Severe enteritis suspected to be FECV (formerly known as ECE).
First published September 3, 2010. Latest update Oct 30.
A severe enteritis has struck our home. It manifests like a viral infection, very typical of FECV. Bacterial as well as parasite tests have come back negative. Therefore we strongly suspect that this is indeed FECV. We are currently trying to find a way to test fecal samples for this virus.
The infection was brought here by visiting ferrets which has later turned out to be asymptomatic carriers since they have infected several other homes as well. I hardly ever allow ferrets to visit here (this was the first time in many years), and had I known that they were carriers I would of course never had let them in the house. In the future, I will no longer allow ferrets to visit, particularly not from high risk households. I will also be extra careful if I add any new ferrets to my home, and if necessary, apply isolation for an appropiate number of months for any new additions. Needless to say, all of my currently infected ferrets will be kept in isolation for at least 8 months.
The infection first got hold of Darius, but since he had a relatively mild course to begin with I didn't realize at first that he was ill with something as serious as this. The next ferret to become sick was Larv and he got seriously ill, almost to the point of not surviving. Since all of my ferrets share the same areas and have more or less direct contact, it has spread like wildfire. All have become infected except for Serafin who I'm trying to quarantine.
The infection is taking a tremendous toll on my ferrets. They are all in various stages of intensive care and medical support around the clock. The most tragic outcome so far has been the absolutely devastating deaths of my precious Disa and Darius. More on these tragic losses can be found here Disa's memorial page and here Darius' memorial page. Sadly, we have also lost Mitzy. Due to her previous rough life Mitzy was not in the best condition when she was infected and the disease reduced her to nothing but skin and bones. She had started eating on her own again and slowly gaining weight when she suffered what appears to have been a blood clot or hemmoraghe in the brain. She died peacefully in her sleep a few hours later.
I have many older ferrets, and all of the ones I currently have except for Larv (and Mitzy, status unknown?) was struck with what we believe was the same disease in 2004. Even so, they have apparently no immunity to this disease as of date. That time, it also came into my home by an asymptomatic carrier (Serafin). The disease this time, is far worse than it was the last time. To make matters even worse my pregnant Tindra is one of the affected. Tindra has since given birth.
Update Sept 18. The only relatively stable ferret so far is Larven. He still goes off his food for a few days from time to time and needs supportive care but seems to be recovering well otherwise. This is no doubt due to his very young age (FECV hits older ferrets the worst with more complications and higher risk of death. Younger ferrets usually fair better and kits can even be subclinical or have very little symptoms).
All of the others, 7 survivors ages 6 to 9 years, are battling ongoing diarreah and reduced capability to digest food and absorb nutrients. They have all lost a huge amount of weight. They are all syringe fed several times a day and given supportive medical care as needed. It's absolutely exhausting and an emotional roller coaster with good days mixed with near critical relapses. Unfortunately, this is likely to go on for months and many of them may never make a full recovery due to the severity of the illness and their age. It can take up to a year to heal the intestinal damage from FECV and there's a relatively high risk of lifelong IBD.
Update Sept 30. All of the affected ferrets accept for young Larven now have what can be described as IBD with chronic severe diarreah and inability to maintain weight without continued syringe feeding and supportive care. It's a disaster.
Update Oct 11. Finally there seems to be a bit of light at the end of the tunnel. All the ferrets have been on prednisolone for 11 days now and that has increased their appetite and ability to digest food and absorb nutrients. A few have slightly more formed stools, but most of them remain with very loose stools or chronic diarreah. Still, they have all gained a bit of weight which is at least a step in the right direction. Some have only a very moderate gain while others have put on quite a bit and are close to normal weight.
The most important improvement is that they all now eat on their own. They get a specially prepared food that is very rich and also easily digested. They get vitamin and mineral supplements as well. There is still sometimes need for syringe feeding but only occasionally. Besides the pred they are all on profylactic antibiotics and some need sucralfate. I've tried several probiotic treatments such as Canikur Pro and we are currently trying with Immunovet. Those type of treatments have had none, little or only temporary effect.
Update Oct 15. I've received a couple of questions. Apparently, there's a misunderstanding that my ferrets have lived isolated from other ferrets for several generations. That is certainly not the case. Especially not since I've had to bring in new ferrets for each generation since my line is outcrossed. My ferrets have had contact with other ferrets over the years, however, I don't usually have much contact with the group that is active in showing and such. And that group is the primary group that is spreading this disease. All of my current ferrets, except for Larven, have in fact been infected before with FECV (like this time diagnosed by excluding other diseases). That was in 2004 and the ferrets were between the ages of kits to 3 years old. This time they are 6-9 years old and they have apparently little or no immunity from last time, as I've mentioned in the text above. The disease this time is also definitely more aggressive so doesn't seem to be exactly the same variant as before.
Update Oct 30. Most of the ferrets have unfortunately had another relapse when I took them off the prednisolone. It presented as really bad diarrhea and gradual loss of appetite which got progressively worse. I had to start all over again with the meds and the syringe feedings. It's incredibly disheartening and it's very sad to have to watch them struggle whithout really being able to help. I've managed to stabibilize them again but it's now come to a point where we've had to realise that this is about as good as it's going to get. From my previous experience I know that this type of chronic diarrhea is very difficult to get rid of in ferrets. I will continue to provide supportive care whenever needed and do my best to feed them an extra nutritious and especially adapted diet. And I will of course continue to search for any option that might offer any kind of improvement. If necessary we might have to consider stronger meds further down the line. We'll see what happens. I'm currently researching prebiotics and probiotics since I think they will benefit from that, particularly in the long term.
Disa and Darius, spring 2010: