Marshall Farms ferret care correspondence
James Fox describes in his book "The Biology and Diseases of Ferrets" (2nd Edition) as Ophthalmia neonatorum. It is reported to occur in animals ranging from a few days to 3 weeks of age. These kits develop bacterial infection of the mucus membranes of the conjunctiva and purulent material accumulates either in one or both eyes beneath the lids. They describe treatment as incising the eyelid along the natural suture line (where the opening of the lids will be when the eye finally opens) with either a sterile scalpel blade or a small-gauge sterile needle bevel, flushing the eye and placing triple antibiotic ointment on the eye. The eyes of younger kits will often reseal closed but if they are over 3 weeks of age they will likely remain open and repeat eye infections are not seen. If the ocular pressure is not resolved by clearing the purulent material kits can become inappetant and may die.
If the swelling of the eye is very noticeable (see a yellowish - greenish tinge), you can try a warm compress to the eye and pry the lids apart slightly to relieve the pressure and rinse with saline as best as possible. This condition can be painful to the kits (depending on how swollen the eyes are) and may cause them not to eat. Once the pressure has been relieved, you can start Sulfatrim (Trimethoprim - sulfa) at 30 mg/kg orally, 1-2 times daily depending on severity for 3-5 days. If the eyes are only minimally swollen (slightly reddish), you can try Sulfatrim only without opening the lids. In the past, eyes have been treated both ways here (previously mentioned and the one here) - but currently kits are being treated with Sulfatrim once the condition is identified.
This is not uncommon either. Typically, as the kits teeth begin to erupt (but can occur anytime between 2-5 weeks of age of the kits), they can cause trauma to the gland and mastitis can occur - or there is trauma from some other environmental source. It's best to recognize it as early as possible so that it can be treated and the kits can be fostered or cared for as needed. Here we usually treat with Sulfatrim (30 mg/kg orally 1-2 times daily depending on severity) but Clavamox would be appropriate too (10-20 mg/kg twice daily).
I have 2 more quick follow-ups regarding your procedures there.
1) Can the kits nurse if the jill is on Sulfatrim or Clavomox, or should they be prevented from nursing due to expected ill effects of these drugs on the kits?
In response to the first question, we have not seen ill effects to my knowledge when either of these 2 drugs have been used in individual kits for other health concerns (like the eye issue, etc.).
2) If it is okay for the kits to nurse while the jill is on Sulfatrim/Clavomox, do you all give the kits a chance to nurse and only hand-feed in the event that the jill is unable to nurse, or do you automatically switch to hand-feeding until the jill has recovered regardless of whether the jill can still nurse?
I imagine this would depend on the severity of mastitis. Best case scenario would be to remove the kits from the jill -- especially if the glands are not producing enough milk, poor milk, how many glands are affected or the jill isn't allowing the kits to nurse. We do not hand raise kits here because we have the luxury of being able to foster the kits onto another jill as needed. If the kits are 4 weeks or older, they should be able to eat a gruel (this is usually the time kits begin to leave the nest and eat a moistened diet).
Fostering aka using a different jill to nurse a kit
As I had mentioned, fostering is a very normal practice here and it usually done with a high success rate. If you have newborn kits (<1 week old), you should try to foster into another litter born within the same week as long as the other jill appears to have good milk production. We generally try to not exceed 8-10 kits per litter, but we also would not foster a large number of kits to a jill that had a small litter herself. You would just need to watch the kits to make sure they are thriving and that the natural born kits have not experienced a lack of nutrition because of the fostering. We find that this can be trial and error sometimes.