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How MSU Is Helping Ferrets

Researchers at Michigan State University strive to increase their knowledge of ferret health.

By Audrey Pavia
Posted: July 1, 2010, 5 a.m. EDT

Page 2 of 2

While coronavirus has been known as an illness in ferrets for some time, a disease called mycoplasmosis is a more recent discovery. Researchers at MSU College of Veterinary Medicine are studying this illness, which causes a hacking cough in ferrets. They are hoping this research will make veterinarians and owners more aware of the disease.

Mycoplasmosis is caused by a bacterium, and rarely results in death unless a secondary bacterial infection takes hold. According to Kiupel, the disease is widespread yet rarely diagnosed. Large numbers of ferrets have the disease, but don’t show symptoms. Others show only mild to moderate symptoms.

“As long as the ferret doesn’t develop a secondary bacterial disease, the animal can very often cope with it,” Kiupel said. He explained that the problem is that the bacterium lingers in the body after symptoms have improved, and is easily spread to other ferrets.

Kiupel said he wants to call more attention to the disease so more ferret owners and their veterinarians will be aware of it.

“There are a lot of cases where ferrets were never screened for the disease,” Kiupel said, “because it’s not covered in veterinary literature as an important illness that causes symptoms.”

Other Research
Besides studying coronaviruses and mycoplasmosis in ferrets, researchers at MSU are taking a close look at a number of other diseases.

Keep The Research Going
Researchers at Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine need help to keep going forward with their work on ferret health.

“Every donation helps, from $5 to $5 million,” said Matti Kiupel, an associate professor of pathology at Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine’s Diagnostic Center for Population and Animal Health. “We hope to create an endowment that will guarantee a dedicated researcher to work strictly on ferret issues.”

To make a contribution toward research on ferret health, visit the Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine Ferret Health website.

* Ferret Coccidiosis — Following numerous outbreaks of severe diarrhea in ferret shelters, MSU College of Veterinary Medicine researchers began focusing on the development of tools for the diagnosis of coccidiosis in ferrets. The primary cause of the recent outbreaks was identified as Eimeria furonis. Research continues to better understand the cause behind these disease outbreaks and to develop strategies for faster diagnosis and prevention.

* Ferret Rotaviruses — MSU College of Veterinary Medicine researchers recently identified two groups of rotaviruses as the cause of diarrhea in young ferrets. Since the microscopic lesions seen with ferret coronavirus and rotavirus enteritis are identical, molecular research is important to develop diagnostic tools to determine which disease is behind an individual ferret’s symptoms.

* Ferret Adrenal Cortical Carcinomas — MSU College of Veterinary Medicine researchers have been focusing their attention on adrenal cortical carcinoma, which causes cancerous tumors on a ferret’s adrenal glands. Their goal is to better understand this disease and to investigate therapeutic and preventive strategies. They are collaborating in this research with David B. Wilson, MD, PhD, an associate professor of pediatric hematology-oncology at Washington University in St. Louis. Wilson’s laboratory studies the mechanisms underlying adrenal tumor formation in neutered ferrets and mice.

Audrey Pavia is a freelancer writer specializing in animal subjects. She is the author of several books on exotic pets.

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