Ophthalmia neonatorum in Ferrets | Vetlexicon
ferret - Articles

Ophthalmia neonatorum

ISSN 2398-2985

Contributor(s) :

Synonym(s): Neonatal conjunctivitis


  • Cause: conjunctivitis in neonatal kits. Most literature reports that a variety of pathogens can cause ophthalmia neonatorum in ferrets. However only Escherichia coli has been specifically reported.
  • Signs: uni- or bilateral distension of the eyelids prior to resolution of physiologic ankyloblepharon in neonatal kits usually between a few days to three weeks of age. Multiple kits in the same litter are often affected.
  • Diagnosis: clinical signs are usually sufficient for a presumptive diagnosis. There is usually a presence of mucopurulent exudate once the palpebral fissure is opened. Positive microbial culture and sensitivity testing of the conjunctival sac and/or the ocular discharge is confirmatory.
  • Treatment: open the fused palpebral fissure of the affected eye, followed by topical application of a broad-spectrum antibacterial ophthalmic ointment. Supportive treatment may be necessary.
  • Prognosis: generally good if condition is promptly identified and treated appropriately. Prompt diagnosis in kits older than 3 weeks of age carries a better prognosis as the palpebral fissure usually remains open after treatment.

Presenting signs

  • Uni- or bilateral swelling of the sealed eyes in neonatal kits.
  • In 3-week-old kits or older, the discharge may be noted from between the opening eyelids.
  • Multiple kits in the same litter are often affected.
  • Affected kits may not be nursing: can appear dehydrated, malnourished, and weak.

Acute presentation

  • As above.

Geographic incidence

  • Worldwide.

Age predisposition

  • Most commonly in kits from a few days to around three weeks of age.

Public health considerations

  • Risk of zoonosis is generally considered low.
  • Although the literature reports that ophthalmia neonatorum in ferrets can be caused by a variety of pathogens, only Escherichia coli has been specifically reported.
  • Animals are recognized as a reservoir for human intestinal pathogenic E. coli, but it is unclear whether zoonosis can occur from extra-intestinal E. coli infection in animals.

Cost considerations

  • While presumptive diagnosis and treatment is usually straightforward and inexpensive, multiple kits from a litter is often affected. Ophthalmia neonatorum can therefore result in ill-thrift in neonates and reduced fecundity in a breeding population.

Special risks

  • Delayed diagnosis or inappropriate treatment may result in permanent vision loss in the affected eye.



  • While most literature describe that a variety of pathogens can be implicated in ophthalmia neonatorum in ferrets, only Escherichia coli has been specifically reported.
  • A viral etiology, feline herpesvirus-1, has been implicated in some cases of ophthalmia neonatorum in cats. No viral etiologies have been documented in the ferret currently.

Predisposing factors


  • Poor husbandry, particularly suboptimal sanitation.


  • Other kits in the litter affected with ophthalmia neonatorum.
  • Neonatal kits in an environment contaminated with pathogenic E. coli.
  • Some literature report increased incidence in kits that suckle from a jill with mastitis.
  • In humans, implicated pathogen(s) in ophthalmia neonatorum is often transmitted during vaginal birth from an infected mother.


  • Physiologic ankyloblepharon (sealing of the eyelids) in ferret kits is usually reported to resolve between 30-35 days of age.
  • Some authors theorize that microscopic eyelid punctures in the neonatal kit can occur during movement around the nest box and thus predispose to infection of the conjunctival sac.
  • Infection of the conjunctiva and conjunctiva sac will result in accumulation of purulent discharge behind the unopened eyelids.
  • Extension of infection can potentially occur and result in panophthalmitis and subsequent septicemia.


  • Varies with etiology.
  • Not specified in ferrets.
  • Microbial conjunctivitis typically follows has a short incubation period (days).


  • Uni- or bilateral ophthalmia neonatorum is typically seen in kits between a few days to 3 weeks of age.


Subscribe To View

This article is available to subscribers.

Try a free trial today or contact us for more information.


Subscribe To View

This article is available to subscribers.

Try a free trial today or contact us for more information.


Subscribe To View

This article is available to subscribers.

Try a free trial today or contact us for more information.


Subscribe To View

This article is available to subscribers.

Try a free trial today or contact us for more information.

Further Reading


Refereed papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Chan K, Climans M, Helmick K et al (2023) Juvenile ocular abnormalities in a litter of black-footed ferrets. Vet Ophthal (ahead of print) PubMed.
  • Bélanger L, Garenaux A, Harel J et al (2011) Escherichia coli from animal reservoirs as a potential source of human extraintestinal pathogenic E. coli. FEMS Immunol Med Microbiol 62 (1), 1-10 PubMed.
  • Zuppa A A, D’Andrea V, Catenazzi P et al (2011) Ophthalmia neonatorum: what kind of prophylaxis? J Maternal-Fetal Neonatal Med 24 (6), 769-773 PubMed.
  • Marini R P, Taylor N S, Liang A Y et al (2004) Characterization of hemolytic Escherichia coli strains in ferrets: Recognition of candidate virulence factor CNF1. J Clin Microbiol 42 (12), 5904-5908 PubMed

Other sources of information

  • Di Girolamo N & Huynh M (2020) Disorders of the Urinary and Reproductive Systems in Ferrets. In: Ferrets, Rabbits and Rodents – E-Book: Clinical Medicine and Surgery. 4th edn. Eds: Quesenberry K, Mans C, Orcutt C & Carpenter J W. Elsevier, USA. pp 39-54.
  • Fox J G, Bell J A & Broome R (2014) Growth and Reproduction. In: Biology and Diseases of the Ferret. Eds: Fox J G & Marini R P. Wiley & Sons, USA. pp 187-209.
  • Stiles J (2013) Feline Ophthalmology. In: Veterinary Ophthalmology: Two Volume Set. 5th edn. Eds: Gelatt K N, Gilger B C & Kern T J. Wiley & Sons, USA. pp 1477-1559.
  • Williams D L (2012) The Ferret Eye. In: Ophthalmology of Exotic Pets. Wiley & Sons, USA. pp 73-85.
  • Maggs D J (2008) Eyelids. In: Slatter’s Fundamentals of Veterinary Ophthalmology. 4th edn. Eds: Maggs D J, Miller P E & Ofri R. Saunders, USA. pp 107-134.