Ferret Vaccine Reactions

Yarmouth Veterinary Center

75 Willow Street
Yarmouth , ME 04096




Vaccine reactions occur more often in ferrets than they do in dogs and cats. At YVC, our approach to vaccinating ferrets differs from how we typically vaccinate dogs and cats.

` Ferret Vaccines   Ferrets can be vaccinated for two diseases, rabies and distemper. Rabies vaccine for ferrets is required by Maine law. The risk of a well-cared-for ferret being exposed to rabies virus is extremely low, but the public health consequences, if such an infection were to occur, are severe. Also, it appears that reactions are much more likely to occur following distemper vaccination than rabies vaccination.

We recommend deciding whether or not to vaccinate ferrets for distemper on a case-by-case basis. Distemper infections in ferrets are ultimately fatal in close to 100% of the cases, so the most important considerations are the ferret's risk of exposure, susceptibility to infection if exposed, and susceptibility to vaccine reactions. 

-  Animals capable of carrying and spreading infection are other ferrets, distemper-infected dogs, and distemper-infected wild carnivores and omnivores. Carriers might appear healthy, and still be capable of spreading the virus. We believe the distemper carrier rate in the dogs in our practice is extremely low.
- Young ferrets are more susceptible to infection than older ferrets.
- Distemper virus is most commonly spread by aerosol exposure.
- Distemper virus exposure can also occur by contact with eye and nasal secretions, urine, feces and skin of an infected animal.
- Fomites (objects such as contaminated clothing, towels, and food and water bowls) have also been implicated in transmission. 
- Young ferrets are more susceptible to infection than older animals.

` The Likelihood of a Vaccine Reaction   In one large study, the age, sex and body weight were not significantly associated with the occurrence of adverse events, but the vaccine reaction rate did increase with the cumulative lifetime number of vaccines.

~ What Vaccine Reactions Look Like   Most reactions occur within 30 minutes of vaccinating, but they uncommonly happen as long as 48 hours later.

Mild reactions involve itchiness, raised fur, and skin redness.

Patients with severe reactions may drool excessively, vomit, have diarrhea, develop trouble breathing and a high temperature, and even pass away.

~ Treatment of Vaccine Reactions   Prompt treatment is needed to maximize the chances of a successful outcome. Treatment typically includes injectable antihistamines, epinephrine and corticosteriods. Patients that are having trouble breathing will be placed in an oxygen cage and may get injectable bronchodilators. Some patients with evidence of shock will receive intravenous fluids.  

~ Our Approach to Vaccination at YVC  We recommend vaccinating all ferrets for rabies virus, and considering the risks and benefits of vaccinating each individual pet for distemper. Because their risk of exposure to disptemper is almost zero, we do not vaccinate most of our ferret patients for distemper.

~ When we vaccinate for distemper, we:

- Administer an antihistamine injection 10 or 15 minutes before administering the vaccine.
- Observe the ferret in the treatment area of our hospital for 30 minutes after the vaccine is given

Yarmouth Veterinary Center