Riley lying on top of Willow and Tara

We got another ferret. I got an e-mail Sunday the 13th of October 2002, a bed manufacturer said that a ferret had taken residence in the workshop. So I e-mailed him that we can come and fetch it and didn't hear back from him until Monday morning (the 14th) when he said that the ferret hadn't been seen Saturday or Sunday. And then after lunch we got a phone call that the ferret was back so we immediately went there. They weren't far away, a 20-30 minute drive and via little country lanes as well. When I first saw the ferret, I thought it was a big jill, it was the size of Tara. Turned it upside down and it turned out to be a little boy. ;-) Had a few really big ticks and also some big fleas and boy was he dirty and smelly, Pete thought he had rolled in cow poo... He got a wash when we got home and we got the ticks out and removed all the fleas with a flea comb and cut his nails and then he had a nice run. :-) He had little scabs and lumps and bumps all over but it's all healed now. He's young, I think last year's kit.

The new guy is called Riley. Wednesday the 16th he had his castration and the vets put him down as Mickey because we hadn't agreed on a name then and when we fetched him I said they could leave him as Mickey but Pete knew I liked the name Riley so then the vets changed his name. As he was going to be with Willow and Tara I thought it would be nice to continue the "Buffy" theme... He is really sweet, he likes attention and cuddles and doesn't bite hard when playing. I had wanted another ferret for Willow's group. Willow spends half the time out cuddled up on my lap. So I wanted a friend for Tara because Bella is slowing right down. Now Riley turns out to be a cuddler so Tara still hasn't got a friend to play with! ;-) Well, they do play some, Willow doesn't like Riley so I hardly ever have both cuddling with me so Tara either has one or the other to play with. But I really adore Riley, he's so sweet and bonded with me so quickly...

At the end of November, I noticed that Riley had a haematoma in his left ear. I guess it was Willow because she kept biting him around the ears... We took Riley to the vets and Michaela drew some blood out of it but it filled back up so I booked him in to have it fixed. So on the 5th of December, Michaela opened the haematoma and put a few stitches in. I was so shocked when we fetched Riley, they put a collar on him! They made it out of x-ray film and *super glued* it on! Poor Riley! He was caged on his own for a few days but had time out with the girls and they didn't bother him or the collar so after about 5 days I put Riley back with them. He was so much happier then, he hated being on his own... After 8 days the collar was removed, Michaela said it should stay on 10 days but day 10 would have been a Sunday and Saturday they rather just deal with emergencies so we took Riley in on Friday night and his ear had healed nicely so Michaela was happy to take the collar off. :-) So we had one happy Riley again! :-) His left ear is sticking forward now because Michaela had to pull it forward to put a stitch in but it just makes him look even more cute. :-) And it seems that Willow has finally accepted him and has stopped being jealous and biting him or snapping at him so I'm happy that they're all getting on.

Riley with the collar...

Update 01/04/2006

Riley has been a really good ferret, always playful and happy with a cheeky look in his eyes. He loved to play attack us, run up to us and jump up our legs, holding onto them, only to let go and then dance around us.

Riley with tara in background

He had been a bit quiet over the last few months, only playing for about half an hour to 45 minutes before finding a bed to sleep in. I thought it was because it's winter or that it was his thing. Also his group hadn't been the same since Tara died and hadn't been as playful and happy as before her departure. So I didn't worry too much, especially since he was very active when he was up and he was always being mischievous. He was still perfectly normal Wednesday (29.3.06) morning and at night I let him and his group out and didn't see anything wrong. But when I was feeding his group, he didn't want to eat which is really odd for him as he always had a healthy appetite and was even a tiny bit podgy. He also felt limp and didn't have any muscle tone so I put him on the floor and he staggered a few steps before lying down. Then he walked a few more steps and lied down again. I hand fed him that night and he ate okay.

By Thursday morning Riley was so weak he could not stand or walk, he could barely crawl. I took him to the vets, I had immediately thought of ADV and Michaela, too. It's bad when this happens, when you're scared of (or obsessed with) a particular illness and then see what could be a symptom of this illness and immediately think it is this illness and don't consider other diseases. So we assumed it was ADV so Riley got a shot of prednisolone, B12 and Baytril in case it was an infection, a few lymph nodes were up. He was put on IV fluids because he appeared to be a bit dehydrated. Riley felt cold to the touch, his temperature was 37 C and he had watery eyes. His heart rate was low. He didn't shiver at first but while at the vets he started to shiver as a response to having a low temperature.

