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Vomiting in Ferrets

By: Dr. Barb Oglesbee

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Vomiting is the forceful expulsion of stomach contents through the mouth. Vomiting may be triggered by irritation of the intestinal tract or by irritation of receptors in the nervous system. Vomiting can be seen with disease of the intestinal tract, organ system diseases such as liver or kidney disease, toxins, or neurologic disorders. In ferrets, vomiting is not a common symptom when compared to similar diseases in dogs and cats. For example, vomiting is the most common symptom of gastric foreign bodies in dogs. Although ferrets with gastric foreign bodies may occasionally vomit, they rarely do so.

There are many causes of vomiting in ferrets. A few of the more common causes include:

  • Bacterial infections, especially Helicobacter mustelae gastritis
  • Viral infections
  • Neoplasia – cancer of the intestinal tract or liver
  • Dietary changes
  • Foreign bodies (objects lodged in the intestinal tract)
  • Toxins
  • Parasites

    If your ferret vomits only once and has no other symptoms, veterinary attention may not be immediately required. If, however, the vomiting continues, if he vomits more than once, the vomiting lasts more than a day, returns frequently or other symptoms occur, medical attention is needed. Vomiting in ferrets usually is a sign of serious disease. Continued vomiting can cause a loss of fluid and electrolytes, leading to dehydration.

    What to Watch For

  • Drooling
  • Pawing at the mouth
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Straining to defecate
  • Fresh blood or mucus in the feces
  • Dark, brown-black tarry stool

    Diagnosis

    Your veterinarian may recommend specific diagnostic tests depending on the severity and duration of the vomiting. Chronic vomiting – vomiting lasting for several days to weeks – or vomiting 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 vomiting began, if the feces have changed or have been varied in consistency or color, the type of diet your ferret is on, and of any potential exposure to other ferrets.

    Diagnostic testing your veterinarian may perform 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, size and density of the liver, kidneys or other organs
  • Endoscopy

    Treatment

    Treatment for vomiting may include any combination of:

  • Hospitalization for intravenous fluids and injectable medications for critically ill or dehydrated ferrets
  • 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

    Your veterinarian should be contacted if your ferret vomits or has an abrupt decrease in appetite. 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, if the vomiting returns, or the ferret develops other symptoms, alert your veterinarian immediately.

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