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ASK THE VET: Protect ferrets from covid-19

by Lee Pickett, VMD | September 14, 2020 at 2:13 a.m.
(Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Carrie Hill)

Q I have two ferrets, but the only information I can find about pets and covid-19 involves dogs and cats. I know ferrets can get human influenza. Can they also catch the coronavirus that causes covid-19?

A Yes, people with covid-19 can transmit the coronavirus to their ferrets. Most infected ferrets show mild clinical signs, including decreased energy and appetite, cough and fever. There have been no reports of any ferrets dying of covid-19.

An infected ferret can transmit the virus to another ferret through direct contact or via respiratory droplets in the air. Viral levels are highest in nasal secretions, though the virus is also found in saliva, urine and feces. Research shows that ferrets also produce antibodies to the virus.

If you get sick, you can decrease the risk to your ferrets by staying away from them, just as you would stay away from people.

There have been no reports of virus transmission in the opposite direction — from ferrets to humans. Still, if you develop covid-19 and your ferrets are with you, it's prudent to keep them away from unexposed people.

If you're too sick to care for your ferrets, the person who does should wear gloves when handling them, touching their food and water containers and cleaning their litter boxes. Immediately afterward, caregivers should wash their hands.

Please wear a mask and remain physically distant from other people to protect not only yourself but your family — including your playful, four-legged family members.

Q My rat terrier Joy has overly long nails. Trimming them is difficult because the long nail beds limit how short the nails can be clipped without causing pain. What do you suggest?

A The kindest, safest, most effective way to shorten long nails is to groom them weekly until you achieve the desired length.

First, clip Joy's nails with a doggie nail trimmer. Then grind them down to the nail bed, or quick, using a rotary sanding tool such as the Dremel PawControl.

Each week thereafter, grind what little nail has regrown down to the quick again. Gradually, the quick will recede, allowing you to shorten her nails further.

You can help the process along by walking Joy on pavement rather than grass, as concrete and asphalt wear down soft nails.

Once her nails are the proper length, continue to groom them every one to four weeks, depending on how fast they grow.

Some veterinarians anesthetize dogs with overly long nails and cut the nails very short, well into the quick. However, after those dogs awaken from anesthesia, their feet hurt, even with pain medications. So, most veterinarians choose not to perform this procedure.

If Joy's nails are long because she struggles whenever you try to cut them, you'll need to accustom her to nail care. Start by simply touching her paws and rewarding her with praise and a treat or favorite squeaky toy.

When she's comfortable having her paws held, stroke each toe individually. Again, reward her lavishly.

Next, show her the nail trimmers while you stroke her toes. After she remains relaxed throughout these sessions, briefly touch the trimmers to her nails while you ply her with treats.

Once she's comfortable with this step, trim the nails of one paw. Praise her throughout the process, and give her a treat after you trim each toenail.

Groom one paw at a time and take a play break before addressing the next paw. In time, you'll be able to groom all four paws in one sitting.

Lee Pickett, VMD, practices companion animal medicine in North Carolina. Contact her at


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