics, and steroid hormone analysis. While surgical therapy is the treatment of choice, palliative medical management typically relies on use of the GnRH analogs, leuprolide acetate or deslorelin.
External reproductive anatomy is obvious in some adult small mammals such as the ferret, sugar glider, hedgehog, rat, guinea pig, and hamster. Gender determination or sexing can be challenging in some species like the chinchilla, and in many neonatal rodents. In these cases, reliance on anogenital distance or the distance between the rectum and the urogenital region is considered best practice.
The average small animal veterinarian may easily become comfortable with ferrets. Ferrets are hardy and relatively stoic, and as members of the order Carnivora, ferrets are predator species that approach the world in a manner similar to cats and dogs. A relatively small number of medical problems are seen very commonly in ferrets. Careful study of these conditions and attention to the unique aspects of ferret anatomy and behavior will prepare the veterinarian for basic emergency care of the ferret.
Can’t quite recall the dental formula of the African pygmy hedgehog–or perhaps you never knew? Use LafeberVet’s “Small Mammal Dental Formulas: Cheat Sheet” as a quick and easy clinical resource.
Have you ausculted an arrhythmia in a ferret. Now what? Cardiac dysrhythmias can encompass a wide range of clinical syndromes that vary in significance and signs.
Do you consider ferret arrhythmias a cinch? Take our quiz to confirm you’re ready to auscult in a pinch!
Urethral obstruction is an important reason for emergency presentation of the male ferret. If not corrected, obstruction can result in severe metabolic disturbances, coma, and death.
Signs of complete urethral obstruction are usually not very subtle. Ferrets may strain violently or cry when attempting to urinate. Owners may misinterpret the straining observed as “constipation”, and tenesmus may even lead to diarrhea in some cases. Occasionally, a ferret with blockage will present for lethargy, weakness, anorexia, and even collapse without obvious signs of dysuria although the urinary bladder will be…
This brief article was created to serve as a synopsis of LafeberVet’s longer, more detailed “Analgesia in Small Mammals” authored by veterinary anesthesiologist, Dr. Paul Flecknell.
Manual restraint of exotic companion mammals is a challenging but necessary part of veterinary practice. In the recording of this R.A.C.E.-approved webinar, Ms. McClellan reviews the approach to predator and prey species as well as the principles of capture and handling of several species of small exotic companion animals in a hospital setting including from rabbits, guinea pigs, and chinchillas to small rodents, hedgehogs, and sugar gliders.
Disseminated idiopathic myofasciitis (DIM) is a severe inflammatory disease that primarily affects skeletal, smooth, and cardiac muscles as well as surrounding connective tissues. This recently identified disease typically affects young ferrets, less than 18 months of age. The cause of DIM is unknown, but this condition is suspected to be an acquired immune-mediated disease. The onset of DIM is usually acute to subacute, followed by a rapid decline over 12-36 hours. The most prominent clinical signs include a high fever ranging from…
Clinical signs of upper respiratory tract disease in the ferret can include congestion, sneezing, oculonasal discharge, and non-specific signs of illness, such as reduced appetite, lethargy, and weight loss. If disease extends lower into the respiratory tract, cough, tachypnea, and…
Pet ferrets are routinely vaccinated against canine distemper virus and rabies virus. Anecdotally, hypersensitivity reactions to vaccines are common in the ferret, and can potentially be fatal.
Unfortunately, neurologic disease is a common presenting problem in the ferret. Neurologic deficits may include an altered level of consciousness, paresis, ataxia, or even pelvic limb paralysis or collapse.
In many ways, radiographic anatomy of the ferret is similar to that seen in dogs and cats. Unique features include the…
No single hospital environment can meet the needs of every exotic animal and caging systems must be tailored to meet the specific needs of each patient. Read about those caging requirements that remain constant among exotic animals as well as the species-specific needs of each taxa from birds and small mammals to fish, amphibians, and reptiles.
Although the medical approach to anemia is the same as in dogs & cats, some red cell parameters and some differentials differ in the ferret.
The ferret with moderate to severe anemia will exhibit pallor of the mucous membranes, nasal planum and skin. If a clotting disorder exists, petechial, ecchymotic and purpural hemorrhages can also be observed. The owner may complain of lethargy and reduced activity.
Heatstroke is the most severe form of heat-related illnesses. In this life-threatening condition, the body is unable to dissipate heat load at a rate that accommodates excessive heat levels.
