This disease is commonly reported in ferrets across New Zealand, but rarely in Australia and Europe.
Infections are thought to be via airborne contamination from cattle pastures or spreading within the wild ferret populations. In New Zealand, there is a causal link between possum abundance and the prevalence of mycobacteriosis in feral ferrets in areas in which M. bovis infection is known to occur, suggesting that possum-to-ferret transmission of disease accounts for most of the disease evident in ferret populations.
Species which are pathogenic to ferrets include:
- Mycobacterium abscessus
- mycobacterium avium complex
- Mycobacterium bovis
- Mycobacterium genavense
- Mycobacterium microti
- Mycobacterium celatum
- Mycobacterium chelonae
- Mycobacterium fortuitum
- Mycobacterium florentinum
- Mycobacterium interjectum
- Mycobacterium intracellulare
- Mycobacterium holsaticum
- Mycobacterium septicum/peregrinum
Localised nontuberculous mycobacterial infections have been reported in the skin and spleen, but systemic disseminated mycobacteriosis is more common.
In mycobacteriosis, ferrets show clinical signs of coughing, weight loss, lymphadenopathy, intermittent anorexia, vomiting, and mild diarrhea. Sudden deaths may occur due to rupture of pulmonary tubercules, but many ferrets display chronic wasting forms of the disease. Reports of concurrent mycobacteriosis and lymphoma have been recorded, suggesting an immunocompromised state in some animals.
Diagnosis is based on radiographic findings suggestive of pulmonary masses supported by culture of the organism in vitro. PCR assays are available in some reference laboratories.
A differential diagnosis would include other causes of pneumonia such as pasteurellosis.
Treatment of mycobacteriosis is problematic due to the hardiness of this bacterium and the extent of dissemination by the time a diagnosis is determined. Broad-spectrum multiple antibiotics such as enrofloxacin, rifampicin and azithromycin may assist in resolution of clinical signs.
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