"Epizootic" refers to a disease which is epidemic in
animals, "catarrhal" means containing mucous, and "enteritis" means
it affects the intestine.
ECE is a viral diarrhea that is often called the
"Green Slime" disease or simply "The Greenies." Its first widespread
appearance was in the U.S. Northeast, circa 1993. Since then it has
spread across the U.S. and into Canada. Recent reports claim it has
appeared in Europe, though this is unverified.
Symptoms can vary from ferret to ferret. The ferret
can have anywhere from projectile diarrhea to slimy green stools that
are mostly mucous and very soft but not liquid. Sometimes, the stools
are yellow and full of mucous, and may often have an appearance like
birdseed is in the stool. Some ferrets will vomit the first day or
two, others don't. They will want to do nothing but sleep and when
awake, look obviously ill with eyes narrowed and watery. The ferret
usually will not eat or drink and if not force fed and hydrated, could
die in a short amount of time.
These symptoms usually appear within 48-72 hours
of introducing a new ferret into the household. Baby ferrets bought
at the pet store seem to be responsible for many of these cases and
these babies rarely have symptoms themselves. Also, the simple act
of holding a ferret carrying the virus and then going home to your ferret can bring
the infection into your home.
There is NO test for ECE. There are one or two
researchers in the U.S. that can identify the virus, but in general,
diagnosis is done by clinical signs, by knowing the history of the
ferret or owner's contact with other possible carriers and by elimination
of other possible causes of illness. There are many causes of diarrhea
and if the owner or the ferret has not been in contact with any other
ferrets for a few weeks prior to the onset of diarrhea, it's unlikely
that a ferret with diarrhea has ECE.
There is no medicine or drug that will treat ECE
directly. Many vets will prescribe antibiotics to control any secondary
infections made possible by the ferret's stressed immune system. ECE
has only recently been positively
determined to be viral in origin,
and as such, antibiotics will have no effect on the virus. Prednisone
is often used to reduce inflammation and this will often help to get
the ferret eating again.
Treatment is primarily supportive in nature. The ferret MUST eat and
drink. If it won't eat on its own, then it must be force fed both
food and water. A ferret will die from dehydration long before it
starves to death, and diarrhea causes severe dehydration, so fluids
There are many Duck Soup Recipes that can be fed
to your ferret to support him or her during the onslaught of ECE;
however, Gerber's chicken baby food is probably the simplest and at
the same time, the best. It can't be stressed enough that your ferret
has to eat and drink, no matter how much it doesn't feel like doing
so. Feed at least 4 times a day, more if the ferret can only be made
to eat small amounts. The bare minimum required for survival is 20cc's
(1 teaspoon = 5 cc's) three times a day.