Begin treatment immediately once heatstroke is suspected. Intensive care is aimed at reducing body temperature while supporting organ function. A variety of techniques can be used to lower core body temperature. Administration of intravenous or intraosseous fluids is a popular internal cooling technique that also serves to support organ function…
Among exotic animals, venous cutdown is most commonly employed in reptiles like lizards and snakes although intraosseous catheters are also placed in lizards. Similarly, when an exotic companion mammal like a ferret or rabbit suffers from severe hypovolemia, dehydration, hypotension, and vascular collapse, intraosseous catheters have largely replaced venous cutdowns but this technique is occasionally employed.
The domestic ferret is probably derived from the European polecat (M. putorious putorious). Ferrets serve as working animals (in the age old tradition of “ferreting”), pets, and laboratory animals. In the United States, ferrets are raised on ferret farms where they are spayed or neutered at 6 weeks of age. After each procedure, a tattoo is placed on the ear pinna. Male ferrets are called…
Insulinoma, or pancreatic beta cell tumor, is an abnormal growth of the pancreas that secretes excess amounts of insulin. Unfortunately, insulinoma is an extremely common disease of middle-aged to older ferrets.
Ferrets are playful, friendly animals that can make excellent pets for the right person…
Dispense this client educational handout to owners of insulinoma ferrets and other patients on steroids.
Adrenocortical disease is a common endocrine disorder in middle-aged to older ferrets.
Esophagostomy tube placement is an excellent choice for nutritional support of the debilitated small mammal patient requiring long-term feeding or for individuals that have suffered major orofacial trauma. Use this video clip or text with still images to review this important technique in the ferret.
All mammals are considered to be susceptible to rabies although susceptibility appears to vary by species and viral variant. Rabies is exceedingly rare among small wild mammals and exotic pets. Among rodents in the United States, rabies is most commonly reported in…
Are you using epidurals in your practice? The epidural is a neuroaxial technique that provides preemptive analgesia by injecting drug into the epidural space surrounding the spine. Epidurals can be used for abdominal surgery, perineal surgery, and orthopedic procedures involving the pelvic limb or spine. Some opioids can also travel cranially to provide supplemental analgesia for chest and thoracic limb procedures. Epidurals serve as an adjunct to systemic analgesia, and epidural analgesia also reduces the amount of anesthetic drug needed. Epidurals can also shorten recovery time.
Intravenous catheters are commonly placed in ferrets and rabbits to administer fluids and medications, induce anesthesia, and for delivery of analgesic drugs during and after surgery. Intravenous catheters are also placed with growing frequency in chinchillas, guinea pigs and other small exotic companion mammals. Use this video clip or text with still images to review patient selection, potential complications, equipment needed and step-by-step instructions for this technique, as well as daily fluid requirements, catheter maintenance, and patient monitoring.
All but the weakest ferrets can be challenging to restrain for blood collection. Consider sedation or general anesthesia, particularly if the handler or phlebotomist is relatively inexperienced; however remember that anesthesia can affect ferret hematology.
Use this video clip or article with still images to review equipment needed, and potential venipuncture sites including the jugular vein, cranial vena cava, lateral saphenous vein, and cephalic vein.
History and physical examination forms donated by Dr. Tom Tully of Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine. Download Ferret Physical Exam Form PDF.
History and physical examination forms donated by Dr. Tom Tully of Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine. Download Ferret History Form PDF.
Ferrets are small, flexible, mischievous, and curious. This combination means that traumatic injury is a common problem, particularly when owners do not supervise their pets or “ferret proof” their living quarters. For instance, reclining chairs have been implicated in the injury and even death of many ferrets. Ferrets may also be accidentally stepped on or become trapped within a confined space. Trauma can result in a constellation of injuries that may affect the head, thorax, abdomen, spine, and limbs.
An important differential for lumps and bumps: Mammary gland tumors are relatively common in rats and mice, and are also seen in African pygmy hedgehogs and guinea pigs. Get the facts about mammary tumors in small mammals. Review diagnostics, management, prognosis and prevention of this important condition.
Exotic animal care is frequently a balancing act between concepts true for all medicine and species-specific information. Management of pleural effusion in the ferret relies on the same tests and treatments used in dogs and cats, including chest taps when indicated.
Loss of appetite is a common finding in the sick ferret and nutritional support is often required. Ferrets with insulinoma may also require regular assist feedings to help maintain normal blood glucose levels. Fortunately syringe feeding the ferrets is a relatively straightforward process. The short, simple gut of the ferret has only a limited ability to absorb nutrients. So even healthy ferrets require a highly digestible diet. Use this video or article to review the equipment needed and the technique involved.