Kidney disease (also referred to in medical terminology as renal disease) is not as common in ferrets as it is in some other domestic animals.

What are the common causes of renal disease in ferrets?

Renal disease may be caused by infections (especially Aleutian disease), autoimmune disease, reactions to certain medications, and cancer. Cysts (large fluid-filled areas) may also develop in the kidney. Renal disease is also a common problem among older ferrets as their kidney tissue wears out and loses regenerative capacity.

What are the signs of renal disease in ferrets?

The most common signs of renal disease include:

  • Depression and lethargy
  • Ulcers in the mouth
  • Weakness
  • Increased drinking and urination
  • Loss of weight and appetite
  • Dehydration

In acute disease, such as a toxicity, the signs occur suddenly and can be very severe. In chronic kidney disease, the onset may be very slow and the signs fairly non-specific, i.e., the ferret is “just not doing well.” Whether the disease is acute or chronic is typically related to the cause.

How is kidney disease diagnosed?

A diagnosis of renal disease is based upon the results of the physical examination, a complete medical history, a complete blood count, blood chemistry tests (including electrolytes, total protein, albumin, blood urea nitrogen, and creatinine), and a urinalysis. Radiographs (x-rays) can be very helpful, and endoscopy, ultrasound, and sometimes a kidney biopsy may also be needed. If Aleutian disease is suspected, a special blood test can be performed.

How is kidney disease treated?

General treatment includes fluid therapy, nutritional support, and possibly providing supplemental heat. Periodic blood testing may be necessary to monitor the response to treatment and adjust it accordingly. Since bacterial infections can be a common cause of renal disease, or can occur secondarily, antibiotics are often included in the treatment regimen. The underlying cause of the renal disease needs to be treated, as well. Specific treatments for toxins, autoimmune diseases, or surgery may be necessary.

In some cases of kidney disease, a low protein ferret diet may be necessary. Speak with your veterinarian about whether your ferret will need to have a restricted diet. Your ferret may also need a high calorie supplement such as FerretVite or Nutri-Cal to help maintain her weight.

References and Further Reading

Pollock, CG. Urogenital diseases. In Quesenberry, KE; Carpenter, JW. (eds.). Ferrets, Rabbits and Rodents: Clinical Medicine and Surgery. W.B. Saunders Co. Philadelphia, PA; 2004.