Stomach Ulcers in Ferrets

By PetMD Editorial on Jun. 6, 2010

Gastroduodenal Ulcers in Ferrets

Gastroduodenal ulcers are a type of lesion that form in the mucosa or stomach lining in ferrets. This can lead to problems such as anemia and vomiting. There are many different factors that can alter and damage the stomach lining or intestinal lumen (which comes in direct contact with food and is responsible for nutrient absorption), including bacterial infections and overuse of medications.

Symptoms and Types

The symptoms associated with gastroduodenal ulcers are also varied; symptoms may even remain undetected until the ferret's condition becomes severe. The following are some of the more common symptoms:

  • Anemia
  • Weakness
  • Weight loss (cachexia)
  • Loss of appetite (anorexia)
  • Vomiting (most often seen)
  • Blood in vomiting (hematemesis)
  • Black, tarry stool due to presence of digested blood (melena)
  • Abdominal pain (animal may stand in praying position)

Other findings may include signs of dehydration, resulting from electrolyte loss associated with vomiting and diarrhea. Hair loss (alopecia) is often evident, as well as enlarged lymph nodes due to excessive vomiting.


The most common cause for a gastroduodenal ulcers in ferrets is an infection with the bacteria Helicobacter mustelae. Many ferrets also secrete gastric hydrochloric acid, which can cause ulcerations when they lose their appetite or unable to eat.

Other causes may include:

  • Overgrowth of tissue and cells in the stomach
  • Overuse of medications (e.g., anti-inflammatories)
  • Stress resulting from a major illness, shock, or surgery
  • Poisoning (e.g., lead toxicity)
  • Neurological diseases or head traumas


To diagnose the condition typically a veterinarian will need to rule out other causes for ulcers, including esophageal disease, fungal infections, kidney disease, low blood sugar, and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

Biochemical analysis and urinalysis and other laboratory testing may reveal anemia, infection with helicobacter, elevated levels of certain liver and kidney enzymes (including BUN and creatinine), mucosal irregularities apart from the ulcer itself, and foreign bodies within the abdominal or intestinal cavity. Ferrets with gastrodeuodenal ulcers may also exhibit lesions in the lower region of the stomach.


Often, the veterinarian will first attempt to treat the underlying causes for the disease and then the secondary symptoms. Dehydration and vomiting, for example, are often treated with electrolyte replacement therapy administered intravenously. When Helicobacter infection is present, meanwhile, antibiotics are prescribed. And PPI (proton pump inhibitors) or H2-blocks, which prevent acid buildup, are helpful in alleviating symptoms and preventing recurrence.

Living and Management

It is important the ferret not receive any medications and/or substances which may irritate the abdomen and result in new ulcers or lesions. If surgery was required, you will be advised to place it in a quiet area, away from noisy children and other animals, so that it can rest and recover. Unfortunately, ferrets with concurrent illnesses, such as systemic diseases like liver or kidney failure, have a poor prognosis.

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