Anemia in Ferrets
Veterinary & Aquatic Services Department, Drs. Foster & Smith

What is anemia?

Anemia is not a disease in itself, but a relatively common condition in ferrets associated with a number of diseases in which there is a lower than normal number of red blood cells in the blood. This can occur if there is an increased loss or decreased production of red blood cells. Anemias are often classified as regenerative versus nonregenerative. In regenerative anemias, there are signs that the body has recognized the anemic condition and is trying to respond by producing more red blood cells. In nonregenerative anemias, laboratory tests indicate that the bone marrow is not responding to the decreased levels of red blood cells.

What causes anemia?

Conditions associated with regenerative anemias caused by an increased loss or destruction of red blood cells include:

Conditions associated with nonregenerative anemias caused by a decreased production of red blood cells include:

What are the signs of anemia?

The signs that accompany anemia generally include:

  • Lethargy
  • Weakness
  • Pale mucous membranes
  • Loss of appetite

Bloody, or black tarry stools (melena) can occur when there is bleeding into the gastrointestinal tract, which is common in gastritis, Helicobacter infections, and foreign bodies. Hemorrhages in the skin can occur when there is a platelet deficiency.

How is anemia diagnosed?

A complete blood count (CBC) will confirm a diagnosis of anemia. This is only part of the picture, however. The cause of the anemia must be ascertained. A physical examination will help determine if parasites, cancer, foreign bodies, or hyperestrogenism are present. A history that includes diet, possible exposure to infectious diseases or toxins, and what signs occurred, and when, will aid in determining the cause of the anemia. In some instances, further laboratory work, such as a chemistry panel or bone marrow biopsy, may be indicated. Radiographs (x-rays), ultrasound, or exploratory surgery may be necessary to make a final diagnosis.

How is anemia treated?

Ferrets with anemia are treated with supportive care, good nutrition, and possibly transfusions if the anemia is severe. The underlying cause of the anemia, whether it be fleas, trauma, a foreign body, or other disease also needs to be treated.

References and Further Reading

Hillyer, EV. Cardiovascular diseases, Part II. In Hillyer, EV; Quesenberry, KE. (eds.). Ferrets, Rabbits and Rodents: Clinical Medicine and Surgery. W.B. Saunders Co. Philadelphia, PA; 1997.

Lloyd, M. Ferrets: Health, Husbandry and Diseases. Blackwell Science. Bodmin, Cornwall, England; 1999.

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