Bolton Ferret Welfare

Yarm Ferret Rescue May 2014

by Sue Lloyd

Case History: Biscuit

Biscuit was a 2011 bred polecat hob, highly strung, I suspected that he had native polecat in him. In the area that he was was found there are people who have used native polecats to produce dark ferrets for showing.

Biscuit was collected up as a stray in fields on the outskirts of Teesside, the area has a beck and a lake, mink have been seen in the area. He was being pursued by a gang of boys, a couple out walking their dogs saw this and stepped in to save what was at the time a grown kit from further torment. The kit was carried home in a rolled up jacket. Luckily the couple had an empty rabbit cage so in went the kit. He was much admired, he was supplied with the best of food but no exercise, he was wild and bit.

Various ferret "experts" were called in, he bit them all even through gloves. Reluctantly the couple decided that they would have to part with him so Yarm Ferret Rescue was contacted. All my cages were full so I asked someone who shows and works ferrets if he wanted the dark coloured hob. This man keeps hawks so had a gauntlet, he jumped at the chance and went and collected him straight away.

Twenty-four hours later he phoned for help, the hob was wild and bit him even through the gauntlet. The hob duly arrived here and had to be housed in a pet carrier. I borrowed a pair of welding gloves!

Biscuit as he was named exercised in an empty stable with a jill and another hob kit, after letting off steam he soon learnt not to bite and became one of the family. I showed and raced him, he did me proud. He had a poor undercoat but still looked stunning and had a Best in Show at a year old, winning the race event the same day.

He was plump and happy until the end of November 2013. His intake of food had dropped, he used to have a huge appetite and now he was eating half, if that, of this usual ration. His droppings were good.

One night he came out of his nest box at dinner time and swayed and staggered and struggled to keep upright. He only tried to eat his meat, leaving his dried food, it seemed to hurt him to open his mouth. The next morning he couldn't walk in a straight line. Off to the vets we went. Heart and lungs were OK but he hung drooped in my arms. A blood sample was obtained and he was prescribed an antibiotic - Baytril and half a 1mg prednisolone daily.

Several hours after his first pred' he was up and running and eating. His blood results returned and I was stunned to be informed that they suggested Aleutian Disease Virus (A.D.V.) The lab suggested a further test on the blood sample which also pointed to A.D.V.

Where had that come from? Was it from when he had been a stray kit, or from the show circuit where many of the other ferrets go out and about as workers.

From then on Biscuit suffered weight loss despite eating well, he had several secondary infections which meant further courses of Baytril which he hated. He was reluctant to leave his cage.

On 18th March 2014 he was skin and bone, he didn't even want his drop of Whiskas cat milk, he was dying, a quick trip to the vets and he was put to sleep.

I had expected to be advised by the lab and my vets when first diagnosed to "cull" him but both just said that A.D.V. was now endemic amongst mink and ferrets.

I know of several ferrets who have "wasted away" and died, their owners don't bother with vets. There are other causes of weight loss in ferrets but A.D.V. appears to be with us. Local mink populations have dropped, many have been trapped but that won't account for such a reduction in numbers, although an increase in otter numbers may be driving mink on.

Other vets in my area have reported cases of A.D.V. in ferrets. As, and when, I can afford it I will have all my ferrets blood tested to see if the virus was shed. So far the results have been clear. It is £140 for me to get a ferret blood tested for A.D.V.

My thoughts then turned to the ferrets' native cousins. Many thanks to The Vincent Wildlife Trust who sent me a copy of the Veterinary Record 2001 which contains a report on A.D.V. in feral mink. The report also suggests that weasels, otters and the native polecat may all be at risk from A.D.V.

My own opinion, especially after watching Biscuit's demise is that it is a high price to pay just for a certain type of vain woman to wear "glorified road kill".

As in recent years I will be running a foster jill register for orphan kits. If you have a jill with a small litter and you think she has suitable temperament please register her. Kits of all ages can be in need of a foster mum. People with orphan kits are often quite happy to travel long distances to a foster mum. Text or phone me on 07817 415 645

(First published May 2014)

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