Notes from a presentation by Dr. Mark Burgess, Southwest
Animal Hospital, Beaverton, Oregon
Vomiting* can range from
the occasional "nuisance" to the regular vomiting on an empty or full
stomach, and may or may not be accompanied by diarrhea. This presentation
addresses vomiting without diarrhea. The main causes of vomiting (without
diarrhea) are foreign bodies (the most common cause of vomiting),
Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Helicobacter, and liver disease (the least
common cause of vomiting).
Not all ferrets with foreign bodies will vomit.
Foreign body ingestion is usually caused by rubber or hair balls.
These foreign bodies can lodge in the stomach or intestines. Objects
remaining in the stomach are free to move about thus not creating
as urgent problem as those items that get lodged in the intestines.
The foreign bodies in the stomach usually require surgery to remove
them. However, the intestines, being about as big around as a pencil,
can get blocked easily (a "functional" blockage). If surgery is not
performed within 12 hours, the intestines start to die and the ferret
will succumb. For this reason, vomiting should always be taken seriously.
If a ferret has had previous problems with a hairball, the ferret
should remain on a hair ball medicine the rest of its life - as often
as needed but may require medicine daily.
There are many foreign-body look alikes. These
include gastric ulcers which may be caused inflammatory bowel disease.,
irritation of foreign bodies, "stress", and drugs. Stress due to moving,
introducing new ferrets, owner tension, etc. can produce increased
levels of acids which burns through the stomach lining. Drugs such
as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (N.S.A.I.D.'s) excluding
cortisone can cause vomiting. The new N.S.A.I.D, Rimadryl, which is
prescribed for conditions like arthritis, does not cause stomach upset
in dogs. Unfortunately, it does not work the same in ferrets and will
cause vomiting, severe bleeding, and ulcers and should not be used
Generally, if the vomiting symptoms are slow to
come on, the condition is not caused by a blockage. Always do a blood
profile first to rule out liver problems.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD):
This condition is where the immune system attacks
the bowel or stomach, without an infection being present. IBD is frequently
caused by an allergy to foods. In a blood panel, an increase in lipase
is indicative of IBD. If a ferret is allergic to its normal diet,
switch to one of the new blends such as duck and potato. It is important
not to feed the ferret any specialized diet unless medically required
since these foods may be required as the future staple diet. Lamb
and rice, which is commonly used in foods today, will not work unless
the ferret has not ever received these products in its diet before.
The treatment of IBD is diet change and cortisone. There are lots
of conditions that mimic IBD so it is difficult to diagnose and requires
a biopsy of the bowel.
Helicobacter is caused by an organism in the stomach
and results in ulcers. The treatment is easy - Amoxicillin and Flagyl
for two weeks but diagnosis requires a biopsy to be certain. Dr. Burgess
does not believe this condition is as common as reported.
Liver disease, or hepatitis, is common. Typical
signs of liver disease are loss of appetite and lethargy, sometimes
occasional non-tarry diarrhea, and less commonly vomiting. (Tarry
stools would indicate that ulcers due to IBD., helicobacter, etc.)
There are two types; bacterial and lymphocytic. Bacterial is easier
to treat but the ferret becomes dramatically sick from this condition
caused by bacteria in the liver. Also, the ferret may become jaundiced.
Lymphocytic liver disease looks a lot like IBD and is caused by an
immune system problem. If not treated, it can progress to full-blown
lymphoma. The liver can tolerate a lot of damage before showing signs.
However, the liver also has an amazing capacity to heal itself.
Vomiting and diarrhea
New variety of ECE? In response to questions, Dr.
Burgess noted that he has seen two cases recently of "cluster" ECE-like
illness but without the green diarrhea. The signs are profuse, brown,
tarry diarrhea, dehydration, and wasting. Ferrets can't absorb nutrients
resulting in diarrhea out the other end of the digestive tract. There
has been a high mortality rate among older ferrets if not treated
immediately. Because of the highly contagious nature of this illness,
several ferrets in the same family have been ill resulting in the
Treatment is the same as for ECE: immediate veterinary
care, lots of fluids, warmth, appropriate medicines, and months of
follow-up care by the owner to combat the wasting. It is critical
to treat this disease quickly because a ferret can literally waste
away and die within days whereas other companion pets have the ability
to hang on longer before getting critically ill.
Dr. Burgess speculated that there must be some
asymptomatic carriers because new ferrets introduced to the household
become ill while the other ferrets remain "healthy". This is similar
to ECE which stays in the environment for at least six months. He
also speculated that it is possible that the increase in popularity
of ferrets is resulting in new diseases in their environment.
*Vomiting is different
from regurgitation. Vomiting means that the food has entered the stomach
whereas in regurgitation, the material does not enter the stomach
first. Regurgitation is common in ferrets with
megaesophagus, a relatively rare condition.
In megaesophagus, the esophagus dilates due to the lack of muscular
motility. When the ferret attempts to swallow, the food or liquid
cannot be propelled into the stomach causing the esophagus to swell
as it fills. As a result, the ferret regurgitates usually within minutes
Carla Almaraz All Rights
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