Nutritional Steatitis in Ferrets

Summary Information

Diseases / List of Micronutrient (Vitamin / Mineral) Diseases / Disease summary
Alternative Names
  • Yellow fat disease
Disease Agents
  • Diets high in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) and/or low in vitamin E. (B232.14.w14, J10.33.w2)
    • This may be e.g. oily marine fish or horse meat. (J195.11.w2)
    • Prolonged storage of foods at ambient temperature prior to freezing or after thawing. (J195.11.w2)
    • Insufficient antioxidants in the diet. (J195.11.w2)
Infectious Agent(s) --
Non-infectious Agent(s) --
Physical Agent(s) --
General Description
Clinical signs

In growing kits:

  • Depression, reluctance to move, (J10.33.w2, J195.11.w2)
  • Pain (indicated by crying) when handled on the lower abdomen. (J10.33.w2, J195.11.w2)
  • Under the skin, diffuse firm swellings. In the inguinal areas, bilateral prominent hard lumps. (J10.33.w2, J195.11.w2
  • Kits found dead (sudden death). (J10.33.w2, J195.11.w2)
  • Greenish diarrhoea. (J10.33.w2)
    • Blackish diarrhoea. (J195.11.w2)
  • Loss of appetite. (J195.11.w2)
  • Respiratory distress. (J195.11.w2)
  • Hind limb weakness. (J195.11.w2)
  • Clinical pathology:
    • Neutrophilia (massive) with left shift, (J10.33.w2, J195.11.w2) increased platelet count and mild microcytic normochromic anaemia. (J10.33.w2)

Gross pathology

  • Good body condition. (J10.33.w2)
  • Adipose: Fat yellow-brown in colour and feeling coarse and granular. (J10.33.w2, J195.11.w2)
    • In particular, fat in the inguinal, axillary and flank regions particularly firm (and 4 x 6 cm areas of fat in the inguinal region), also omental, mesenteric and falciform fat; less severe changes in perirenal fat. (J10.33.w2)
  • Splenic: spleen enlarged, pale. (J10.33.w2)


  • Inflammation and diffuse necrosis of fat. (J10.33.w2)
  • Replacement of adipose cells with neutrophils and macrophages. (J10.33.w2)
  • Muscle degeneration and necrosis may be present. (J195.11.w2)
Further Information
  • Growing animals are more susceptible to nutritional steatitis. (J195.11.w2)
  • Clinical disease occurred in growing kits, not in adult females fed the same diet. (J10.33.w2)
  • This can develop in unweaned kits. (J195.11.w2)
  • Clinical signs and history (diet containing 40% squid). (J10.33.w2)
  • Analysis of the diet showed high levels of PUFA. (J10.33.w2)
  • Liver from affected ferrets showed high levels of 20:5 w3 and 22:6 w3 fatty acids. (J10.33.w2)
  • Give vitamin E, initially 10 IU per ferret daily for two days by subcutaneous injection, then 30 mg per ferret daily orally (in the diet) for ten days (J10.33.w2), then 15 mg per ferret orally for five days, then 10 mg per ferret daily. (B232.14.w14, J10.33.w2)
  • Avoid feeding diets which may be high in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) or may contain rancid fats. (B232.14.w14, J195.11.w2)
  • Ensure adequate vitamin E levels in diets, and increase vitamin E intake if the diet contains higher levels of PUFA. (B232.14.w14, J195.11.w2)
  • Note: high selenium levels are not protective. (J10.33.w2)
  • Avoid prolonged storage of diets containing unprocessed fish/meat at ambient temperatures. (J195.11.w2)
Associated Techniques
Host taxa groups /species

Dr Debra Bourne MA VetMB PhD MRCVS (V.w5)


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