Q: I have a ferret about 2 years old that friends gave me a couple of months ago. He has no significant past medical history. He seemed to have normal vision and neurologic status when I got him. For the past month, however, he’s been running into walls and objects more frequently with no obvious signs of cataracts, tearing or eye anomalies. For the past week, every time I let him out of his cage he walks in small clockwise circles. When he does travel a straight line, he doesn’t seem to be weak or ataxic. Both the visual deficits and the circling seem to be getting worse. Any idea what’s going on?
A: Ferrets normally do not have the best vision in the animal kingdom, but they are able to see well enough to recognize owners, other ferrets and objects in their surrounding area. Your ferret definitely sounds like he has either neurologic deficits or trouble seeing. Another possibility is that neurologic deficits are the cause of either poor vision or the absence of vision.
In the past, we would do examinations in ferrets for a disease called progressive retinal atrophy or PRA. This disease is rarely noted anymore in pet ferrets. With this disease, sight is progressively lost due to retinal degeneration. PRA does not cause any changes to the areas of the eye that you can easily see, such as the cornea and lens. The only way to make this diagnosis is by a veterinary ophthalmologist utilizing specialized equipment.
I suggest that you take your ferret to its veterinarian. He or she can do an ocular examination but might need the expertise of a veterinary ophthalmologist. And your veterinarian can do an excellent neurologic examination and determine if there are neurologic components to your ferret’s problems. But your veterinarian might also recommend a visit to a veterinary neurologist if the problems seem complicated and if there is a need for specialized neurologic diagnostic equipment.