This vaccine has not only gone through many changes over the years, it has also been controversial among veterinarians, shelters and ferret caregivers. From Fervac-D to Purevax and even Galaxy D, currently the only canine distemper vaccine available is NOBIVAC DPv by Merck. It is USDA approved for dogs and considered off label use for ferrets but it’s all we have right now to protect our fuzzies from this horribly dreaded virus. It has been used in Europe (particularly in the Netherlands) for many years, proven to be safe and effective and with very few serious reactions.

Fervac-D made by United Vaccines was the first USDA approved vaccine for ferrets in 1992 though it had a high rate of serious reactions, or at least high enough to cause some people to stop using it (informal survey from the FML in 1993 reported 28%). Schering Plough’s Galaxy D (previously Fromm-D same survey reported only 6.1% had reactions), an approved canine distemper vaccine for dogs, was found to be an effective and safer alternative, though it was considered off label use for ferrets. There was limited testing in ferrets but the efficacy and safety was enough for a large percentage of the ferret community to begin using it in place of Fervac-D. It was my own personal choice and I continued to use it up until it was eventually discontinued in 2011. There was never a report of an outbreak of canine distemper in any ferret who had been vaccinated with Galaxy D. Fervac-D was finally discontinued in 2006.

In 2004, Merial came out with Purevax, another USDA approved canine distemper vaccine for ferrets but thankfully, with very few reported adverse reactions. This quickly became the favorite and the primary vaccine within the ferret community, though some still used the old standby, Galaxy D.  

Unfortunately by 2012, Merial wasn’t producing enough Purevax. It seemed to be on terminal backorder and getting harder to find at vet clinics that might still happen to have a few doses left. There were discussions in ferret forums such as the FHL where Merial was contacted and said that they had “stopped production” but that it had not been “discontinued.” Hmmm. Are we splitting hairs here? There has been other talk about “technical issues” and even the possibility that it just wasn’t profitable enough but nobody seems to know why after 2 years, it’s still unavailable. So far, Merial hasn’t made an effort to reach out and provide an explanation, so we hear about it second hand from those who had to make contact with them.

To add insult to injury, Schering Plough discontinued Galaxy D in January 2011, leaving us without any vaccine at all. The ferret community has been hung out to dry in my opinion. We have all been left to speculate, exasperated and worried, all the shelters in a panic and clearly left without a solution.

Unbeknownst to those of us here in the USA, the Europeans have had the solution all along. NOBIVAC Puppy DPv has been used for years in Europe (The Netherlands specifically for 20 years) with apparently a safe and effective history. Information slowly began to trickle out of the Netherlands into the U.S. where we could investigate this new (to us) vaccine.

Nobivac is a “combo” vaccine so it comes bundled with Parvo, a virus specific to dogs only so it obviously doesn’t provide any protection for ferrets. It’s unfortunate that we have to inject our ferrets with a vaccine that is unnecessary but so far, there have been no reported serious reactions. According to Merck, some of the Nobivac combo vaccines use the same strain of Galaxy D which is great news but we’re not sure whether Nobivac DPv is one of them. Regardless, so far it’s been a great alternative.  

Let’s talk about off label use. If “off label” use concerns you, let’s put it in perspective. Consider how many drugs are available, even for humans that are produced for a specific symptom or disease but often prescribed for other reasons. We also administer human meds to our pets such as Pepcid, Carafate, Lupron, Benadryl, Melatonin, Corticosteroids (Prednisone), Metoclopramide (Reglan), Ciproheptadine (appetite stimulant), and the list goes on.

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