Posted: January 30, 2014, 9 a.m. EST
Ferrets Kuna & George/© Courtesy Erin & Darin Sekulic
If the approved ferret canine distemper vaccine is not available, owners and veterinarians must consider the risks of all other options.
Q: I live in Alberta and purchased my furry kit from a pet store that said vaccinations were included in the price. I have been trying to get her canine distemper vaccine, but they say they don't have any. I called vet clinics around the city. They tell me they don't have ferret canine distemper and are using the one for dogs. Is this a safe practice? Seems the alternative is no canine distemper vaccination.
A: In the United States, there is only one canine distemper vaccination approved for ferrets that is available, and that is Purevax from Merial. Unfortunately, Merial’s supply of this vaccine does not usually last all year. By the end of the year, many veterinarians have run out of stock of this important vaccine. It is a concern to all who work with ferrets.
What are your alternatives to vaccination? Well, all proposed alternatives have a downside, meaning there is a risk. The use of another canine vaccine for distemper virus has two important risks: 1) It may not protect your ferret from the distemper virus, and 2) There is the possibility of a vaccine reaction.
A vaccine reaction can be mild, such as a swollen face to severe, such as a ferret going into shock. The vaccine should not include any other vaccine component, such as canine hepatitis or leptospirosis, as this can lead to a vaccine reaction. Also, the vaccine should be a modified-live vaccine, not a killed vaccine. Killed vaccines likely lead to only transient immunity to the distemper virus in ferrets.
There are other conditions that veterinarians must consider when they use a vaccine "off-label,” which means in an animal it was not specified to be used for. Currently, unless the vaccine is Purevax for ferrets, it is not approved for use in ferrets by the USDA.
If your ferret is due for a vaccine and none is available and you do not want to use another brand, the most important information I can give you is to keep your ferret as risk free from contracting canine distemper virus as possible. Keep your ferret away from dogs, other ferrets, skunks and raccoons. If you take your ferret to the veterinary hospital, remind your veterinarian that your ferret is not vaccinated. And make sure that as soon as the vaccine is available from your veterinarian that your ferret is first in line to receive this vaccine.
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