home : 3. health problems : cardiomyopathy


Cardiomyopathy is a term describing disease of the heart muscle itself, which results in decreased function of the heart.

Heart disease usually occurs for unknown reasons, and as a consequence of ageing, but may also occur as a result of cancer, heartworms, infection, or genetics.

In ferrets, two different types of cardiomyopathy are recognised: dilated and hypertrophic. Although the two types are very different in cause, mechanism and treatment, the end result of decreased cardiac function produces similar symptoms.

Cardiomyopathy (particularly hypertrophic) is usually notoriously difficult, even impossible to diagnose. Symptoms can include tiredness or breathlessness in the early stages, or an increase in respiratory rate & pulse as it progresses. Gums and tongue can sometimes appear darker than usual, almost a purple colour; or a murmur or other abnormal heart sound may be present.

Dilated cardiomyopathy (or DCM) is the most common form of cardiomyopathy seen in ferrets, and describes “worn out” heart muscles which cannot contract with the strength it had previously, so only a fraction of the blood is pumped forward.

In a ferret with DCM, his or her heart will appear enlarged (ie dilated) on x-ray.

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (or HCM) is much less common in ferrets than DCM, and much harder to diagnose, as there is no enlargement visible in x-rays. HCM is an almost opposite condition to DCM, as it describes a thickening of the muscle walls of the ventricles.

An electrocardiogram (ECG) and an echocardiogram (ultrasound) can be useful in diagnosing and treating cardiomyopathy. Drug treatment can improve a ferret’s quality and length of life.

Stress, including high temperatures can worsen any sick ferret’s condition, including one with cardiomyopathy.

A healthy lifestyle, including a good diet and lots of exercise can help to keep your ferret’s (and your own!) heart healthy.

ABOVE: Heart with HCM—note the thickened muscle walls

ABOVE: Heart with DCM—note the thinner muscle walls and enlarged appearance

Photos from Ferrets Magazine

Author: Shona Whaite

Published in "Canberra Carpet Sharks" Issue 010 (March/April 2005)

Ferret Society of Canberra

 For more information or to make comments please email mail@ferretclub.org.au