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Small Carnivore Medical Guidelines

Small Carnivore Medical Management Guidelines


Ann Manharth, DVM and Wynona Shellabarger, DVM




The classification "small carnivore” encompasses an extensive variety of animals.    The following recommendations include those for Procyonidae, Viverridae, and Mustelidae.  A number of individual species may already have medical programs thoroughly outlined by veterinary advisors and these should be reviewed and followed when they vary from  the general guidelines below.   Species with individual programs include North American river otters (Lontra canadensis), Asian small-clawed otters (Aonyx cinerea), black-footed ferrets (Mustela nigripes), and red pandas (Ailurus fulgens).  A list of veterinary advisors may be found at



The goals of pre-shipment planning and examination are to ascertain the animal’s health before, during, and after shipment and to protect the animal collection at the receiving institution.  In order to do this, communication between sending and receiving institutions is critical.  Ideally, this communication should occur directly between veterinary staffs at the two institutions to minimize confusion or delays. 

It is recommended that:

  • Records on the animal being shipped should be forwarded to the receiving institution in advance of the pre-shipment examination.
  • The receiving institution should promptly advise the sending institution of any specific testing and health requirements after review of the records.
  • After the pre-shipment examination has been completed, the sending institution should discuss any concerns with the receiving institution and forward copies of the examination and test results.
  • Any problems that may compromise an animal, such as parasitic or bacterial infections, should be addressed and resolved prior to shipment
  • The pre-shipment examination should ideally occur within 60 days of the shipment unless interstate shipping requirements or receiving institution requests differ.
  •  The sending institution should check with the state veterinary office of the receiving institution’s state for any testing requirements that may be additional/different than the institutional requirements (
  • A current diet sheet for the animal should be forwarded so that dietary items may be obtained in advance of the animal’s arrival.



It is recommended that a standardized, typed (not hand-written) form of record keeping be used.  MedARKS (International Species Information Systems (ISIS), 12101 Johnny Cake Ridge Rd., Apple Valley, MN  55124-8151) is used by a majority of institutions and enables a more consistent transfer of data.  When transferring data, both hard copies and disk should be provided to the receiving institution if MedARKS is available.

Medical records should be as complete as possible, including:

  1. medical history 
  2. identification (current ARKS record, transponder numbers, tattoos, etc.)
  3. clinical notes (including exam findings, diagnoses, vaccination history, etc.)
  4. parasitology
  5. anesthesia
  6. clinical pathology
  7. treatments (current medications, recent treatments, etc.)
  8. pathology
  9. reproductive status (contracepted, cycle details or abnormalities, etc.)
  10. nutritional information (nutritional deficiencies, supplements, allergies, etc.)
  11. behavioral/social group notes  (social traumas, aggression, training for medical procedures, etc.)
  12. Any pertinent group history should be included as well, especially if there is a history of infectious disease within the group or exhibit.
  13. As small carnivores are prone to dental disease, a thorough history of dental problems and, preferably, a dental chart noting extractions, root canals, problems, etc. is recommended.



All individuals should be permanently identified prior to shipment.  Transponder chips are recommended as a primary method, tattooing may be done in addition.


Transponders:  Two main brands are used and recommended:

            TrovanÒ (InfoPet Inc., 415 W. Travelers Trial, Burnsville, MN  55337-2548)

            AVIDÒ (Avid, 3179 Hamner Ave., Norco, CA  91760)

Chip type and implantation site may be specifically recommended based on the species (e.g. bridge of nose for otters) or even sex (e.g. AVID behind right ear for male black-footed ferrets), otherwise the general standard of over the back between the scapulae to the left of the midline should be applied.

Tattoo:  Males should be tattooed on the inner right thigh and females on the inner left.


Genetic materials banking:  Prior to shipping, it is recommended that genetic materials be banked.  This may provide positive identification should there ever be any question regarding an animal’s identity (e.g. transponder loss or breakage).  In addition, the materials may serve as a future resource for research.  Possible methods are detailed in Appendix I.



Ideally, the pre-shipment examination should occur at least two weeks prior to shipment.  This enables the animal to fully recover from anesthesia and respond to any vaccinations or treatments given.  There is also time for test results to be forwarded to the receiving institution.  With most small carnivores, crating does not require the use of an anesthetic, so this guideline should be not be a hardship with appropriate planning.


