EPIZOOTIC CATARRHAL ENTERITIS (E.C.E.)
What is it? ECE is a ferret-specific disease that damages the intestinal lining with inflammation and infection. When the intestinal lining (or "mucosa") is damaged, the ferret has difficulty absorbing nutrients and water into the body. This results in diarrhea, excess mucous production, and dehydration. In severe cases, intestinal ulceration and bleeding takes place. ECE has been definitively identified as a VIRUS, not a bacterial infection. The disease is also known as the "greenies" or "green slime disease."
What are the symptoms? ECE is characterized by the sudden onset of profuse, watery, bright green diarrhea (although the diarrhea can also be other shades of green or yellow). It is often accompanied by vomiting (in early stages of the disease), lethargy, refusal to eat or drink, or diminished eating/drinking. Blood counts remain normal.
How does a ferret get ECE? The virus is transmitted by infected body fluids and can be spread through the air or on clothing on tiny fluid particles or by contact with an infected ferret. It is highly contagious. You could carry ECE home with you from a petstore, vet clinic, etc. and not know it. Your ferrets will show symptoms in between 12 and 72 hours, if infected. Even a healthy-looking ferret can be a carrier -- a ferret who had ECE can "shed" the virus for at least 12 months (research continues to see if this period is longer). So if your ferret has had ECE, keep in mind that your ferret can infect others for a year or possibly more. So if you are visiting another ferret, adopting from a shelter, or going to a show, ASK what the ECE status is.
Is my ferret in danger? ECE has appeared and spread throughout the United States including Texas. The younger your ferret is, the fewer the symptoms and the shorter the duration of the disease. If treated properly, the fatality rate is less than 5%, and those fatalities are typically older (over 5 years)ferrets who also have other problems such as adrenal problems, insulinoma, etc. If your ferret is younger, healthy, and fat, there is less risk, as long as treatment is immediate. If treatment is not immediate, ferrets can die of dehydration. Through the course of the disease, ferrets can also develop secondary infections, which should also be treated.
What is the treatment?
How long does it last? This depends on the health condition, age, weight, and personality of the ferret. Kits show few, if any symptoms, for a few hours. Ferrets under two years may have mild symptoms for 1-3 days. As long as they are eating, drinking, and urinating, no additional treatment may be necessary. The normal course of symptoms seem to be one to three weeks, although there are reports of some going as long as two months. Once the ferret recovers from the severe symptoms, the ferret may experience seedy or poorly formed stools, inability to gain weight, hind-leg weakness, or lethargy, for several months. Remember that after "recovery," your ferret still carries the virus and can expose others. However, once a ferret has ECE, the ferret builds up an immunity and is not likely to show severe symptoms again.
What can I do to control this? If your ferrets have not had ECE, you can avoid other ferret households, shows, meetings, shelters, petstores, or other "ferret congregations." Because this may be an unrealistic restriction, you can take some precautions. When coming home from an exposed location, remove your clothes and shoes in the garage, and place them in a plastic bag. Spray your hands and feet with Nolvasan, or other disinfectant, and then enter your house. Immediately take a shower. Wash your clothes in hot water, and wash or disinfect your shoes. (Another recommended disinfectant is bleach). Similarly, if you are infected and are going to visit another ferret place, shower, put on clean clothes straight from the dryer, and spray your hands and shoes with Nolvasan, or other disinfectant, after you leave the house. Also inform your vet, so the facilities can be disinfected properly.
Don't Panic! If you think your ferret has ECE, take him/her to the vet immediately. However, keep in mind that green diarrhea can come from a number of other sources as well: stress, sudden food changes, intestinal lymphosarcoma, coccidiosis, and gastroenteritis. Don't panic over one green poop, but keep an eye on your ferret and have your vet evaluate stool samples or dehydration levels.