Tanya is the owner of two feisty ferrets and one cat. She has studied animal health and dedicated volunteer time in many shelters.
This article has information about the use of testing on ferrets. If this is a sensitive topic for you, you may not want to continue. Please use your own discretion.
In 2019, the world started to become a different place. A strain of pneumonia began infecting people in Wuhan, China. This disease rapidly spread throughout the country and then the world. Given the name Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), this disease shares a 96.2% similarity to coronavirus RaTG13 that is found in Horseshoe Bats.2
However, it is important to know that, although similar, it is not the same and it is not a disease that we have seen in humans before.
Ferrets are common animals that we use in testing because their respiratory systems are very similar to humans. They are an amazing little creature that help us create vaccines in order to keep humans and our ferrets safe.
In a study compiled by a variety of research facilities in China were able to show that ferrets (and cats) indeed can carry and get sick from this new strain of the virus.1
They used two pairs of ferrets and injected each pair with a different strain of the virus. They used [SARS-CoV-2/F13/environment/2020/Wuhan from the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan, and SARS-CoV-2/CTan/human/2020/Wuhan (CTan-H) taken from a human.
All four ferrets were inoculated and then euthanized on Day 4. The researchers then removed all the organs and brains for testing. All of the ferrets showed an infection in their nasal, soft palate and tonsils. This indicates that it can replicate in the upper respiratory tract of the ferrets.
The second part of the study was done by infecting six ferrets (groups of three) and monitoring and taking swabs and tests over time. By day 10, one ferret in each group experienced fever and loss of appetite.
These same tests were done on cats and also came with the same results.
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So, What About a Vaccine?
These tests have paved the way for a vaccine that is being tested in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. Dr. Volker Gerdts and his team are working with the World Health Organization and other international research facilities to try and test and get a vaccine out to us as soon as possible.
Even with the added help, vaccines are slow to create. It is estimated that a vaccine for COVID-19 will take at least a year. By using ferrets and hamsters, Dr. Gerdts is hoping to speed up the process.
Currently, they are infecting two groups. One with the virus and the second group with a booster shot of the potential vaccine. This group will then be injected with the virus in May 2020 and will be able to study if the vaccine has protected the ferrets from the virus.
Don't Get Rid of Your Pets!
Many people in a panic are abandoning their cats and ferrets (and even other animals) for fear that they will transmit the virus to them, or catch the virus from them.
There is no current evidence that a ferret or cat can transmit the virus to a human. However, you should take precautions if you feel sick. This is no different than when you have the flu or a cold. When we feel sick, owners tend to limit their interactions with their ferrets because we know that they can catch these things.
If you are sick, handle them less. Limit your interactions with them. If they show signs of sickness, don't panic. They are strong and can recover as long as you keep them safe, hydrated and monitor them. The same you would whenever your ferret feels under the weather.
Obviously, if things take a turn for the worse, an emergency vet visit may be in order.
If you’re sick, stay away from your ferret.
If a ferret is exposed to an infected person, keep it away from other people (and other pets).
Veterinarians should continue to ask owners about household COVID-19 exposure to help protect themselves from the owners, but also to consider potential issues when caring for their pets.
— Scott Weese
- Vaccine testing is underway and a ferret may be the hero of creating a vaccine to keep us all safe
- Ferrets infected showed fever, cough, and tiredness as symptoms
- Ferrets in contact with each other also got sick
- After 12 days, the ferrets were back to normal and healthy
- Do not panic and get rid of your pets - they are family!
- 1State Key Laboratory of Veterinary Biotechnology, Harbin Veterinary Research Institute, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Harbin 150069, People’s Republic of China., Susceptibility of ferrets, cats, dogs, and other domesticated animals to SARS–coronavirus 2", by American Association for the Advancement of Science, April 7, 2020,, URL: https://science.sciencemag.org/content/early/2020/04/07/science.abb7015
- 2 A pneumonia outbreak associated with a new coronavirus of probable bat origin. Nature 579, 270–273 (2020). DOI:10.1038/s41586-020-2012-7pmid:32015507, Author: P. Zhou, X.-L. Yang, X.-G. Wang, B. Hu, L. Zhang, W. Zhang, H.-R. Si, Y. Zhu, B. Li, C.-L. Huang, H.-D. Chen,J. Chen, Y. Luo, H. Guo, R.-D. Jiang, M.-Q. Liu, Y. Chen, X.-R. Shen, X. Wang, X.-S. Zheng, K. Zhao, Q.-J. Chen,F. Deng, L.-L. Liu, B. Yan, F.-X. Zhan, Y.-Y. Wang, G.-F. Xiao, Z.-L. Shi, "Susceptibility of ferrets, cats, dogs, and other domesticated animals to SARS–coronavirus 2", Published by American Association for the Advancement of Science, April 7, 2020,, URL: https://science.sciencemag.org/content/early/2020/04/07/science.abb7015
- Scott Weese, Worms and Germs, COVID-19 and ferrets, March 30, 2020, URL:https://www.wormsandgermsblog.com/2020/03/articles/animals/other-animals/covid-19-and-ferrets/
- Grant Robinson, The Globe and Mail, Ferrets, hamsters will soon reveal whether Canadian vaccine bid has a shot, April 3, 2020, URL: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-ferrets-hamsters-will-soon-reveal-whether-canadian-vaccine-bid-has-a/
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2020 Tanya Huffman