A complete pre-shipment examination should include the following and results should be documented in the record (photo documentation of specific problems may be valuable):

  1. Physical exam
    1. Body weight and body condition scoring (assessment scaled 1-5 or 1-10)
    2. Heart rate, respiratory rate, body temperature, hydration status
    3. Oral exam: including dental chart documentation.  Any problems should be noted and addressed if possible.  Dental cleaning and polishing should be completed if necessary.
    4. Ophthalmologic exam
    5. Ear exam:  appropriate diagnostics should be completed if there is any indication of problems.  Cleaning and treatment should be done if necessary.
    6. Auscultation
    7. Abdominal palpation
    8. Assessment of genitalia, including rectal palpation in both sexes if of a size to permit safely
    9. Skin/coat assessment:  any problems should be worked up with appropriate diagnostics.
    10. Feet/nails
  2. Verification of transponder or tattoo (placement/replacement if necessary)
  3. Sample Collection
    1. Blood

                                                               i.      CBC

                                                             ii.      Serum chemistry panel

                                                            iii.      Heartworm antigen:  recommended if housed outside as many small carnivores are susceptible to heartworm

                                                           iv.      Serum banking (receiving institution may request serum as well)

                                                             v.      Genetic materials banking

                                                           vi.      Research requests, if any

    1. Urine

                                                               i.      For standard urinalysis, via cystocentesis 

                                                             ii.      If there are any current or historical urinary tract problems, cultures should be submitted

    1. Fecal

                                                               i.      Two negative fecals, one week apart, should be obtained prior to shipment

                                                             ii.      Fresh direct and float or sedimentation should be completed

                                                            iii.      Acid fast staining should be completed if there is any history or indication of cryptosporidiosis

                                                           iv.      Culture should be submitted if requested or if there is any history or indication of infectious bacterial disease (e.g. salmonellosis)

    1. Genetic materials, see Appendix I

                                                               i.      Blood

                                                             ii.      Skin

                                                            iii.      Hair

  1. Radiographs
    1. Chest and abdominal survey radiographs should be completed
    2. Any problems (e.g. previous fractures, renal calculi, etc.) should be documented
    3. Ideally, a duplicate set of radiographs should be made to go with the animal to the new institution.  This is especially important if there is a problem that is going to need follow-up.  A duplicate set can be made by placing two layers of film in the cassette prior to exposing, though this is does not provide as good quality films as having copies made.  Alternatively, digital images of the radiographs can be made though quality is not always optimum for interpretation.



Vaccinations should be current or updated before the animal is shipped.   Once again, if there is a veterinary advisor or husbandry manual available for the specific species, review this information in the references or contact the advisor if there are questions. 

Specifics regarding type/lot of vaccine and site of injection should be recorded in the animal’s record.

Most recommendations are not based on scientific studies done on the specific species.

  1. Canine Distemper
    1. PUREVAXÒ Ferret Distemper Vaccine (Merial Ltd., 3239 Satellite Blvd.,

Duluth, GA  30096) is a monovalent recombinant canary pox vectored   vaccine.  It has been used in a number of small carnivores with minimal adverse effects and development of titers, which appear to be protective (see for recommendations based on

Dr. Montali’s study).

                                                               i.      Dose:  1ml

                                                             ii.      Route:  IM

                                                            iii.      Frequency

1.      Vaccinated adults:  annually

2.      Unvaccinated adults:  two vaccinations 3-4 weeks apart, then annually

3.      Juveniles:  three vaccinations, every three to four weeks from 8 to 16 weeks of age (e.g. 8, 12 and 16 weeks)

  1. Parvovirus
    1. ParvocineÒ (Biocor Animal Health Inc., 2720 North 84th Street, Omaha, NE  68134) is a killed univalent parvovirus vaccine.

                                                               i.      Dose:  1ml

                                                             ii.      Route: IM

                                                            iii.      Frequency:  same as listed above for Distemper


  1. Leptospirosis
    1. If leptospirosis has been diagnosed or is endemic in the area, a killed bacterin could be used, though most of these are currently in combination vaccines.
  2. Rabies
    1. Only a killed rabies vaccine product should be used.  Though it is recommended, use of rabies vaccines in these species will be extra-label and will not be considered protective in the event of a bite.
    2. ImrabÒ3 (Merial Ltd., 3239 Satellite Blvd., Duluth, GA  30096) is a killed rabies vaccine that has been used extensively in small carnivores without apparent adverse effects.

                                                               i.      Dose:  1ml

                                                             ii.      Route:  IM

                                                            iii.      Frequency:  once at 16 weeks of age, then annually

    1. PUREVAXÒ  Feline Rabies (Merial Ltd., 3239 Satellite Blvd., Duluth, GA  30096) is a live canarypox vectored, nonadjuvanted recombinant rabies vaccine that is currently being used at some institutions for small carnivores.