Riley stayed at the vets all day and then I took him home late afternoon- with his drip. During early evening he started to get very uncomfortable and was restless, he could barely move but was constantly trying to crawl around. That's when the alarm bells started ringing in my head. I thought this has happened before, Tara was exactly the same. I quickly read what I'd written on her web page and I could do the same write-up about Riley. The only thing he didn't have was the heart rate going up when he tried to move. Apart from that the symptoms were identical. Feeling cold to the touch, watery eyes, barely being able to crawl but being restless. And the sudden onset and severity of symptoms. So I was convinced that Riley had what Tara had had- hypertrophic cardiomyopathy- and that he was in heart failure. I quickly disconnected the drip as the heart had to work harder with the added volume. I thought maybe this is what is making Riley restless. And he did calm down after. He also ate well when I hand fed him but like Tara he had some difficulty eating, like he had difficulty with the co-ordination. So it took longer for him to eat but his appetite was good. He couldn't or wouldn't go into the toilet when he needed a pee so I put him into the toilet every few hours so he could pee and I changed his bedding often because he did have accidents. He had been in the sick cage since Thursday morning so I could keep an eye on him and he stayed in the bedroom with me at night.

Thursday night he was a bit restless and I didn't sleep much as he kept crawling into the toilet so I had to retrieve him and put him back on his bed and cover him up but he just did not want to be covered up and always crawled out from beneath his blanket. I maybe slept about 4 hours. Then Riley's breathing got a bit laboured and he was making congested sounds so when I got up Friday morning, I gave him some Frusemide.

Friday morning it was back to the vets and first thing I said was about the hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Michaela didn't think he had it as his heart rate was low. He just didn't show the right symptoms. But to me he had all the symptoms that Tara had had. But Michaela thought it was a good idea to take an x-ray. I wasn't so sure about an x-ray as the heart is not necessarily enlarged with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and an ultrasound is a better diagnostic tool but my vets are not used to using ultrasound on such a tiny heart so x-ray was the only option. It did show an enlarged heart though... So the treatment Thursday was sort of bad for his condition. So Michaela gave him shot of Frusemide and prescribed Enacard (Enalapril). Riley looked really, really bad and part of me just wanted to have him put to sleep but Michaela sounded like he could improve and live.

Well, Riley deteriorated over Friday. By the evening, he became more restless again. He ate well when I fed him but by 10.00 p.m. he got really restless and tried to crawl around every few minutes. Like he couldn't get comfortable. He also let out little moans and his breathing sounded a bit congested again despite the Frusemide. I stayed up with him until well past 1.00 a.m. and when he settled down for a while, I fell asleep. I woke up just after 7.00 a.m.- and Riley had died. I felt so horrendously awful that I had been asleep, that I hadn't been there for him- that I didn't have him put to sleep Friday.

I phoned the vets when they opened and asked if Michaela or any of the vets could do an autopsy. I think Michaela came in specially to do it... I went to see her at 12.30 p.m. and she performed the autopsy, his heart was really bad. The walls of his heart had thickened very badly and the 4 chambers were very small. His heart felt solid. The spleen was congested and so was the liver. We found a cyst in one of the kidneys. The worst thing for me was that his stomach was horrendously bloated. I think he was suffocating and swallowed all the air. That is breaking my heart. Why oh why didn't I have him put to sleep. I think in a way it's good that I had been asleep when he died because I wouldn't have coped with witnessing him suffocating. I'm having a very hard time thinking how he must have suffered but if I had actually seen it... I am just so angry (with myself) that it happened...

I also don't understand how hypertrophic cardiomyopathy works. How can his heart get sooo bad without him showing any symptoms? Why did he (and Tara) deteriorate so suddenly? Why did this happen to 2 ferrets who also happened to be in the same group? There is hardly any information about hypertrophic cardiomyopathy in ferrets and I have 2 cases within a year.



