Dilated Cardiomyopathy in Ferrets
Any disease in ferrets not caused by a viral, fungal, parasitic or bacterial infection is referred to as a non-infectious disease. One serious non-infectious disease in ferrets is dilated cardiomyopathy.
Dilated cardiomyopathy is a heart disease which causes some of the heart wall cells to die. Over time, the muscles in the walls of the ferret's heart thin out, and every time the heart pumps blood, some blood remains. This enlarges the heart and affects its normal functions. Finally as the ferret's heart weakens, less blood is pumped through the circulatory system.
Normally, this type of heart disease only affects ferrets which are at least two years old.
Symptoms and Types
Due to decreased blood flow to cells and organs, the ferret will have lethargy, breathing difficulties, and be slightly cyanotic -- the cells will receive less oxygen and the skin will turn blue, instead of usual pale pink. As dilated cardiomyopathy disease progresses, the affected ferret will lose its appetite, followed by weight loss. There may also be fluid accumulation in the chest.
If the blood flow decreases, the fluid part of the blood (sera) starts leaking out of the blood vessels, causing an accumulation of fluids in the ferret’s abdomen (ascites). Unfortunately, these signs indicate the extensive damage done to the heart and other organs by the dilated cardiomyopathy disease.
The veterinarian will conduct an echocardiogram -- to identify any heart murmurs -- and X-rays. An Ultrasound may also be used to diagnose dilated cardiomyopathy.
It is important to first treat any heart abnormalities and reduce any fluid accumulation in the abdomen or chest. The fluid buildup is reduced by using diuretics – a drug which elevates the rate of urine – and reducing the salt in the ferret's diet.
Along with medications to strengthen the heart, the veterinarian may recommend supplemental oxygen and bronchodilators -- a substance which dilates the bronchi and bronchioles -- to ferrets that are having difficulty breathing.
Ferret must also have a stress-free living, given plenty of rest, a proper diet, and a steady room temperature to cope with dilated cardiomyopathy. If the ferret is not over-weight, then restricting activity is recommended to prevent any excessive stress on the weakened heart.