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Pet Therapy- Are ferrets safe at continuing care facilities?

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Please provide suggestions and "scientific" insight into the questions written below (1-3). The topic is as follows:

Should continuing care facilities permit ferrets to take part in pet therapy programs?." Please answer these questions.

1. I have to make a decision based on facts and research (my own opinion is not good enough); i.e., I need to provide references- can't use ".com" webpages

2. I have to compare qualities between these new "kids" with other animals that have been regular participants in pet therapy;

3. Is there disease transmission potential as compared to the regulars.

Please provide references used. Thank you.

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Solution Summary

By responding to the questions about pet therapy, this solution answers the question: Should continuing care facilities permit ferrets to take part in pet therapy programs? Supplemented with two articles on Pet therapy. References are provided.

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Posting: 28435 Deadline: November/15/2004 3:22 pm

Description Pet therapy- Are ferret's safe for a continuing care facility?
Posting I have a short assignment and am having fun researching. However, I always like to be a little different and was hoping a T.A might have new "scientific" insight into the questions written below (1-3). The scientific research I have attained thus far indicates they are can carry a variety of viruses that can be passed to humans (influenza). Also that they can attack humans, require a lot of training, and can get into small places and spread diseases.

The assignment goes as follows.
Should continuing care facilitie spermit ferrets to take part in pet therapy programs." I have to answer these questions.

1.I have to make a decision based on facts and research (my own opinion is not good enough); i.e., I need to provide references- can't use ".com" webpages

2. I have to compare qualities between these new "kids" with other animals that have been regular participants in pet therapy;

3. Is there disease transmission potential as compared to the regulars

Subject: Health Sciences Level: Year 2
Topic: Health Promotion and Disease & Injury Prevention Bid Amount: 1 Credit(s)

1. "Should continuing care facilities permit ferrets to take part in pet therapy programs."
Some research suggests that ferrets (those with temperaments suitable for therapy) can take part in pet therapy (similar to other animals, such as cats and dogs) (McNicholas, 1997). However, this author points out that the myth of all ferrets as aggressive and obtrusive (and some are, just like some dogs and some cats are) will have to be dismissed before ferrets are welcomed more healthcare agencies (see article attached for more details "ferret therapy').

After a quick glean of the research on "pet therapy" and the types of animals that make the best therapy animals, there does not seem to be any hard evidence to suggest that ferrets should not be permitted to take part in pet therapy programs in continuing care facilities. However, like cats and dogs, for example, the temperaments have to be tested to determine if they are suited for "pet therapy" and, if they are, the animals receive certification as therapy animals (i.e., for ferrets, this means that they are gentle animals with a great deal of patience and the willingness to be passed from person to person, picked up, held on laps, stroked by unsteady hands, and to be generally "loved on.") (McNicholas, 1997). However, some people have self-trained their pets for Pet Therapy, as well. There are, however, official training programs available. (http://www.bancroftcyberfair.com/pets.html).