Update 15/04/2006

Okay, so Riley did not have hypertrophic cardiomyopathy after all. He had (histiolymphocytic) pericarditis very probably caused by ADV... That caused acute heart failure which is what he died of (as far as I know/ can tell)...

I also talked to people about his stomach and others seem to think that his stomach was full of gas because of the decomposing process that had started since the autopsy was about 7 hours after his death...

Here are Riley's blood test results and pathology report:

Blood test values from 30.03.06


WBC: 4.6 10^3/mm^3 (2.5-5.5)
RBC: 12.88 10^6/mm^3 (6.50-12.00)
HGB: 23.0 g/dl (15.0-18.0)
HCT: 76 % (40.0-60.0)
PLT: 840 10^3/mm^3 (300-900)
MCV: 118 um^3 (45-65)
MCH: 34.18 pg (15.0-20.0)
MCHC: 60.6 g/dl (30.0-34.0)
RDW: 24.2 % (14.0-17.0)
MPV: 20.4 um^3 (6.7-11.1)

%LYM 48.2 % (12.0-50.0)
%MON 20.0 % (0.0-6.0)
%GRA 130.18 % (15.0-80.0)
#LYM 1.0 10^3/mm^3 (0.3-1.3)
#MON 0.4 10^3/mm^3 (0.0-0.2)
#GRA 3.2 10^3/mm^3 (0.4-2.0)


ALB= 35 g/l (26-38)
ALKP= 46 U/L (9-84)
ALT= 54 U/L (82-289)
AMYL= 25 U/L
Ca= 2.29 mmol/l (2.00-2.95)
CHOL= 3.91 mmol/l (1.65-7.65)
CREA= 48 umol/l (35-80)
GLU= 6.00 mmol/l (5.22-11.50)
PHOS= 1.67 mmol/l (1.55-2.87)
TBIL< 2 umol/l (2-17)
TP= 69 g/l (52-73)
UREA= 12.2 mmol/l (3.6-16.1)
GLOB= 34 g/l (18-31)

Riley's pathology report:

All organs - ferret postmortem. Signs of cardiac failure. Mild hyperglobulinaemia. (LTF).


Prognosis Not Applicable


Several tissues from a pole cat male neutered ferret are examined (4 slides, 11 tissues). There is mild postmortem change (autolysis) and good preservation of the tissues.
In the lamina propria of the small intestine, there are small numbers of plasma cells and eosinophils (within normal limits).

There is severe congestion of the liver and adrenal medulla. There is a focus of adrenocortical cells present in the mesenteric adipose tissue next to one of the adrenal glands (slide 2).

The spleen has a focus of hemorrhage at one edge of the section examined. The rest of the parenchyma has multifocal congestion and a prominent white pulp with common hematopoietic tissue.

The pulmonary parenchyma is diffusely collapsed (artifactual compression). There is diffuse and marked congestion of the alveolar capillaries and a few scattered macrophages filled with brown-green vacuoles that become blue with Perl's stain (interpreted as hemosiderophages, also known as heart failure cells). There is one bronchus that contains a dense plug ofeosinophilic mucus with some lymphocytes. Lymphocytes are also present in peribronchial regions, in moderate numbers.

In the heart, there is a cluster of polygonal cells with abundant cytoplasm admixed with fibrinous debris located in the pericardial space between the base of the aorta and the left atrial epicardial surface (macrophages). There are clusters of lymphocytes and occasional plasma cells along the epicardial and pericardial surface. A trichrome stain does not highlight any increased fibrous tissue in the right ventricular free wall as compared with the left one.

There are few mineral calculi in the medulary tubules of both kidneys. Occasional glomeruli are sclerotic.

In the mesentery adjacent to the pancreas there is a large area of adipose tissue necrosis surrounded by a rim of lymphocytes. These focus actually compresses the adjacent pancreatic parenchyma.

There is some evidence to support a mild or acute heart failure in this ferret, but it is not conclusive (heart failure cells in the lung). There is a histiolymphocytic pericarditis and lymphoid clusters in the mesentery and the epi/pericardium. The lymphoid aggregates are commonly found in cases of parvovirus infection in ferrets (aleutian disease), thus supporting your clinical diagnosis.


Index page
My ferrets & ferret health and information pages
Miscellaneous pages