Posterior paresis is the medical term for weakness that affects the rear limbs. It is a common condition in ferrets.

What causes posterior paresis?

Weakness of the rear legs of a ferret may be the result of many disease processes affecting multiple organs. These include:

  • Hypoglycemia resulting from a tumor of the pancreas, other cancers, sepsis, severe liver disease, food restriction, or loss of appetite
  • Heart disease, anemia, and other conditions causing hypoxia
  • Central nervous system conditions resulting from toxins, infection, cancer, IV disc disease, or trauma
  • Infections with bacteria, fungi, canine distemper virus, toxoplasmosis, and Aleutian disease virus
  • Abdominal pain caused by urinary stones or obstruction, an enlarged spleen, peritonitis, or abdominal tumors may cause signs which mimic posterior paresis
  • Other diseases such as hypocalcemia (low blood calcium) in nursing jills, thiamine deficiency, and renal failure

What are the signs of posterior paresis?

Ferrets with posterior paresis may be frog-legged and drag the rear part of the body while trying to walk. They are unable to stand, or can stand for only short periods of time. If they stand, it is generally without the normally arched back. A ferret with posterior paresis may be incontinent.

How is posterior paresis diagnosed?

Posterior paresis is not a disease itself, but a sign of other diseases as listed above. A thorough physical exam including an accurate history of the illness may indicate which disease is present. Often, laboratory tests such as chemistry panels and complete blood counts (CBC), radiographs (x-rays) or ultrasound, an EKG, a spinal tap and analysis of the fluid, and even exploratory surgery may be necessary to make the correct diagnosis.

How is posterior paresis treated?

The disease causing the paresis will need to be treated. Keeping the rectal and urogenital areas clean and dry is important in ferrets who are incontinent. You may need to use a wipe to clean your ferret after she goes to the bathroom. Make sure to use a litter box with a low entry so your ferret can get into them, and scoop or empty them frequently. If your ferret cannot climb into a litter box, use Piddle Pads instead.

References and Further Reading

Antinoff, N. Musculoskeletal and neurologic diseases. In Hillyer, EV; Quesenberry, KE (eds.) Ferrets, Rabbits and Rodents. W. B. Saunders Co. Philadelphia, PA; 1997.

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

Murray, J. Weakness and vomiting in a ferret. Veterinary Forum. January 2000; 54-56.