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Ferret’s Occasional Cough Suddenly Gets Worse

What could be causing an older ferret's cough to get worse?

By Karen Rosenthal, DVM, MS
Posted: February 1, 2012, 6 a.m. EST

Q: My male ferret has been coughing a little here and there, but today he is coughing a lot. He sounds like a seal. Other than the coughing, he seems fine. He plays with the other three ferrets, he eats and drinks well, and his poop is OK. His feet are cool, though, and he loves his chicken soup. He scratched his eye, and it’s red and watery. The coughing seems to make the eye tear more. He will be 6 years old in February 2012.
 
A: Coughing is not a common problem in our pet ferrets. A six-year-old ferret is considered a senior citizen, so the list of rule-outs for coughing tends to include many of the diseases seen in older ferrets. These include heart disease, degenerative changes in the lungs, pneumonia or even cancer. In other animals, we might consider allergies, but we do not recognize allergies in pet ferrets.

Because some of these possible causes can be treated and your ferret’s quality of life can be improved, I suggest that you visit your veterinarian to determine why your ferret is coughing. Radiographs of the chest can determine if the heart is enlarged, a sure sign of the type of heart disease seen in older ferrets. In older ferrets, the lungs can become scarred, less functional, and fluid can build up leading to signs such as coughing.

Also, in older ferrets, as in any older patient, the immune system may not work as efficiently as it did when the ferret was younger. Therefore, infections that might have been minor in a ferret’s younger days can become severe and lead to signs like lung dysfunction and coughing.

Finally, cancer, which is common in older ferrets, can lead to a build up of fluid or displace normal lung tissue. Both conditions can cause coughing in ferrets.

The sooner you can visit your veterinarian for a diagnosis, the sooner your ferret will start feeling better.

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