                                                               i.      Dose:  1ml

                                                             ii.      Route:  IM

                                                            iii.      Frequency:  once at age 8 weeks or older, then annually

  1. Feline Panleukopenia
    1. AAZV’s Infectious Disease Notebook notes that some small carnivores are susceptible to feline panleukopenia and should be vaccinated and many small carnivores have been vaccinated with a combination product in the past.  However, a number of veterinary advisors do not suggest vaccination in their recommendations, including red pandas and black-footed ferrets.  Veterinary advisor recommendations should be followed primarily.
    2. If there is significant risk of exposure to feline panleukopenia (e.g. feral cat population), vaccination should be considered. 
    3. FPV-1Ò Feline Panleukopenia Vaccine (Biocor Animal Health Inc., 2720 North 84th Street, Omaha, NE  68134) is a new non-adjuvanted, killed vaccine.

                                                               i.      Dose:  1ml

                                                             ii.      Route:  SQ

                                                            iii.      Frequency:  at least two vaccines three weeks apart at/after 12 weeks of age.  If started before 12 weeks, give a third vaccine.

Then annually.           

                                                           iv.      This vaccine has been shown to be safe in pregnant domestic cats.


  1. Titer Evaluations
    1. Distemper, parvovirus, and leptospiral titers can be evaluated by submitting serum to:  Cornell Diagnostic Laboratory

College of Veterinary Medicine

Cornell University

Upper Tower Road

Ithica, NY  14851-0786

Ph:  607-253-3900



With the wide variety of species included within "small carnivore”, only general recommendations will be provided.

  1. Crates should be designed so that the animal can assume normal postures, including turning around.  IATA recommendations should be followed. Crates

should be of impervious materials as many small carnivores are diggers or chewers and this will allow for proper disinfection as well.  Some small carnivores are considered "injurious species” (e.g. meerkats) and are required to be double crated for shipment.

  1. Animals should be crated individually to avoid aggression.
  2. Animals should only be shipped when the weather is appropriate at all points along the shipping route.  Unplanned delays and errors should be considered as possibilities and risky shipments (e.g. too hot at site of layover) should be rescheduled.  This may be true even for counter-to-counter shipments.
  3. Appropriate temperature ranges will vary by species, but a "safe” window would be between 50 and 75 degrees F for most small carnivores.
  4. Methods of providing visual access and water to the animal should be addressed.  The crate should otherwise be secure from tampering.
  5. Most small carnivores will not require anesthesia for crating.  In the event that anesthesia is required, the animal should be fully recovered (standing and stable) prior to shipping.  Ideally, an inhalant or reversible anesthetic should be used in these cases.



Quarantine is the next step in assuring the health of the new arrival and the protection of the animals already in the collection.  General quarantine guidelines have been outlined by AAZV and AZA.  It is critical that protocols be developed and followed.

  1. Length – minimum of 30 days for small carnivores
  2. Examination
    1. Visual exam should be performed upon arrival, preferably at uncrating.  A body weight can easily be obtained at this time as well (in the crate).
    2. Ideally, a physical exam should be completed during the third week of the quarantine.  This allows the animal to adjust to the environment and dietary changes and allows test results to come back before the end of quarantine.

                                                               i.      Physical exam, verification of ID, sample collection, and radiographs should be completed as detailed for pre-shipment.

                                                             ii.      Repeating this work will provide a baseline for the animal at the new institution (especially for radiographs), allow any problems to be rechecked, and potentially reveal new problems that may have developed during the stress of shipment and quarantine. 

                                                            iii.      Vaccinations should have been given during pre-shipment if needed, but, if not, should be given during quarantine before exposure to a new environment.

  1. Fecals
    1. A minimum of three consecutive negative fecals (fresh direct and float or sedimentation), each one week apart, should be obtained before clearing from quarantine.
    2. Appropriate treatment for any parasites should be administered while in quarantine and three negative fecals should be obtained post-treatment.
    3. Cultures and special stains should be repeated during this time if there has been a history of infectious disease in this animal or its previous group.  In the event of an infectious bacterial intestinal disease (e.g. salmonellosis), it is recommended that repeated cultures be submitted (three per week) in order to identify or document the condition.
  2. Nutrition
    1. Most diets are not going to be identical from one institution to the next.  It is recommended that the sending institutions diet be obtained in advance of the animal’s arrival.  This enables the receiving institution to provide a familiar diet to the animal upon arrival and for the first week of quarantine.  The sending institution may want to send some of the regular diet with the animal.
    2. After the first week of quarantine, if the animal is doing well, the new diet should slowly be introduced.  If this is done at a rate of approximately 25% of new diet exchanged for old per week, the animal should be converted to the new diet by the end of quarantine and should avoid any problems associated with dietary change.


Preventive Health


In order to appropriately ensure the health of small carnivores, it is recommended that a physical examination take place on a routine basis.


