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the Dreaded "Green Slime Disease" (or ECE)
When I found Thor, the abandoned
silver ferret was quite aggressive because he was unfixed, so I couldn't
put him in a cage with my other ferrets. In my rush to house him, I
borrowed a cage and didn't think to disinfect it. Bad move! Within 48
hours, my entire ferret crew (13 in all, including Thor, who was fixed
by then), were unable to keep their food down. Then came the telltale
profuse, stinky, green diarrhea (what idiot put off-white carpeting in
this house?). It was the dreaded “green slime disease”!
The “greenies” is more properly known as
epizootic catarrhal enteritis, or ECE. It's a ferret-specific virus that
causes inflammation and infection of the intestinal lining (mucosa). The
symptoms start with vomiting, and then the damage to the intestine makes
it hard for the ferret to absorb nutrients and water, resulting in
diarrhea, dehydration, and malnutrition. The weakened ferret is then
susceptible to secondary infections.
The highly contagious virus is transmitted by infected body fluids and
can be spread when an uninfected ferret touches an infected ferret, or
even something that an ECE ferret has touched within the last day. You
could carry ECE home with you and not know it. Even a healthy-looking
ferret can be a carrier—an ECE ferret can shed the virus for several
years after infection. Mothers can pass along ECE to their kits, too.
ECE is more dangerous to older ferrets (age 2 and up) and ferrets with
other existing illnesses. Baby ferrets may show symptoms for only a few
hours (you may not even notice) and seem relatively unbothered by the
Most of my ferrets were middle-aged or senior citizens when the greenies
struck, so a rapid response was in order.
The first priority in treating ECE is
rehydration. Give electrolytes (such as unflavored Pedialyte) along with
distilled water for a total of 100 cubic centimeters of fluids per day.
Check fluid consumption by marking a water bottle, or by orally
administering the fluid with an oral syringe or dropper and keeping
records. The key is to keep this up constantly—give 10 cubic
centimeters every few hours throughout the day and night. In severe
cases, a vet may have to administer fluids intravenously.
Second, your ferret needs antibiotics. The antibiotics don't kill the
ECE virus, but they prevent dangerous secondary infections that would
occur otherwise. The drug of choice is either amoxycillin, a
broad-spectrum medicine, or metronizadole, a medicine that targets the
digestive system. (My ferrets hated both medicines and spit the pink
stuff all over us, so we had to devise a system: Wrap each ferret in a
T-shirt to prevent wriggling; stick the dropper way back in the ferret's
mouth and put the medicine down the throat; and hold the ferret's mouth
shut until he swallows.)
Next, increased nutrition is vital. Because the ferret has difficulty
absorbing nutrients, and may refuse to eat, it's important to get as
much nutrition into the ferret as possible. Use a supplement such as
Nutrical, Sustacal, or Deliver in a liquid mixture of ground-up ferret
food. Turkey or chicken baby food is another highly nutritious and
easily digestible option. Any of these semiliquid mixtures may have to
be force-fed through an oral syringe or dropper—sick ferrets aren't
very motivated to eat. A minimum of 100 cubic centimeters of food (given
throughout the day) is needed each day, in addition to the 100 cubic
centimeters of water.
Other medicines can help a sick ferret, too. Your vet can help you
calculate doses of Pepto-Bismol, Kaopectate, or Pepcid AC to help
protect the intestines and make digestion more comfortable for your
ferret. Finally, keep the ferret warm and dry (but never leave a ferret
on a heating pad unattended!). Try to keep the ferret quiet, away from
noise and commotion, and out of bright lights.
As you can see, this is a lot of work! The hydration, feeding, and
medication regimen may go on for several weeks. When the greenies struck
our household, with 13 ferrets, we humans were exhausted! However, all
of our furry kids pulled through. In the months following, the ferrets
had the classic “seedy stools” that indicate continued digestive
upset (tiny globules of undigested fat make the stools look granular).
Their stools also took on a rainbow of colors: all shades of green,
yellow, and even orange.
Remember that even when your ferrets look
perfectly healthy, they still carry the virus, possibly for their
lifetime, and can spread it to other ferrets. The good news is that once
a ferret has had ECE, he builds up immunity to it and is unlikely to
show severe symptoms again.
If your ferrets have not had ECE, you should take some precautions when
you visit other ferrets. When coming home from an exposed location,
remove your clothes and shoes outside and place them in a plastic bag.
Spray your hands and feet with disinfectant (bleach is fine) before
entering your house. Immediately take a shower. Wash your clothes in hot
water and wash or disinfect your shoes.
Similarly, if your ferrets have ECE and you are going to visit another
ferret place, shower, put on clean clothes straight from the dryer, and
spray your hands and shoes with disinfectant as you leave. Also, make
sure your vet knows that your ferrets have ECE, so the vet's facilities
can be disinfected properly.
ECE is quite widespread in North America. Many ferret kits sold in pet
stores have had the virus passed down from their mother, so you may have
an ECE ferret and not even know it. Some people purposely expose their
kits to ECE to “get it over with” at the easiest stage. Also, keep
in mind that green diarrhea can come from a number of other sources as
well: stress, sudden food changes, and other stomach bugs. Don't panic
over one green poop, but keep an eye on your ferret and have your vet
evaluate stool samples and dehydration levels.
ECE is a highly survivable disease if treated properly. I had the bad
luck to have a bunch of older ferrets with a severe case, but everyone
is doing great now—and Thor became a permanent member of the