Ferrets should be vaccinated for canine distemper initially at 8 weeks of age, and this should be repeated with boosters at 11 weeks and 14 weeks of age. Following this series, annual boosters are enough to maintain immunity in most cases. Ferrets are not susceptible to feline distemper, calicivirus, feline leukemia, or other common canine and feline viral diseases, so polyvalent (combination) vaccines which are used for dogs and cats are not recommended. There is currently only one canine distemper vaccine available in the U.S. which is USDA approved for use in ferrets. This vaccine is called FerVac-D, and is manufactured by United Vaccine co. There have been a significant number of serious allergic reactions to this vaccine, but they are statistically uncommon, and are usually easily controlled with appropriate veterinary care. If these reactions occur, it is within 15 minutes of vaccination, so it is prudent for the veterinarian to observe the patient during this period. Since distemper is such a common and fatal problem in ferrets, the benefit of immunization clearly outweighs the risk. The manufacturer of FerVac-D is working to reduce the vaccine reaction rate. A chick embryo tissue vaccine which has been used in ferrets for many years (Fromm-D by Solvay co) is no longer available. Its replacement, Galaxy-D, is manufactured using a different process, and its safety and efficacy are not proven. The company which makes Galaxy-D is not recommending its use in ferrets at this time.
Rabies vaccination is a subject which should be discussed with your veterinarian. With the advent of a safe and effective USDA approved vaccine, I have been recommending rabies vaccination. The only product currently licensed for use is Imrab (Piman Moore Co.). Ferrets are initially vaccinated at 16 weeks of age, and then boosted annually. It is important to know that in California and many other jurisdictions, rabies vaccination is not recognized as adequate protection to humans, and that ferrets which bite people will be managed as wild animals. In other words, these pets may be killed and examined for rabies by public health officials if there is a human bite.
If you have any questions or comments about the information above, feel free to send a message to Dr. Suzanne Lee, D.V.M. at SLeeDVM@aol.com.Return to the Ferret Clinic
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