This handout reviewed by Dr. Mark Burgess of Southwest
Animal Hospital in Beaverton, Oregon (503) 643-2137 and Dr. Joel Bennett.
In 1993, a mysterious "green slime"
virus cropped up among ferrets on the east coast and spread death
quickly to hundreds of ferrets. Since then, we’ve learned a lot about
ECE but ferret owners should be advised that when they expose their
ferrets to other ferrets, they risk exposing their animals to this
potentially deadly virus. Some experts now recommend exposing young,
healthy animals to ECE to avoid complications from exposure later
in life but discuss this with your veterinarian. Since they are more
vulnerable, older ferrets or ferrets with a compromised health status
should not be exposed to ill ferrets or ferrets outside the household.
There is no test or vaccine for ECE, the only way to combat the virus
is to help a ferret live through it.
The symptoms are vomiting for one day (which may
appear to be diarrhea unless the ferret is observed vomiting) followed
by sudden onset of profuse, watery bright "fluorescent" green (most
typical), brown or yellowish diarrhea, lethargy, diminished food intake
or anorexia (which may start after the diarrhea stops), lethargy,
and severe dehydration. Breeding stock may become infertile post-ECE.
The infection rate is almost 100% but kits do not appear to be as
susceptible. With aggressive veterinary treatment and proper follow-up
care at home, the mortality rate is 1 to 5% with a higher rate (up
to 50%) among older or health compromised ferrets. Carriers of ECE
may be asymptomatic. Ferrets typically show symptoms of ECE within
24 to 48 hours from exposure. Seemingly healthy ferrets can be near
death within 8 hours. The course of the disease may run one to three
weeks, however, low body weight, "birdseed" stools, the inability
to properly digest food, and weakness in the hind legs may persist
for months. Since the signs of green diarrhea are not restricted to
ECE, your veterinarian should also consider bacterial overgrowth,
lymphocytic gastroenteritis, Lymphosarcoma, coccidiosis, and eosinophilic
gastroenteritis. ECE may exaggerate other illnesses such as low blood
sugar (insulinoma) so be prepared to treat potentially life-threatening
- Seek immediate veterinary care, preferably from a veterinarian
who specializes in ferrets. Call your local ferret shelter or club
for a referral to a ferret specialist. If you must go to an emergency
clinic or non-ferret specialist, take this sheet with you!
- Start subcutaneous or intravenous fluids using Lactated Ringers
Solution. Affected animals may require up to 90 ml/lb/day.
- Start systemic antibiotics. Amoxicillin 10-20 mg/lb twice daily
to prevent secondary bacterial infections is the preferred drug.
- Administer digestive aids as required. Antispasmodics such as
Centrine, Lomotil, or gastrointestinal protectants (Pepto-Bismol,
Kaopectate) have been used at normal cat dosages. Tagamet and metronidazole
(Flagyl) may also be required.
- Have blood work performed. A complete blood count (CBC), Hepatic
function (liver) and protein absorption test may be required.
- Pawing at the mouth may indicate mouth or throat ulcers, nausea,
or low blood sugar and should be treated appropriately.
- Provide proper nutrition and supplements. The ferret will need
1-2 ounces (28-56cc), 3-6 times daily using a 20cc feeding syringe
if necessary. A basic "soup" is either baby food chicken or lamb
or a mixture of 1 can Hill’s Prescription Diet canine/feline a/d,
1 tablespoon Dyne, STAT, or Pounds Plus, and 1 can of filtered water.
Ask your vet about other supplements such as Prozyme, Pet-Tinic,
acidophilus, Ensure, Deliver, oral re-hydration, electrolyte salts,
and Nutra-Stat or Nutra-Cal. Refrigerate leftovers up to 48 hours.
Warm soup prior to feeding. Kibble may not be digested for months
so continue to supplement with high-protein foods.
- Provide warmth. If the body temperature is low, provide a source
of warmth. Never leave an animal unattended on a heating pad!
- Provide other treatments. Keep the anal area clean, clipping
hair if necessary, and use Vitamin E cream to soothe a rash.
- Prednisone may be required to increase appetite, reduce inflammation,
and stabilize blood sugar levels. Reglan may be prescribed for extended
vomiting. Carafate or slippery elm bark mixed with warm water is
soothing to the digestive tract and mouth ulcers.
Preventing the spread of ECE to other animals
Extreme care should be taken when handling affected
ferrets. Since the virus is most likely spread by direct and/or fecal-oral
contact, affected animals should be isolated in separate rooms from
healthy animals. Helpful suggestions include running a HEPA filter
in the room and cleaning the litter box, food bowl, feeding utensils,
and water bottle/dish on a daily basis. Empty each container, clean
with soap and water, then soak for 10 minutes in cool water with 1
tablespoon of bleach per gallon of water. Rinse thoroughly. People
handling infected ferrets should shower and change clothes before
handling uninfected animals.
Failure to seek qualified medical care immediately can make the difference
between life and death!
The ferret and the household environment may remain contagious for
at least six months.
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This article may be reproduced and freely reprinted provided no modifications
or changes are made. Not-for-profit ferret organizations may distribute
article with their contact information