Routine exam

  1. Physical exam: as detailed in pre-shipment
  2. Verification of identification
  3. Sample collection
    1. Blood

                                                               i.      CBC/chem. panel

                                                             ii.      HW antigen

                                                            iii.      Serum banking

                                                           iv.      Research requests

                                                             v.      Viral titers:  as there is little information about vaccine titer levels in many of these species, it is suggested that titers be run opportunistically and documented as to time from vaccination(s), route, vaccine product and titer level.  See above for information on obtaining titers.

    1. Urine:  as detailed in pre-shipment
    2. Fecals:  should be submitted at a minimum of annually; twice annually is recommended
    3. Genetic materials should only need to be collected once if preserved properly.
  1. Radiographs:  chest and abdomen minimally (this is especially important for monitoring renal calculi in otters)
  2. Vaccination:  as detailed above



  1. Weights:  ideally weights should be recorded monthly (accomplished with the aid of training)
  2. Heartworm Preventative:  in areas where the animal is housed outside and heartworm is endemic, ivermectin at 0.006 mg/kg orally once a month may be used for prevention.  This dose has been used safely and effectively in a number of small carnivores.
  3. Reports of disease issues, adverse drug reactions, etc. should be reported to the veterinary advisor or TAG on an annual basis, in addition to submission of necropsy reports.



All small carnivores that die should receive a thorough necropsy in a timely manner.  This will help establish cause of death, provide valuable insight into the health of the collection, and help protect the other animals in the social grouping by delineating any immediate concerns.



  1. Blood: serum banking
  2. Radiographs post-mortem
  3. External exam, including weight and description of condition of body


  1. Internal exam
    1. A detailed written report should be completed.
    2. Cultures should be submitted, if indicated
    3. Photo documentation, if possible
    4. Submission of a representative sample of all lesions AND routine tissues:

                                                               i.      Skin, muscle, sciatic nerve, bone (femur), tongue, salivary gland, eye, brain, pituitary, trachea, thyroid, parathyroid, thymus, esophagus, lymph nodes (thoracic and abdominal), lung, bronchus, heart, aorta, liver, gall bladder, diaphragm, spleen, pancreas, stomach, duodenum, jejunum, ileum, ileocolic jxn, colon, adrenal, kidneys, bladder, ureter, urethra, reproductive organs

                                                             ii.      It is recommended that a pathologist familiar with non-traditional species be used for histopathology.

                                                            iii.      Reproductive organs should be submitted to: Dr. Linda Munson, Dept. of VM-PM1, Haring Hall, School of Veterinary Medicine,

   University of California, Davis, CA  95616 as a standing request.

    1. Frozen set of tissues:  heart, liver, kidney, brain, serum, lesions
    2. Any stones (uroliths, renoliths, etc.) should be submitted for analysis to: Minnesota Urolith Center, Dept. of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Minnesota, 1352 Boyd Avenue, St. Paul, MN  55108


 A complete report, including histopath and test results, should be submitted to the veterinary advisor on an annual basis.



Appendix I


Methods for Banking Genetic Materials



Avoid contamination of genetic samples; wear gloves, clean equipment, etc.

The protocols are listed in preferential order:


1. Whole Blood

            A. Minimum required volume: 0.05ml (1 drop)

B. Lysis buffer (all ingredients may be obtained from Sigma)

            0.1 M Tris-HCl (pH 8.0)            (bring to pH with HCl)

0.1 M EDTA (pH 8.0)                  (bring to pH with NaOH)           

0.1  M NaCl

2% (w/v) SDS (sodium dodecyl sulfate)

            C. Protocol

1.      Draw blood; if anti-coagulant is needed, heparin is preferable, but

      EDTA is acceptable

                        2.   Mix 1:1 with buffer (a little more buffer is acceptable) in cryovial

3.   Label with Animal, ID#, Date, Institution, Sample type (e.g. whole  

blood with heparin in lysis buffer)

                        4.   Freeze at –70 degrees F


2. Tissue Biopsies (skin with dermis or muscle)

A. Minimum required volume: at least this "·”  big

Maximum required volume:  piece(s) should be no larger than 0.4 cm3, section if necessary  

B.  Place in cryovial         

C.  Label with Animal, ID#, Date, Institution, Sample type

            D.  Freeze immediately at -70° F


3. Hair

A.     Minimum required amount: 1 follicle; 10-20 preferred.   Follicles ust be attached.

B.     Place follicle ends in a cryovial; with sterile scissors cut follicles into vial.  Always use gloves when handling the hairs.

C.     Label with Animal, ID#, Date, Institution, Sample type

D. Freeze immediately at -70° F


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