Ascites, also known as abdominal effusion, is the medical term referring to the buildup of fluid in the abdomen. In ferrets, this may cause symptoms such as weight gain, abdominal discomfort, and loss of appetite. A wide variety of causes may be responsible for ascites, thus treatments vary accordingly.
The body systems usually affected by this disorder typically include the cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, renal (including the kidneys and bladder), lymph and immune systems. The signs and symptoms may include the following:
- Weight gain
- Lethargy and fatigue
- An unsteady gait or incoordination
- Inability to eat or loss of appetite
- Abdominal distension or a bloated appearance
- Abdominal discomfort or pain during palpation
The causes for ascites are varied but may include the following:
- Chronic heart failure or cardiomyopathy
- Gastrointestinal and kidney diseases
- An inflammation of the inner wall of the abdomen (or peritonitis)
- Imbalances of electrolytes, such as potassium and salt, in the body
- Obstruction of certain heart valves and veins, including the vena cava, which returns blood from the lower portion of the body to the heart
To diagnose ascites, your veterinarian will conduct an ascetic fluid evaluation on the ferret. This involves the removal of abdominal fluid to analyze for characteristics such as bacterial presence, protein makeup, and bleeding. The veterinarian may also analyze the urine or run X-rays and ultrasounds to determine the cause of abdominal fluid buildup.
Treatment is largely dependent on the underlying cause of the case of ascites. If symptoms are severe and the ferret is having great discomfort, the abdomen may be tapped to remove fluid and make the animal more comfortable. Corrective surgery may be necessary in some cases; e.g., if a tumor is present or to control abdominal bleeding.
Medications are determined according to the underlying cause. For instance, fluid buildup due to bacterial infection (known as septic ascites) requires antibiotic therapy. It is important to note that aggressive medication treatment with diuretics, which are used to remove excess body fluid, may cause low levels of potassium in the blood, a condition known as hypokalemia. This can worsen symptoms and lead to further complications.
Living and Management
Follow-up care will include nutritional support and proper care for any wounds associated with surgery, as well as any care involved with addressing the underlying cause for ascites. Your veterinarian may follow up by checking electrolytes and liver panels to help maintain the ferret's health. Diuretic or fluid balance medications may be necessary over the long term to control edema or fluid retention in the ferret.
Because there are many different causes of ascites, there is no surefire prevention method that can be recommended. To avoid abdominal fluid buildup due to trauma, however, keep the ferret in a confined location or on a leash to prevent access to roads and other dangerous areas where traumatic incidents may occur.