Q: I have a sable ferret that is approximately 5 years old. He has had two small intestinal blockages removed (looked like hair both times, probably from my cat). I started giving him Vaseline and haven’t had a problem since. He fell ill again within the last year. On numerous visits to his two vets, his glucose levels were repeatedly low, around 60 or lower. They kept increasing pred dosage until it reached 1 ml, two times per day. Even with that he was still wobbling when he walked, would sleep, go to restroom, go back to sleep. Never left the cage, but he was eating and drinking water.
He developed a severe pred belly and still had weak hind legs and no weight anywhere but his belly. I decreased the pred significantly since he was still never leaving the cage even though he was on the pred and his belly was enormous. Since then, he has lost most of the pred belly, has better mobility with his hind legs and leaves the cage. He is still not incredibly active, but comes out and walks around a bit and will sleep around the house. He eats and drinks on his own and looks healthier with very little pred. He is not dehydrated according to his skin turgor.
New Problem: He will be sleeping, come out of his sleep sack and sort of cough. When coughing he claws at the roof of his mouth and salivates a little. This will continue intermittently for approximately 10 minutes. He will squeak/sigh after coughing sometimes. I never see anything in his mouth and there is nothing on the roof of his mouth either. I will hold his paws to prevent the violent scratching at the top of his mouth when he coughing. He continues to cough in my lap, and in between his coughing episode he lays limp until he lifts his head and begins coughing again. Eventually he stops and walks to go back to sleep. Any opinions, suggestions or ideas are greatly appreciated.
A: The best advice is for you to take your ferret to one of the two veterinarians you see as soon as you can. Coughing or any respiratory distress is not common in ferrets and can be a sign of more serious disease.
The two biggest reasons for coughing in ferrets include lung disease and heart disease. You have an older ferret, so heart disease needs to be considered. With certain types of heart disease, ferrets can develop fluid in the abdomen, termed ascites, which can contribute to the appearance of a “pred belly.” Perhaps what you are seeing in the enlargement of the abdomen was partly due to fluid from heart disease.
The other reason we may observe a ferret coughing is due to lung disease. One common cause of lung disease is infection, also termed pneumonia. Although healthy ferrets rarely get pneumonia, your ferret has been on long-term high doses of prednisone. Prednisone was being used in your ferret to improve the blood glucose concentration but prednisone is also a potent immuomodulator that causes immune suppression. When a ferret is immune-suppressed, it is not as able to fight off infections, so it is possible for pneumonia to occur in a ferret that is on high doses of prednisone.
Both heart disease and lung infections can be treated and your ferret can have an excellent quality of life, but the sooner each is treated, the better the prognosis is for your ferret.