Objective—To characterize clinical signs and lesions
and identify the etiologic agent associated with epizootic
catarrhal enteritis in domestic ferrets.
Animals—119 ferrets with epizootic diarrhea of presumed
viral cause and 5 control ferrets.
Procedure—Clinical records and biopsy or necropsy
specimens of ferrets with presumed epizootic
catarrhal enteritis were reviewed. Immunohistochemical
staining for coronavirus antigen was performed
on paraffin-embedded tissues from approximately
10% of affected ferrets to identify viral antigen
and determine its distribution. Transmission electron
microscopy was performed on fecal samples and sections
of jejunum. Virus isolation studies as well as
immunofluorescent tests for other similar viruses
Results—Characteristic microscopic lesions consistent
with intestinal coronavirus infection (vacuolar
degeneration and necrosis of villus enterocytes; villus
atrophy, fusion, and blunting; and lymphocytic enteritis)
were consistently detected in affected ferrets.
Coronavirus particles were identified in feces and jejunal
enterocytes by use of transmission electron
microscopy. Immunohistochemical staining of jejunal
sections revealed coronavirus antigens. Antigen staining
was not detected in healthy ferrets or ferrets with
other gastrointestinal tract diseases. Virus isolation
was unsuccessful, and other similar viruses were not
Conclusions and Clinical Relevance—Results
strongly implicate a coronavirus as the causative
agent of epizootic catarrhal enteritis in ferrets.
Diagnosis may be made on the basis of a combination
of historical, clinical, and microscopic findings. (J Am
Vet Med Assoc 2000;217:526–530)