According to Chomel (1992), although pet ferrets (as well as prohibited from 'pet therapy') are prohibited in California, 5 million to 7 million of them are reported to live in the United States. Many highly publicized biting episodes have occurred, with a pattern of pathology similar to that of other common house pets. In addition, 13 cases of rabies have been reported in ferrets in the United States, most occurring in animals sold as pets from pet stores. Both rabies and bite management are discussed in further detail later in this article. (See article in full below). Although a little known fact, ferrets are very susceptible to influenza and even serve as the animal model for laboratory study of the disease. Symptoms are similar to manifestations in humans, and transmission occurs readily between the two species. Ferrets also can harbor Salmonella and Campylobacter species in their intestinal flora, and although no cases of transmission from ferret to human have been reported, they should be considered as reservoirs of these organisms (Chomel, 1992) (listed in the reference list of the article below)
What are some characteristics of a Pet Therapy animal? Judy Stein (2002) suggests the following good qualities:
• calm
• loving
• obedient and well behaved
• people-friendly and good with strangers
• good with other animals
• able to be in a crowd and not react to loud noises
• clean
• gentle but strong
• not a jumper .
Do you think the ferret fits the bill? I would think that some do, but as McNicholas (1997) points out, ferrets (like other animals) must go through a stringent testing period to make sure they fit the criteria for a pet therapy animal.
Dogs for example, Therapy Dogs International, Inc. (TDI) provides registered therapy dog teams. A dog's skills and behaviors are checked using the American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen Test with some extra requirements. These additional parts include:
• Reaction to Medical Equipment
• "Leave It"
• Acclimation to Infirmities
• Supervised Separation
• "Say Hello"
Dogs who pass all the AKC requirements of the test will receive the AKC-CGC Certificate.
Some of the guidelines set by the TDI for successful therapy dogs include:
• well groomed, clean, and able to be groomed by a stranger
• proof of health and all shots
• appear healthy, alert
• yearly physical and stool check, animal heartworm checkup
• accept strangers
• walk on a loose lead
• walk through a crowd
• sit for an examination (not shy of people)
• sit and lay down on command
• stay in position
• show no more than a casual interest in strange dogs
• no reaction to distraction
• can be left alone without trainer
In the UK, ferrets are used quite frequently for therapy with children. From a news clip, for example, one news reporter says this:
"Not feeling well? I've got just the thing ferret...
Children in hospitals and schools across the West Midlands, UK, are being visited by three furry ferrets who have apparently helped children come to terms with their illnesses and injuries and overcome their fears of being in hospital. Dr June McNicholas (see article attached "ferret therapy') last month told the British Small Animal Veterinary Association that Robyn, a white albino female and Stonybridge, a blind male have helped children over the last 6 years in what she describes as 'Ferret Therapy'. Playing with the ferrets apparently encourages children to ask questions about their illnesses and Stonybridge in particular shows young blind children that sight defects don't have to stop you from having fun and enjoying life. Dr McNicholas adds "When the ferrets have had operations, they can see the stitches on them and feel more confident about what it means to have stitches themselves". (News Archive, May 24, 2002).
The following article is highly relevant and has some important characteristics of ferrets to consider before incorporating ferrets into therapy:

Ferrets as Therapy Animals
By Nanette Thurber
Fox Valley Ferret Rescue
I have been involved with a local humane society for a number of years and in a number of ways. One of the most rewarding has been as a part of their pet therapy program.
It began when I saw a posting looking for cats to become involved with a pet therapy program that the humane society was trying to expand from "dogs only." Because of the success I have had with ferrets in other shelter-sponsored events, and because the therapy coordinator had seen the ferrets in action, I arranged to take a pair of ferrets to an adult daycare center run by the Visiting Nurse Association. I cleared the ferrets with the recreational therapist in advance, to make sure she was comfortable with the idea (she turned out to be a ferret lover). From the moment they arrived at the center, the ferrets were in their glory and made regular return trips, as my hectic schedule allowed.
An average visit lasted between 30 and 45 minutes, depending on the group, which changes at the center from day to day. Some groups wanted information about ferrets, while others just wanted to hold or pet "the little animals." I generally talked about the ferrets I brought with me while the people interacted with them. I talked about the difference in size (Dianne was female, Phoenix was male), recommended veterinary care, common illnesses (Dianne had adrenal surgery, Phoenix had insulinoma), dietary requirements, life span, etc.
People participate in the adult daycare for a variety of reasons, but most are either elderly or physically disabled. While some have been reluctant to handle the ferrets, most are curious about them and are happy to pet or hold a ferret. Two of my ferrets, Dianne and Phoenix, received certification as therapy animals. This meant that they were gentle animals with a great deal of patience and the willingness to be passed from person to person, picked up, held on laps, stroked by unsteady hands, and to be generally "loved on." Each person interested in holding a ferret was given a tube of ferretvite to help keep the ferret from exploring or ear cleaning. A woman at one session gleefully announced "my grandchildren will never believe I held a ferret!" Luckily, I had my camera and provided "proof."
One therapy session with the ferrets even resulted in two new ferrets moving into my home. I had been talking to one of the participants about his ferrets, which I mistakenly believed referred to ferrets he had at an earlier point in his life, prior to the onset of his illness. The next morning, a woman called me at home, and asked if I was the person who took ferrets to the VNA. When I answered yes, she asked if it was true that I rescue ferrets. I again answered yes, and she then asked, "Will you rescue mine?" She then explained that her husband had been at the previous day's therapy session, and the ferrets he had talked about where current pets, along with a dog and several cats. She broke into tears when she explained that she loved the ferrets very much, but that caring for her husband, their daughter, the ferrets, the other animals, and working, was "just too much." I picked up Baron and Gizmo that evening. Grizzly Bear (nee Gizmo) eventually joined Dianne and Phoenix as a certified therapy ferret. He was able to make connections with visually impaired people, as he had been blinded in one eye by a pellet gun.
Although Dianne, Phoenix and Grizzly Bear have all gone to the rainbow bridge, other ferrets have stepped in to continue the educational efforts.
It is important to point out that none of the ferrets in my home have been specially breed or trained as a therapy or educational animal. In fact every last ferret living in my home came in as a rescue - some abused or neglected, but most simply "thrown away" by people after the novelty wore off. The fact that ferrets coming out of situations like these are gentle and loving enough to be therapy animals should help convince the skeptics that ferrets are far from the vicious animals detractors try to paint them.
While I am strongly in favor of ferret owners becoming involved with therapy programs, as well as other public education or awareness activities, I would like to point out that not all ferrets have the correct personality for such things. Just as some dogs and cats are too nervous or aggressive, some ferrets are either too playful or too prone to nipping to meet the general public. Remember, many people misunderstand the weasel wardance, and one nip can turn a person against ferrets, as well as endangering the ferret, so make sure you know your fuzzy well before you take him out to be adored. (Nanette Thurber, 2002).
2. I have to compare qualities between these new "kids" with other animals that have been regular participants in pet therapy; and is there disease transmission potential as compared to the regulars?

