Posted: August 1, 2011, 5 a.m. EDT
Q: We have two 3-month-old, female ferrets. We got them when they were 8 weeks old. They were fine up until about a week and a half ago when one of the ferrets suddenly went really still, stifflike, and gave off a terrible smell. It was as if she had had a terrible fright but nothing had happened. They were playing one minute, then this happened the next. We observed both of them for quite awhile after this, and the one that gave off the smell seemed to lose the use of her back legs. She walked with her front legs and dragged along her back end. We took her to the vet who confirmed she had not lost the use of her back legs, she just had weakness. He injected her with an antibiotic and an anti-inflammatory and told us to keep an eye on her but to bring her back if she got worse. He couldn't say why this might have happened or what may have caused it.
Back to the present time, the affected ferret is still dragging her back legs but seems to have got slightly more movement back into them. She is back to herself with regard play, and she has never been put off her food. The problem we have now is that the other ferret has developed the same condition but has not given off any terrible smell. She is moving around but dragging her back legs. She is still playing and eating. She just seems to have woken up one morning with this condition.
Could it just be that they are still so young and their legs are tired, or could they have strained their back ends somehow during play?
A: This is a very strange condition, given the sudden onset, the young age of your ferrets, and the fact that both seem to be affected. There is no disease I know of that can cause what has happened to your ferrets.
In young ferrets, there are more common categories of diseases that we consider when faced with an unknown cause versus the categories of diseases we consider when working with older ferrets. So, in young ferrets, I think about viral disease, trauma from unsupervised exploring, ingestion of toxins also from unsupervised exploring and congenital diseases.
I am not sure any of these fit the signs you are describing. Is it possible your ferret ingested a toxin that you were unaware of in your house? My suggestion would be to revisit your doctor with both ferrets. He can re-evaluate your first ferret and examine your second ferret. Your veterinarian may suggest performing some diagnostics to look more deeply for a cause. Diagnostics may include blood tests, radiographs and possibly specific testing for toxins.
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