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Labora/ory Animals (1993) 27, 26-29

Practical venipuncture techniques for the ferret


Division of Comparative Medicine, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA

Summary As the number of ferrets (Mustela putorius Juro ) used in research and kept as pets continues to rise, so does the need for simple, humane research and diagnostic techniques. We have developed venipuncture methods for the ferret

utilizing the jugular and cephalic veins. Using

these methods it is possible to repeatedly sample moderate volumes of blood and to perform intra- venous injections in both conscious and sedated ferrets.

Keywords: Ferret; Venipuncture; Bleeding methods

Ferrets continue to grow in popularity as research animals and as pets, and as a result there is an increasing demand upon veterinarians and techni- cians to obtain venous blood samples and/or establish venous access. It has been previously reported that the superficial veins of the ferret are not satisfactory for routine venipuncture (Williams, 1976; Fox, 1988) or that anaesthesia is necessary to utilize them (Bleakley, 1980). For these reasons, a number of ferret bleeding techni- ques have been detailed in the literature. Cardiac puncture (Fox, 1988), retro-orbital bleeding (Fox et 01., 1984), and the use of surgically-implanted catheters (Greener & Gilles, 1985; Mesina et al., 1988) are useful under special circumstances but are too invasive for routine use. Although the tail bleeding technique (Bleakley, 1980; Curl & Curl, 1985) is adequate for obtaining small

'Present address: Animal Resources Center, Committee on Comparative Medicine and Pathology, University of Chicago, Chicago IL 60637, USA.

Received 17 December /991; accepted 22 May 1992

volumes of blood under some circumstances, we have found the results to be too variable to rely upon it for obtaining samples crucial to a diagnostic workup or research protocol. Collect- ing blood from a clipped toenail (Ryland et al., 1983) or punctured foot-pad (Andrews, 1987) is

also less than optimal since the resulting sample

is often poor in terms of both quantity and quality. Recently, some reports have mentioned jugular venipuncture but no description of the technique was given (Ryland et 01., 1983; Moody et 01. 1985; Andrews, 1987; Randolph, 1989; Heard et al., 1990). Jugular venipuncture (for blood sampling) and cephalic venipuncture (for intravascular administration) are the methods of choice in dogs and cats. The purpose of this report is to describe similar techniques which we have developed for use in the ferret.

Materials and methods Animals Adult ferrets (Mustela putorius Jura) used to establish these techniques were purchased and manipulated as part of research protocols previ- ously approved by the institutional animal care and use committee. Animals were housed singly or in compatible pairs in stainless steel cages and were maintained in compliance with the standards of the American Association for Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care. A commercial cat diet (Purina Cat Chow, Ralston Purina Co., $t Louis, MO, USA) was fed once a day and animals were given water ad libitum.

Cephalic venipuncture The cephalic vein is readily utilized for intra- venous injections and for the placement of intra- venous catheters. We have adapted a technique previously described for use in the hamster

Ferret venipuncture

Fig. 1. Cephalic venipuncture in the ferret.

(Ransom, 1984). An assistant firmly grasps the neck scruff of the ferret with one hand and the rear legs with the other, holding the animal extended in a vertical position. Ferrets often remain immobile when held in this manner, possibly due to an instinctual reaction to a 'dominant' grip. A quick release tourniquet (fashioned from a piece of rubber band and an aJIigator clip or bulldog clamp) is applied above the elbow to distend the vein. For single low- volume intravenous injections, a 25 gauge needle is advanced through the skin and into the vessel while slight negative pressure is maintained with the syringe (Fig. 1). When blood is visualized in the hub of the needle, one hand is used to hold the leg and steady the syringe while the other releases the tourniquet prior to injection. For intermittent injections or sustained infusions, a 22 gauge indwelling catheter is placed in a similar fashion. Ferret skin is dense, and it may be necessary to carefully pierce the skin overlying the vessel with a 20 gauge needle prior to the placement of an over-the-needle type catheter in order to avoid catheter buckling.

Jugular venipuncture Manual restraint using a towel-wrapping techni- que is adequate to successfully bleed the majority of ferrets. The animal is firmly but carefully grasped around the anterior thorax and suspended in a vertical position. The forelegs of the ferret are extended down along its body and held in this


Fig. 2. The neck of a shaved ferret. The dotted lines indicate the position of the external jugular veins.

position while a towel is tightly wound around the animal 3 or 4 times in a manner which leaves the head and neck uncovered. Venipuncture is performed with the wrapped animal lying on a table in dorsal recumbency with an assistant restraining and positioning the head of the animal as necessary. The external jugular veins of the ferret are relatively superficial and when distended they can be seen to extend cranio- laterally from the midline at the thoracic inlet to a point just below the base of the ears (Fig. 2). Venipuncture is most successful if the neck of the animal is supported by the last three fingers of one hand while the vein is occluded with the thumb. The index finger is then used to 'milk' blood down the vein and occlude it above the point of venipuncture (Fig. 3). This will result

in full distension of the vein, greatly increasing

the probability of successful venipuncture. The skin is stretched taut between the thumb and index finger in order to minimize the tendency of the vessel to roll. Blood is drawn with a

syringe tipped with a 20, 22 or 23 gauge I in.

needle bent at an approximate 30 0 angle. The needle is first advanced through the relatively tough skin of the ferret at a point slightly lateral


.'ig. 3. The vein is occluded both above and below the point of needle insertion. The distended vein has been moved

medially and immobilized

by applying

overlying skin.


on the


Fig. 4. A conscious, towel-wrapped ferret being bled via the jugular vein. The animal is being distracted by placing a small amount of Nutri-cal(!) paste on its nose.

to the vein, and then is redirected in order to pierce the vessel. A slight 'pop' may be felt as the distended vessel is entered by the needle. This method has allowed us to obtain single blood samples of up to 8 ml from large male adults. As in other species, a maximum of 10-15070 of blood volume should be withdrawn at anyone time. Repeated sampling of smaller volumes over short periods is possible if both jugular veins are

Otto, Rosenblad & Fox

used and haematoma formation is minimized by using a 23 gauge needle and applying careful digital pressure for haemostasis. It has been suggested that cumulative blood collection should not exceed 20% of total blood volume within any 2 week period (Fox, 1984). In those cases where the animal does not need to be maintained in a fasting state after blood withdrawal, we have found it useful to distract the animal by offering it a small amount of a commercially available nutritional supplement paste (Nutri-cal®; Evsco, Buena, NJ, USA) during bleeding (Fig. 3). Jugular venipuncture is generally performed with one person bleeding and another assisting with restraint. However, during serial sampling animals become acclimatized to the procedure and under these circumstances it is often possible for one person to bleed the animal with no assistance. As an alternative to manual methods

of restraint, chemical restraint may be used if it is not contraindicated by the test being performed or the health status of the animal. A combination


(0' 3 mg/kg 1M) has proven to be safe and

efficacious for jugular bleeding.

ketamine (30 mg/kg 1M) and acepromazine

Discussion Using these methods, it is possible to obtain blood for routine diagnostic procedures, to perform protocols involving repeated blood sampling, and to administer intravenous therapy in much the same way as one would when dealing with a dog or cat. The techniques are relatively simple and can be easily mastered, especially by those who have prior experience in small animal venipuncture.

Acknowledgment This work was supported in part by Public Health Service grants RROI046 and T32-RR07036 from the Division of Research Resources, National Institutes of Health, USA.

Ferret venipuncture


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injection of unanaesthetized