Diarrhea in Ferrets
Dr. Barb Oglesbee
Diarrhea may be defined as an increase in frequency, liquid content and volume of the feces. When feces are normally formed, the amount of fluid in the feces is controlled by intestinal absorption or secretion. Diarrhea occurs when the intestinal tract fails to absorb sufficient liquid or increases the amount of liquid secreted into the feces, or both. Diarrhea is one of the most common manifestations of intestinal tract disease in ferrets. Bacterial infections
Foreign bodies (objects lodged in the intestinal tract)
If your ferret occasionally has a few stools with a liquid or loosely formed consistency and has no other symptoms, it may be normal. If, however, the diarrhea is persistent, lasting more than a day, recurrent (returns frequently) or other symptoms occur, medical attention is needed. Continued diarrhea can cause a loss of fluid and electrolytes, leading to dehydration.
What to Watch For
Loss of appetite
Straining to defecate
Fresh blood or mucus in the feces
Vomiting or regurgitation
Dark, brown-black tarry stool
Lack of feces
The veterinarian will recommend specific diagnostic tests depending on the severity or duration of the diarrhea. Chronic diarrhea (diarrhea lasting for several days to weeks) or diarrhea along with other symptoms usually requires extensive diagnostic testing. A complete history is extremely helpful in reaching a diagnosis. Be prepared to tell your veterinarian when the diarrhea began, if the feces have changed or varied in consistency or color, the type of diet your ferret is on, and of any potential exposure to other ferrets.
Recommended tests may include:
A thorough physical examination
Sampling the feces to look for parasites
Sampling the feces for bacterial culture and cytology
A complete blood count (CBC) and serum biochemistry panel
Radiography (X-Rays) to look for evidence of intestinal disease, and size and density of the liver, kidneys or other organs
Treatment for diarrhea may include any combination of:
Dietary change or forced-feeding
Antibiotics or antiparasitic medications
Medications to protect the intestinal tract or alter the motility of the intestinal tract
Home Care and Prevention
If only one or two of the stools appear diarrheic and the ferret is young (under two years of age) and has no other symptoms, withhold food for 12 hours. Offer a bland diet consisting of chicken baby food. Be sure plenty of fresh water is available, and that the ferret is drinking. Alternatively, offer Pedialyte or Gatorade to replace electrolytes lost in the diarrhea.
If stools do not return to normal within 24 hours, if diarrhea worsens or any other symptoms develop, contact your veterinarian.
Give all medication as directed, for as long as directed, even after the symptoms appear to be gone. Watch for a change in the stools, and report any changes to your veterinarian. If improvement is not seen, report this to your veterinarian.
If the diarrhea is worsening, or the ferret develops other symptoms, alert your veterinarian immediately.