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Am J Vet Res. 1998 Dec;59(12):1629-32.

Viral excretion in domestic ferrets (Mustela putorius furo) inoculated with a raccoon rabies isolate.

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Viral and Rickettsial Zoonoses Branch, Division of Viral and Rickettsial Diseases, National Center for Infectious Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, United States Department of Health and Human Services, Atlanta, GA 30333, USA.



To determine susceptibility, incubation and morbidity periods, clinical signs of infection, serologic response, and excretion of virus in domestic ferrets inoculated with rabies virus of raccoon origin.


54 domestic ferrets.


5 groups of ferrets were inoculated IM with the rabies virus. Oral cavity swab specimens and saliva were obtained for virus isolation. Blood was obtained for virus-neutralizing antibody determination. If clinical signs were severe, ferrets were euthanatized immediately. Salivary gland and brain tissue was collected for virus isolation and rabies diagnosis, respectively.


Of 51 inoculated ferrets, 19 (37%) were euthanatized with clinical signs of rabies. Mean incubation period was 28 days (range, 17 to 63 days). Clinical signs included ataxia, cachexia, inactivity, paresis, paraparesis, bladder atony, tremors, hypothermia, lethargy, constipation, paralysis, and anorexia. Two rabid ferrets manifested aggressive behavior. Mean morbidity period was 4 to 5 days (range, 1 to 8 days). Virus antigen was detected in brain tissue from all rabid ferrets (n = 19). Two rabid ferrets had detectable virus-neutralizing antibody. Of 32 ferrets that survived, only 1 seroconverted; survivors remained clinically normal throughout the observation period. Rabies virus was isolated from salivary glands of 12 of 19 (63%) rabid ferrets, and 9 (47%) shed virus in saliva. Initiation of virus excretion ranged from 2 days before onset of illness to 6 days after onset.


Rabies should be considered in the differential diagnosis for ferrets that have acute onset of paralysis or behavioral changes and a condition that rapidly deteriorates despite intense medical intervention.

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