Ferrets and Coronavirus

Jun 9, 2020 / Practitioner Updates

[Ferret]

Maybe you have heard that ferrets can be infected with the new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2)? This can be frightening information, if you treat these stinky weasels. Get the facts and learn how we see ferrets during the pandemic.

Current Facts about Ferrets and Coronaviruses

  • Ferrets have their own coronavirus that causes diarrhea (epizootic catarrhal enteritis or “green slime disease”) and, in some cases, systemic ferret coronavirus (similar presentation to feline infectious peritonitis). This coronavirus is distinct from SARS-CoV-2 and not contagious to humans.
  • Two studies prove that ferrets can be experimentally infected with SARS-CoV-2. Further, experimentally infected ferrets can infect other ferrets. All of the infected ferrets in this study survived (1,2). There have been no documented cases of natural infection in which a ferret has contracted the virus from a human or spread the virus to a human.
  • There is a report of several mink from a few farms in the Netherlands being infected with SARS-CoV-2, and additional reports of human caretakers at that farm being infected. At this time, it is unclear if the humans passed the infection to the mink or vice versa.

Veterinary Teaching Hospital Guidelines

  • Ferrets are screened on admission and/or during initial phone evaluation for risks of SARS-CoV-2 infection. At-risk ferrets include those that have fevers or respiratory signs or that come from a household with a suspected or confirmed COVID-19 case.
  • At-risk ferrets are handled using full PPE (N95 masks, gloves, gown, face mask). Examinations and procedures are performed in limited areas of the hospital with complete disinfection of all sites and instruments used. Ferrets with concerning signs and from at-risk homes are tested for the virus after consultation with the state veterinarian and state public health veterinarian.
  • Outpatient care is provided, if possible. If hospitalization is required, full isolation is required for at-risk ferrets.

We have adopted the above guidelines to ensure that we can treat ferrets during the pandemic, but also keep our staff safe. As always, the zoolog­ical medicine service is available to assist through phone consultations and/or referrals of ferret cases.

By Krista Keller, DVM, DACZM, and William Sander, DVM, MPH, DACVPM

References

  1. Shi J, Wen Z, Zhong G, Yang H, Wang C, Huang B, et al. Susceptibility of ferrets, cats, dogs, and other domesticated animals to SARS–coronavirus 2. Science. 2020 Apr 8;eabb7015.
  2. Kim Y-I, Kim S-G, Kim S-M, Kim E-H, Park S-J, Yu K-M, et al. Infection and Rapid Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in Ferrets. Cell Host Microbe. 2020 May;27(5):704- 709.e2.

See also: Preventive Health Care in the ‘Stinky Weasel’