Based on veterinary research findings, ferrets are susceptible to the following:

General Information

Ferrets have several unique problems; understanding these problems will allow you to better care for your pet and minimize future health care problems.

Enlarged Spleen

During a physical examination, it is not uncommon for your veterinarian to find an enlarged spleen, especially if your ferret is an older pet. While not a sign of any one disease, it does indicate the need for further investigation. Several diseases that can result in splenic enlargement include inflammation of the spleen, malignant tumors, cancer, and heart disease. Obviously an enlarged spleen is a serious sign that indicates the need for complete laboratory testing to determine the cause. Occasionally, diagnostic tests are negative for a specific disease, in which case the diagnosis of "benign hypersplenism" or "benign splenomegaly" will be made.

Aplastic anemia

Aplastic anemia literally refers to bone marrow suppression, which results in a complete loss of red blood cells (and often white blood cells and platelets) in the bone marrow. This disease is rarely seen due to early (pre-purchase) spaying of female ferrets. However, ferrets that are not spayed and not bred when they are "in heat" stay in heat indefinitely. While in heat, the ferret's estrogen levels remain high. High doses of estrogen are very toxic to bone marrow.

Signs of aplastic anemia include lethargy and pale mucus membranes in a female intact ferret that is obviously in heat (manifested by a swollen vulva, the outer lips of the female reproductive tract).

Treatment includes hormonal therapy to bring the ferret out of heat, antibiotics, iron, vitamins, and often blood transfusions. After stabilization, the ferret is spayed. Ferrets with extremely low packed cell volumes, which measures the red blood cell mass, usually are beyond help and euthanasia is recommended. This is a very serious and often expensive disease to treat. All female ferrets that will not be bred at every heat cycle should be spayed by 4-6 months of age.

Heat Stroke

Ferrets are very susceptible to extreme heat, and as such their environmental temperature should be kept below 80 degrees Fahrenheit (26 C). Just like dogs and cats, ferrets don't sweat. Heat stroke is manifested by open mouth breathing and an elevated rectal temperature (normal temperature is between 100-104 degrees Fahrenheit (37.7 - 38.8 C); average temperature is about the same as dog and cats (101.5 F or 38 C). Heat stroke is a true emergency. First aid involves rapidly cooling the ferret by running cold water over its body, fanning it, or whatever is needed to rapidly reduce its body temperature. Be careful not to chill the ferret or cause shivering; if shivering results, stop the cooling process. After a few minutes of attempted cooling, rush the ferret to your veterinarian. Medical care by your veterinarian includes temperature reduction (often with cold water enemas or cold fluids instilled into its abdominal cavity). Hospitalization is required to monitor vital signs.

Canine Distemper

Ferrets can contract the dog distemper virus. Like ...

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