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Diarrhea in Ferrets

By: Dr. Barb Oglesbee

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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.

Causes

  • Bacterial infections
  • Viral infections
  • Dietary changes
  • Foreign bodies (objects lodged in the intestinal tract)
  • Toxins
  • Parasites

    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

  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Straining to defecate
  • Fresh blood or mucus in the feces
  • Vomiting or regurgitation
  • Dark, brown-black tarry stool
  • Lack of feces

    Diagnosis

    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
  • Endoscopy
  • Radiography (X-Rays) to look for evidence of intestinal disease, and size and density of the liver, kidneys or other organs

    Treatment

    Treatment for diarrhea may include any combination of:

  • Hospitalization
  • Intravenous fluids
  • Injectable medications
  • 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.

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