There are three different types of coronavirus that can affect ferrets and one, in particular, has been problematic long before COVID-19. Knowing more about these different types of viruses and what you may be able to do about them is important for any ferret owner.
Is Ferret Coronavirus Contagious to People (and Vice Versa)?
While ferret coronavirus is highly contagious between other ferrets as well as the closely related mink, there is no evidence that people can catch either kind of coronavirus from a ferret. It is suspected that infected people can give their ferrets the SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) type of coronavirus but very little is known about this transmission process as it does not appear to happen often.
COVID-19 and Animals
Dogs and most other animals do not appear to be widely affected by SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) but there are some documented cases of animals, including ferrets, testing positive for it. Mink have especially been affected by COVID-19 but ferrets do not appear to be as susceptible despite the close relationship between the animals.
What Is Coronavirus in Ferrets?
The form of coronavirus that most commonly affects ferrets is also referred to as green slime disease. This is because of what the virus does to the stool. Ferrets with green slime disease often develop severe diarrhea that tends to have blood in it or look green, slimey, and even fluorescent due to the damage it causes to the intestines. This diarrhea is also seen alongside lethargy and dehydration that results in sunken eyes and skin tenting.
The second type of coronavirus that a ferret can get is commonly referred to as COVID-19. While ferrets do not seem to be seriously affected by this virus, it can cause a fever and some intermittent coughing.
The third type of coronavirus that may affect a ferret is one that mimics feline peritonitis and is referred to as ferret systemic coronavirus or FRSCV. This is not a common type, but if a ferret contracts it, it is usually a young animal and it may experience weight loss, anorexia, diarrhea, and an intestinal mass may be able to be felt in the abdomen.
Signs of Coronavirus in Ferrets
- Bloody stools
- Weight loss
- Sunken eyes
- Skin tenting
Causes of Coronavirus in Ferrets
Ferrets can get coronavirus from other ferrets and potentially even infected people. The green slime form will only be passed from a ferret to another ferret as people do not get it.
Diagnosing Coronavirus in Ferrets
Diagnosis of Green Slime is typically made by analyzing liver enzyme levels, stool character, and observations of other symptoms. Electron microscopy of the stool may show the virus but this is not commonly performed and can be difficult.
Diagnosis of COVID-19 in ferrets is made based on exposure history to an infected ferret or person and a fever, but coughing may or may not be present. A special test called a RealPCR test will confirm the diagnosis but other respiratory diseases like influenza should be ruled out first.
Treatment of Coronavirus in Ferrets
Treatment of coronavirus depends on the symptoms involved. Various medications, fluids, and assisted feeding are often required. Ferrets with COVID-19 typically recover but green slime has a high rate of morbidity and there is no treatment for the systemic form.
How to Prevent Coronavirus in Ferrets
The best way you can truly prevent coronavirus from occurring in your ferret is to keep it away from other ferrets and people that are or may be infected. This, of course, can be difficult since not all people and ferrets show symptoms, but it will greatly decrease the likelihood of your ferret catching the virus.
New ferrets being introduced into a household that already has ferrets should be kept separated from the preexisting ferrets for a couple of weeks to watch for any symptoms of coronavirus. You should also wash your hands in between handling your own ferret and any others to prevent being a carrier of the virus or other diseases.
Shi J, Wen Z, Zhong G, et al. Susceptibility of ferrets, cats, dogs, and other domesticated animals to SARS–coronavirus 2. Science. 2020;368(6494):1016-1020. DOI: 10.1126/science.abb7015