Severe immunosuppression is a hallmark of Morbillivirus infections. To study the underlying mechanisms, we have developed a ferret model of canine distemper virus infection. The model reproduces all clinical signs of measles, but the lack of ferret-specific reagents has limited the characterization of the cellular immune response. Towards this, we cloned ferret cytokines and established semi-quantitative real-time PCR assays. To demonstrate the utility of these assays we compared the cytokine profiles elicited by lethal and non-lethal strains during the prodromal phase. We observed a general lack of cytokine induction in animals that later succumbed to the disease, whereas survivors mounted a robust and sustained response. The newly developed cytokine assays strengthen and expand the ferret model not only for Morbillivirus pathogenesis studies but also for several other human respiratory viruses including influenza and SARS.