Ferrets give blood for rare disorder

THERE are occasions when we have reason to be extremely grateful to organisations or individuals outwith the practice; the farrier who makes a plate for a bull’s fractured hoof, the pharmacy that provides an obscure emergency drug at short notice or the falconer who rehabilitates birds of prey after surgery. Recently however, it was North East Ferret Rescue that has, indeed, come to the rescue.

Rolo is a ferret and a fantastic character. He is fortunate to have an extremely devoted owner, but is most unfortunate in having an extremely rare disorder of his bone marrow.

At the start of the year, extensive diagnostic testing culminating in bone marrow biopsies confirmed that Rolo suffers from a condition so rare that it had been reported only once before and that was in the USA.

Rolo’s immune system has, misguidedly, started attaching those cells in his bone marrow that would develop into red blood cells, resulting in a life-threatening anaemia.

Although we started treatment to address the immune system problems immediately, it will be some time before Rolo starts making red blood cells for himself and in the meantime his blood count would fall dangerously low. Rolo needed a blood transfusion, but unlike human, or indeed dog blood, there is no ready supply of stored ferret blood.

We went on the search for donor ferrets. Rolo’s long-term housemate Pebbles proved to be a ready (if not desperately willing) volunteer and Rolo was a grateful recipient of a leg full of his little buddy’s blood. Two weeks later, however, when Rolo was in need of a further top up of the red stuff (a new breed of Transylvanian ferret springs to mind) we could not, safely, tap Pebbles again.

Andrea, Head of our Nursing Auxiliary Team, stepped into the breach with her magnificent (and generous) hobb ferret Slinky, whose kind donation has ensured Rolo continues to do well.

It was with some anxiety, however, that I realised we had exhausted our supply of donors. While on-going blood transfusions are not a long-term option for Rolo’s care, it is essential that we sustain him for long enough for his own bone marrow to start working for itself, and to buy him that time he may well require another donor in the future.

To that end I approached North East Ferret Rescue – an excellent charity based in Prudhoe. Having heard of Rolo’s plight, the charity agreed without hesitation to offer the service of one of their bigger lads.

The charity does wonderful work finding ideal families with which to rehome their furry friends. Add to that the improved hope that its generosity offers Rolo and it certainly deserves our thanks.


Director and Senior Vet