What You Need to Know About Aleutian Disease

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Aleutian Disease or ADV is a contagious ailment caused by the parvovirus. The infection affects the mustelids, which will eventually result in spontaneous abortion and death in ferrets and minks.

History of the Disease

The first report of the disease was in a ranch-raised mink in 1956. The ailment got its name because its first victim was a mink an Aleutian coat color. The initial assumptions about the illness was a result of poor genetics, however, later studies discovered that minks of all colors were susceptible to the ailment. Other minks with a different coat color had lower fatality rates compared to their Aleutian counterpart.

During the 60s, it was common for mink ranchers to create their own vaccines by homogenizing tissue from a distemper-infected mink. They made suspensions and inject all their minks with it. This resulted in an outbreak of Aleutian Disease on a ranch in Connecticut. The fatality rate of the disease outbreak was approximately 100% in less than six months. The ailment later also affected ferrets because both animals were usually raised on the same ranches.

The Transmission of the Ailment

Aleutian Disease is highly contagious, an infected ferret transmits the virus through bodily fluids, and it can lie dormant on an owner’s shoes or clothes and dried urine for almost two years. ADV positive minks and ferrets must not be taken to a place where other ferrets and minks are. They must also be prohibited from running on areas or floors where uninfected animals or their owners may come in contact with traces of the virus.

Signs and Symptoms

A deadly infection in ferrets and minks, the Aleutian disease virus remains dormant in ferrets until an injury or stress enables it to surface. The parvovirus causes little to no harm to its ferret host, however, the antibodies created in response to its presence causes a systemic vasculitis, which lead to bone marrow suppression, renal failure and eventual death. The symptoms of the disease include:

  1. Chronic and progressive weight loss
  2. Rear leg weakness
  3. Lethargy
  4. Enlarged spleen
  5. Anemia
  6. Black tarry stool
  7. Seizures

Once the symptoms of the illness surface, it will progress rapidly, leading to death within a few months.


Currently, there is no known cure for ADV. When symptoms of Aleutian disease present itself, owners must have the animal get a CEP (counterimmunoelectrophoresis) blood test or an IFA (immunoflourescent antibody) test. The former takes less time and is more affordable, but the latter is likely to detect the infection in borderline cases.

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