A Veterinarian Who Saves Ferrets He’s Never Met

How does a veterinarian save the lives of ferrets he’s never met? By offering a test that helps screen ferrets for a contagious disease.

two ferret portraits
© Courtesy Digital by Joe & Suzy
Ferret breeder Danee Devore participates in ferret shows with her ferrets, and the shows require proof of ADV testing. Pictured above are TCF’s Maximus Viverra (left) and TCF’s Theodore (aka Teddy the Tank).

When I decided to write a profile about this veterinarian who lives in the Northwest, I knew I’d be writing about someone special due to his reputation among ferret shelters. What I did not know, however, was how incredibly special his unique contribution has been to ferrets — and it still is. He has given the ferret community something vital and something that has probably been integral in helping to contain a disease we all fear in our ferrets: Aleutian disease virus (ADV).

Dr. Kent Blau lives in Burley, Idaho. He graduated from Washington State University and has been practicing veterinary medicine for the last 27 years. Today, you can find him at the Blue Cross Animal Hospital in his hometown where he enjoys working in the lab. And this is where we, as ferret lovers, benefit. You see, Blau is currently the only veterinarian who offers the CEP/CIEP (counterimmunoelectrophoresis) test for ADV in ferrets, and he has done so for quite some time. 

ADV In Ferrets
To understand Blau’s invaluable contribution and the gravity of the situation regarding ADV, let’s look at the disease. ADV is a parvovirus that negatively affects the immune system. When present, symptoms vary ferret to ferret depending on which tissues and organs are damaged by the virus. 

In the past, ADV was sometimes appropriately referred to as the “wasting disease,” because the hallmark symptom is chronic progressive wasting. When ADV is active other possible symptoms might include loss of energy, tarry stools, difficulty breathing and central nervous system signs (tremors, weakness or difficulty walking, paralysis and convulsions). The symptoms depend on what organ systems are being affected. Because of the variability and the fact that other common diseases among ferrets often share similar symptoms, the only way of identifying and diagnosing a ferret is through specific specialized tests, such as the CEP.

ADV is not curable, and there is no vaccine. The only thing standing between your beloved ferrets and ADV is prevention — and this is accomplished through public awareness, education, screening and aggressive actions to quarantine. The highly contagious disease is usually transmitted through contact with various bodily fluids of an infected ferret. The virus is the stealthiest of animals, because it is hardy and can live unseen on surfaces and possibly on debris and dust particles for two or more years. It can also “hide” in a ferret in that they don’t always display clinical symptoms because sometimes it is inactive or in the early stages of the disease.

ADV in ferrets is not exactly at the top of the list of diseases that people worry about only because it’s very uncommon now. I believe it is now uncommon in part due to an aggressive approach to the disease taken by ferret shelters, ferret breeders, veterinarians, private owners and the AFA (American Ferret Association). And key to that has been testing — which brings us back to Dr. Blau.

Kent Blau
© Courtesy Amy Allison Blau  
Dr. Kent Blau enjoys spending time in the lab.

Getting Into CEP Testing
Blau explains how ADV came into his professional life.

“The local mink ranches employed my predecessor to start performing the CEP test about 30 years ago,” Blau said. “I continued the testing procedure when I purchased the business. A company called United Vaccines also performed the test at that time. They discontinued performing the test in February 2006 and started referring to me. That is when I began doing the testing for ferrets.”

Little did he know how that would impact his career or the lives of so many. 

“I test about 900 ferrets in the year receiving samples from veterinary clinics with sick patients, owners taking ferrets to shows and ferret rescue organizations,” Blau said.

Make no mistake. There have been commercial labs and universities that offer types of ADV testing. But no one has stepped up to offer the CEP test at such an affordable rate and with such great care to his clients as Blau has.

two ferrets in hands
© Courtesy Carol J. Owens 
Carol J. Owens credits ADV testing with saving ferret lives at her ferret shelter in Arizona.

ADV Affects Ferret Shelters And Ferret Shows
Because large populations of ferrets come through the revolving doors of ferret shelters, it is here that ADV testing is perhaps the most crucial. These shelters are extremely stretched financially and could never afford to do regular ADV testing from any other current source, as it is very expensive. Barb Clay of Rocky’s Ferret Rescue And Shelter in Parkton, Maryland, bravely confronted ADV when it showed up at her doorstep. 

“I’ve tested about 2,500 ferrets since January of 2001,” Clay said. “Since then, 11 tested positive for the exposure, which is what the CEP tests for. Of those 11, PCR testing resulted in three positives for being active carriers and shedding the virus in saliva, blood, urine and feces. They were ticking time bombs, a threat to all ferrets they came in contact with.”

Clay painfully remembers those three little souls.

“They were normal in appearance, not appearing ill at all,” she said. She made the difficult decision to sacrifice them to save the rest of the ferret shelter population. 

“That heartbreak I will take to my grave,” Clay said. “We so need ADV testing to continue and be affordable. Had I not tested, the situation had the potential to infect the entire East Coast and beyond, since I am very much a pro-adoption shelter.” 

The American Ferret Association has taken a strong stance in promoting ADV awareness and in ADV prevention by requiring all ferrets to be tested before entering a show hall. Without an affordable ADV screening test readily available, the testing of ferrets would be extremely limited. That could lead to having to drop the testing requirements. 

Scarlett Gray-Saling owner of Scarlett’s Happy Dooker’s Ferretry in Columbus, Ohio, is also an AFA member and licensed judge. She says that the inability to screen for ADV could possibly make showing of their ferrets a thing of the past. 

“Many of the ferret shows/events are huge fundraisers for ferret shelters as well as a means of educating the public on ferret pet ownership,” Gray-Saling said. 

She expressed concern that if funds for ferret shelters are limited or eliminated, it might cause ferret shelters to close down.

Private ferret breeder and longtime ferret owner Danee Devore of Virginia agrees about the cascading effects that would occur without accurate and affordable ADV testing available to the community. She has a very personal interest in ADV. She inadvertently brought ADV into her home during the late 1990s and it infected 10 of her ferrets. She lived the ADV nightmare. As a result she became an advocate in the fight against ADV by educating the public, seeking people willing to research the disease, trying to raise money for research, as well as finding ways for her ferrets with ADV to live longer lives and suffer fewer effects from the disease.

As a ferret breeder and participant in ferret shows, Devore has long used Blau’s services.

“He is very quiet, but very thorough and fast in running the tests and sending back the results,” Devore said. “I find him very easy to work with, and when there have been problems like mail delays due to weather, he makes every effort to get the results to people in a timely manner. For people who show and need test results to bring their ferrets into the show hall, if there has been a problem with the mail, he is always willing to send an email to the show registrar with the results.” 

Blau has offered the ferret community more than just a test. He has given ferret owners a big part of himself. It is said that hearing his voice at the other end of the line has brought them great comfort, no matter what the results are. Clay sums up what so very many feel.

“The ferret community owes a huge debt of gratitude to Dr. Blau,” Clay said. “Not only did he jump in to provide us with a much-needed service, but he’s always got a polite if not upbeat tone of voice, and has always been willing to help us out in any way possible. Thank you, Dr. Blau. When the day comes, please do enjoy your retirement! I, we all, will miss you tremendously!”

Like this article? Please share it, and check out:
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