Gastrointestinal foreign bodies in ferrets


Ferrets are great chewers of anything that comes their way, especially when they are young. They are particularly drawn to latex and foam rubber for some reason and these fragments can cause huge problems if they become lodged in the gut. They also suffer from hairballs, although these are usually not big enough to cause trouble on their own until the ferret is a couple of years old at least, but mix up some hair with some foam rubber and a nibbled bit of an old chew toy and you have a major obstruction in the making.

Ferret proof your home

If your pet ferrets are allowed the run of a room, you must take steps to make it safe for them. It makes obvious sense to make sure that wires and other tempting things are taped up out of the way, or led through some conduit (drainpipe is good) to keep them away from inquisitive teeth, but other things are not so obvious. If you have soft furnishings in the room, you can’t leave a ferret in there on its own and that is that. It will chew through any cushion cover and will soon be in difficulties with threads and foam in its gut. If the room is to be occupied by ferrets without supervision, it has basically to be a larger version of the habitat, with runs and shelves to keep them occupied, as well as well chosen toys to amuse them. A normal room is not suitable for ferrets as there are far too many temptations. Check all chew toys at frequent intervals and if bits are missing which you can’t find lying about, watch your ferrets like a hawk to make sure they are all right. Check their stools for bits of plastic or whatever the material might be, to be sure that they have passed it.

Signs to watch out for

If you missed the actual ingesting of the foreign material, or if the obstruction is caused by a hairball which has built up over time, you will notice other signs in the behaviour of your ferret. The first thing which should really set alarm bells ringing is if the ferret vomits. This is extremely unusual behaviour in a ferret and is a sign that something may be seriously wrong. If the vomiting is repeated, then the animal must be taken to the vet quickly. The ferret may also tooth grind – this is a sign of pain and if it is allied with a tender abdomen and lack of appetite, there is almost certainly a foreign body of some kind causing an obstruction. If you are lucky and you spend a lot of time which your pet, you will have noticed signs earlier than this, perhaps a general listlessness or lack of willingness to engage. Some animals which are generally docile may become aggressive; this is caused by the pain.

When things are serious

Sometimes the ferret doesn’t show the early signs because the obstruction occurs suddenly, with two small objects getting meshed together. Then speed is very much of the essence. Signs of a serious total obstruction will include uncontrollable vomiting with an absence of stools. The abdomen will become bloated and painful even if not touched and the gums may become dark coloured or blue. The animal will be clearly dehydrated and convulsions, coma and death may quickly follow. Getting the ferret to an emergency vet appointment is essential and it is almost certain that surgery will be the only answer, as long as the animal is fit enough. Even after such a dramatic event, total recovery is very likely, as long as the object causing the obstruction has not perforated the bowel. Ferrets usually recover well after the surgery and don’t bother too much with worrying the stitches. If they do, they can be prevented by fitting a collar.

Prevention is better than cure

Ferrets are very inquisitive creatures who try things with their teeth first – who knows, they might be good to eat! The first line of prevention lies with making sure that all toys are strong and well made and can withstand the treatment the ferret will dole out. When they start looking a bit chewed and tatty, the best thing is to remove them before bits start breaking off and getting swallowed. Fur balls can be minimised by grooming your ferret. A nice way to do this is with a grooming glove, as the animal will enjoy being stroked and you will get to have some quality time with your pet. They will still groom themselves, though, so it is a good idea to speak with your vet and find out what anti-furball treatment the practice recommends.

Cat products are often the ones of choice, with a much smaller dose being given, as directed by your vet. Ferrets are what are called obligate carnivores, which means that meat is their only diet and their alimentary canals can’t deal with any plant material. In the wild they eat their prey with bones, fur and all and so their food in domestication must mimic that as far as possible, to keep their gut healthy. Proprietary ferret food will supply most of the ferret’s needs and is certainly pleasanter to feed than fresh meat, which smells and attracts flies if left uneaten. The ferret should always have clean water available. If you have more than one ferret, it is a good idea to offer just a small healthy treat once a day to each one. This is a good opportunity to see if they are eating normally and are generally well. Many ferrets like mashed banana and a small portion is a good healthy treat.


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