Heart Disease In Ferrets

What could be wrong with a ferret's heart that causes lethargy and fluid build up?

Q: What can you tell me about ferret heart disease? My 5-year-old girl has an enlarged heart, and what appears to possibly be fluid buildup. Her energy level is low.
My veterinarian has her on Lasix and an antibiotic this week, with the hope that X-rays next week will show a more accurate diagnostic, but the enlarged heart is likely a chronic issue.

A: It sounds like your veterinarian is right on track. Different types of heart disease exist. The most common type is called dilated cardiomyopathy, which causes the heart muscles become progressively thinner over time. As the walls become thinner, the heart is unable to pump blood through the lungs and through the body. The ferret becomes progressively weaker. We can help these ferrets by giving them drugs such as Lasix to rid the body of any excess water. This decreases the workload on the heart so it is easier for the heart to pump blood to the organs.

Further on in the disease, we use other medication. Some of these medications help the heart muscle pump a little harder, but cannot reverse the thinning of the muscle. Some other medications also work to decrease the heart’s workload. Dilated cardiomyopathy is a terminal disease, but with the correct medication ferrets can live many months or more with a good quality of life.

Some other ferret heart-related diseases could be considered. Rarely, the heart walls can become thicker, instead of thinner, but the end result is the same. The heart no longer pumps correctly, fluid builds up and the ferret becomes lethargic. Cancer can also cause lethargy and fluid build up.

Radiographs done once the fluid clears can help define the type of heart problem your ferret may have. A better test would be an ultrasound of the heart. This test costs more than a radiograph, but it is much more accurate in giving a diagnosis of the type of heart disease your ferret might have.

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Critters · Ferrets