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Professional Version

Noninfectious Diseases of Ferrets


Nico J. Schoemaker

, DVM, PhD, Utrecht University;

Y.R.A. van Zeeland

, DVM, MVR, PhD, DECZM, Utrecht University, The Netherlands

Reviewed/Revised Jun 2021 | Modified Oct 2022

Gastric foreign bodies are commonly diagnosed in (young) ferrets. Ferrets commonly ingest soft rubber or plastic items, resulting in a gastrointestinal obstruction. Ingestion of hair during molting may also result in the formation of gastric trichobezoars. Clinical signs include anorexia, bruxism, hypersalivation, cranial abdominal pain, diarrhea, and/or melena. Diagnosis can be made with either plain radiography or abdominal ultrasonography. Treatment involves surgical or endoscopic removal. Gastritis should be treated after removal of the foreign body.

Cardiovascular diseases are commonly diagnosed in ferrets. Dilated cardiomyopathy is the most commonly diagnosed cardiac disease in ferrets, usually diagnosed in ferrets >4 years old. Clinical signs may be nonspecific and include lethargy, weakness, increased respiratory effort, coughing, exercise intolerance, and/or ascites. Echocardiography is needed to confirm the diagnosis. Radiographs may be helpful to evaluate for lung edema or pleural effusion. Treatment is comparable to that in other companion species and may include the use of furosemide, pimobendan, and enalapril. A formulary should be consulted for dosing instructions.

Cardiac arrhythmias are frequently heard in ferrets, although some are not considered pathologic. A second-degree AV block can, for instance, be seen in combination with an insulinoma and will disappear once the clinical signs of the insulinoma are resolved. Clinical signs in cases of severe bradycardia (eg, third-degree AV block) may consist of lethargy, weakness, exercise intolerance, and syncope. During palpation of the pulse and cardiac auscultation, the altered rhythm and frequency may be noticed. An ECG is needed to assess the nature of the arrhythmia. Treatment is similar to that of dogs and cats and may include placement of a pacemaker.

Renal disease Renal Dysfunction in Small Animals Failure of the filtration function of the kidneys leads to the development of azotemia (an excess of nitrogenous compounds in the blood), which may be classified as prerenal, renal, postrenal... read more Renal Dysfunction in Small Animals is frequently seen in ferrets. Specific etiologic factors are not known. Polyuria/polydipsia, decreased appetite, vomiting, and pale mucous membranes may be seen. Diagnosis is based on urine and blood examination. For the latter, urea, calcium, and phosphate concentrations are especially important, whereas creatinine in many cases is found to be nondiagnostic. In the case of renal disease, the phosphate concentrations will frequently exceed calcium concentrations. A nonregenerative anemia may also be found. Renal cysts may be seen on abdominal ultrasonography, although they usually do not cause a problem unless present in large numbers. Because no specific treatment for renal disease is available, treatment usually consists of supportive care by providing the ferret with a high-quality kidney diet for cats, using antiemetics (eg, metoclopramide), antacids (eg, omeprazole) and/or gastric protectants (eg, sucralfate) and ACE inhibitors (eg, enalapril) to help manage proteinuria.

Urolithiasis Urolithiasis in Small Animals Some mineral solutes precipitate to form crystals in urine; these crystals may aggregate and grow to macroscopic size, at which time they are known as uroliths (calculi or stones). Uroliths... read more Urolithiasis in Small Animals is not commonly seen in ferrets, but cases seems to be increasing in recent years. Previously, struvite was the most commonly seen urolith, but with the reduction of plant proteins in the diets, the composition of the uroliths has changed toward cystine uroliths. Currently, it is unknown why these uroliths develop, making preventive measures unknown. Treatment usually consists of surgical removal of the urolith using a technique similar to that in dogs and cats.

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