In most instances, pets cannot catch illnesses from humans and vice versa. However, one of the exceptions to that is influenza, also known as “the flu”. Humans can pass it on to their pet ferrets and ferrets can pass the flu to their owners.This is more dangerous for ferrets than it is for humans, because when a ferret catches the flu it can progress to pneumonia, which for them is a more dangerous condition that is often fatal. Statistics show that ferrets catch the flu more often from humans than humans catch it from ferrets; however, it’s best to be as careful and cautious as possible, for the health and well-being of both. Ferrets are susceptible to both type A and type B influenza, as well as the swine flu.
It is easy to tell the difference between a cold and the flu, because the flu is accompanied by a fever, where a cold is not. Another difference between a cold and the flu is the severity and speed with which it makes you sick – the flu is usually more severe and you feel sick very fast. You would not want to pass either on to your ferret, so no matter which you are suffering from, it is wise to have someone else care for your ferret until you are healthy. Even after you are feeling better, it is a good idea to wash your hands frequently both before and after you handle your ferret.
If you ferret becomes sick, you can determine whether it is the flu or pneumonia by checking the following symptoms of pneumonia:
- Nasal discharge
- Difficulty breathing
- Increased respiratory rate
- Frequent sneezing, wheezing or coughing
- Decreased or loss of appetite
- Lethargy or fatigue
- Cyanosis (when the gums in their mouth begin to turn blue)
- Conjunctivitis (swollen red membranes around the eyes)
- Diarrhea or vomiting
If you notice your ferret displaying these symptoms, do not hesitate or wait a few days to see if his condition will improve; take him to the veterinarian immediately. Your veterinarian will prescribe antibiotics. You can expect your ferret’s health to return if it gets medical treatment in the early stages. It is important to get your ferret help as soon as possible, as antibiotics too late will do no good once pneumonia has fully set in.
As with most illnesses, prevention is always best. However, if your ferret does get the flu, treatment is fairly simple. Your veterinarian will prescribe antibiotics, and tell you to make sure your ferret stays well hydrated and gets some nourishment; which may be difficult if your ferret is extremely lethargic and weak. If this is the case, you will have to monitor him closely and may need to force feed food and water till his strength begins to return. To make this easier, you can use a medicine dropper to squeeze water into its mouth, and meat-flavored baby food if their throat or mouth seems to be irritated. As always, check with your veterinarian on what is best for your ferret, as they may have several helpful suggestions.
Most viruses are resolved by treating symptoms and keeping the patient as comfortable as possible while the virus runs its course. It is also important to isolate a sick ferret from other ferrets in the household if you have more than one. If you do not see any improvement in your ferret’s condition after a couple of days, take him back to your veterinarian to make sure he does not have another underlying condition which is making it more difficult to recover, or in case the illness has progressed to a more serious condition.