Although, of course, ferrets are not just small cats or dogs, the diagnosis and treatment of heart disease in ferrets does mirror that used in cats and dogs, and ferrets often develop similar heart problems. A review of ferret cardiology recently appeared in Veterinary Clinics of North America: Exotic Animal Practice. For the full text, click on the link below, but here are some highlights.
• Dilated cardiomyopathy, arrhythmias, and acquired valvular disease are the most frequently seen forms of heart disease in ferrets.
• Heartworm disease occurs in ferrets—it takes only a few heartworms to produce profound disease since ferrets’ hearts are so small—so ferrets should be receiving heartworm preventives in heartworm-endemic areas.
• ELISA-based microfilariae tests are unreliable in ferrets; polymerase chain reaction assays are much more diagnostic for heartworm disease.
• Signs of heart problems in ferrets include weakness, exercise intolerance, dyspnea, hindlimb weakness, and pale or cyanotic mucous membranes, displaying extended capillary refill times.
• A thorough physical examination, radiography, ultrasonography/echocardiography, electrocardiography, and blood pressure measurement are indicated in ferrets with signs of heart disease.
• The normal heart rate in ferrets is 180 to 250 beats/minute. Normal direct systolic blood pressure is 140 to 164 mm Hg, and normal direct diastolic blood pressure is 110 to 125 mm Hg.
• On radiographs, a ferret’s heart may appear to float above the sternum. This finding may be normal but may also be associated with cardiomyopathy.
• Systolic blood pressure readings may be taken with Doppler, but the procedure is difficult. Most ferrets require isoflurane anesthesia to get a reading. The most common arteries used are the tibial, tail, and pedal arteries.
• As occurs in cats, dehydrated ferrets may have echocardiographic changes that resemble cardiomyopathy.
• The same drugs used to treat heart disease in dogs and cats (e.g. beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers, furosemide) are usually effective in ferrets as well.
Wagner RA. Ferret cardiology. Vet Clin North Am Exot Anim Pract 2009;12(1):115-134.