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Ferret FAQ [5/5] - Medical Overview
Section - (11.2.1) Noninfectious

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Top Document: Ferret FAQ [5/5] - Medical Overview
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See reader questions & answers on this topic! - Help others by sharing your knowledge
by Dr. Susan Brown, DVM

A. GI Foreign Bodies [11.1]

       This is the MOST COMMON cause of wasting and acute abdominal
   disease in the ferret under 1 year of age.  It occurs with less
   frequency in older ferrets.
       Ferrets love to chew and eat rubber and "sweaty" objects.  The
   most common foreign bodies we remove are latex rubber pet toys,
   foam rubber, insoles and soles of shoes, pipe insulation, chair
   foot protectors, along with towels, cotton balls, plastic, metal,
   and wood.
       Hair balls are VERY COMMON particularly in the ferret 2 years
   of age and older.
       Most foreign bodies remain in the stomach if they are too large
   to pass and cause a slow wasting disease that may last for months.
   (This is the way that most hairballs present.)  However, if the
   foreign material passes out of the stomach and lodges in the small
   intestine, then the pet becomes acutely ill, severely depressed,
   dehydrated, in extreme abdominal pain and finally coma and death
   within 24 to 48 hours if surgery is not performed.
       Other signs that your pet may have a foreign body are pawing at
   the mouth frequently, vomiting (although remember that many pets
   with foreign bodies do not vomit), appetite that goes on and off,
   black tarry stools that come and go.
       Prevention is by use of a cat hairball laxative [6.2] either every 
   day or every other day (about 1") and ferret proofing [5.1] your 
   house on hands and knees for potential foreign body items.
       Treatment is generally surgery, because if it is too large to
   leave the stomach, it has to come out somehow!  

B. Aplastic Anemia

       A common cause of death of unspayed breeding females.
       The cause is a condition caused by high levels of the hormone
   estrogen that is produced during the heat period which in turn
   suppresses the production of vital red and white blood cells in the
   bone marrow.  This suppression is irreversible as the disease
   advances and death occurs from severe anemia, bleeding (because the
   blood can't clot properly), and secondary bacterial infections
   because there aren't enough white blood cells to fight.
       Signs are seen in animals in heat 1 month or longer (they can
   stay in heat up to 180 days if unbred), and include general
   depression and hind limb weakness that seems to occur suddenly and
   sudden loss of appetite.  Additionally there may be marked hair
   loss and baldness on the body.
       Upon closer exam the gums appear light pink or white, and there
   may be small hemorrhages under the skin.  A complete blood count
   should be done to determine the severity of the damage to the bone
       If the condition is advanced, there is no treatment as it is
   irreversible, and euthanasia is recommended.  If the disease is
   caught early, treatment may include a spay, multiple transfusions 
   [12.4] and other supportive care.
       Prevention is by having animals not designated for breeding
   spayed by 6 months of age.  Those to be used for breeding should
   use the hormone HCG for taking them out of heat during cycles when
   they will not be bred.  The use of vasectomized males can sometimes
   be unreliable, and we do not recommend it.

C. Anal Gland Impaction

       Caused when the animal has a blockage to the outflow of anal
   gland secretion or abnormally thick anal gland material.
       Signs are few, doesn't seem to cause them much pain.  If the
   gland ruptures, a draining hole will be seen near the anus, and the
   pet may lick at the area frequently.
       Treatment is by surgical removal of the anal glands.  Even if
   only one is affected now, remove both as the other may become
   affected later.
       There is no prevention, and this disease does not occur with
   sufficient frequency to warrant routine anal gland removal in all

D. Cataracts

       Caused when the lens of the eye becomes opaque.  Light can no
   longer reach the retina and the animal becomes blind.  In ferrets
   it is primarily seen in animals under one year of age and is
   considered to be hereditary.  In other cases it may be caused by
   aging of the eye in very old animals or as a result of injury to
   the eye.
       Signs are almost nonexistent.  Ferrets have very poor eyesight
   and do not depend on it for much.  Many people are surprised to
   find that their ferrets are blind.  They eyes will have a whitish
   blue cast to the area of the pupil.
       Treatment is unnecessary.
       Prevention of hereditary cataracts is by not repeating the

E. Cardiomyopathy
There is a separate FAQ devoted to cardiomyopathy; see section [1.1].

       Seen generally in animals over 3 years of age, rare in young.
   Caused by an abnormal thinning or thickening of the heart muscle
   which interferes with blood flow through the heart.
       Signs include a marked decrease in activity, the need to rest
   in the middle of the play periods, great difficulty in awakening
   from sleep, and as the disease progresses one may see coughing,
   difficulty breathing, fluid build-up in the abdomen and a general
   loss of condition.
       Diagnosis is by x-ray and EKG.
       Treatment is dependent on which type of heart muscle
   abnormality is present.  There is no cure for this disease,
   treatment helps to alleviate symptoms and reduce he work load on
   the heart and attempt to prolong life.

F. Urolithiasis (Bladder Stones)

       The cause is not completely understood.  A high ash content of
   the diet and possible underlying bacterial or viral infections, and
   even some genetic predisposition may all play a part. This
   condition is rarely seen in animals on a low ash cat food.
       Signs include blood in the urine, difficulty in urinating (may
   be accompanied by crying when urinating), "sandy" material being
   passed in the urine, and in the most severe cases there may be a
   complete blockage leading to no urine being passed and eventual
   depression, coma and death.
       Treatment depends on the size of the stones.  Surgery may be
   indicated or a change to a special diet may solve the problem.
       Prevention is by feeding a low ash diet.

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