Paralysis and Paresis in Ferrets

PetMD Editorial
Jun 13, 2010
3 min read
Image: Photo Grapher / via Image Bank

Paresis is the medical term for a weakness of voluntary movement, while paralysis is the term for a complete lack of voluntary movement.

Symptoms and Types

There are various types of paresis and paralysis, each of which affect different parts of the body. Quadriparesis, also known as tetraparesis, refers to a weakness of voluntary movement in all limbs. Quadriplegia, or tetraplegia, refers to an absence of all voluntary limb movement. Paraparesis, meanwhile, refers to a weakness of voluntary movements in pelvic limbs (the back legs). And paraplegia refers to an absence of all voluntary pelvic limb movement.

The symptoms associated with paresis or paralysis are also numerous and vary depending on the underlying cause for the condition. Limb weakness is a key symptom. This may be accompanied by other signs such as sluggishness and excessive salivation (known as ptyalism). In some cases, paresis may progress to paralysis.

Causes

Metabolic disease is the most common cause of posterior paresis (or paraparesis). Other possible causes include cardiac disease, infectious disease such as rabies, traumatic injury, anemia (often associated with blood loss from the gastrointestinal tract, or leukemia), and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Tumors located in the central nervous system, bone tumors, and neurologic disease may also lead to paresis or paralysis. Severely obese ferrets may also exhibit paraparesis due to difficulty lifting their own body weight with their back legs.

Diagnosis

A number of diagnostic tests are available to pinpoint the cause of paresis or paralysis. One test that may be done is an analysis of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), which is the protective fluid in the skull that the brain essentially “floats” in. Other possible tests include spinal X-rays, abdominal ultrasounds, CT or MRI scans, and echocardiography if cardiac disease is suspected.

Your veterinarian may also perform a urine analysis, glucose and insulin testing to determine if the ferret is suffering from hypoglycemia, and an analysis of bone marrow aspirate to test for anemia.

Treatment

In cases of severe weakness or paralysis, inpatient treatment (in a hospital) is necessary. The ferret’s activity should be restricted until spinal trauma and disk herniation have been ruled out as causes. Moreover, immobile ferrets should be moved away from soiled bedding and turned from side to side four to eight times per day. If your ferret should have a tumor, however, it may require more intensive treatment, such as surgery.

Living and Management

Before leaving the hospital, the ferret should have neurologic examinations on a daily basis. In cases of paralysis and paresis, it may be necessary to evacuate the patient’s bladder (manually or with a catheter) three to four times a day in order to keep this function regular. Once bladder function has returned, the ferret may return home, where you will monitor its symptoms.

Prevention

As there are a wide range of causes that may lead to paresis or paralysis, there is no possible way to recommend an all-encompassing prevention method. It is wise to avoid dangerous situations where traumatic incidents that can damage the central nervous system may occur.

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