Gastrointestinal and Esophageal Foreign Bodies in Ferrets
Because ferrets often chew nonfood items, discovering foreign bodies or objects lodged in the gastrointestinal region (i.e., esophagus, stomach, and intestine) is not uncommon. This can especially be a serious issue if the foreign object contains heavy metals. At the very least, a blockage of the gastrointestinal region can irritate the intestinal mucous, which leads to various health problems such as an infection.
Symptoms and Types
The types of signs and symptoms your ferret displays will depend on the type of object(s) ingested and its location in the esophageal or gut. Some of the more common symptoms include:
- Lack of appetite (anorexia) and weight loss
- Regurgitation (usually because something blocks the food from being swallowed, consumed, or digested)
- Lethargy and fatigue (due to malabsorption or inability to eat)
- Black and tarry stools
- Abdominal distension and pain
If left untreated, the obstruction can perforate the intestinal wall or lead to chronic wasting disease (in which your ferret losses muscle mass). Moreover, if the foreign object is toxic (e.g., lead), it can lead to severe issues and multi-system changes.
The most common cause for gastrointestinal bodies is the consumption of foreign objects by the ferret, usually on purpose. In addition, it occurs more often in young ferrets that are teething.
Your veterinarian will first want to rule out other causes for the aforementioned signs and symptoms. These include gastritis, cancer, and inflammatory bowel diseases. Palpating (or touching) the abdomen and intestinal area may confirm the presence of a mass or foreign object, as does pale mucous membranes and fluid in the abdomen or other gastrointestinal organ.
Treatment and care typically involves removal of the offending object, and safeguarding the pet against future harm by keeping their living space free of objects that can easily be swallowed or taken apart. Ferrets should be under close supervision during healing to prevent them from swallowing other toys or objects.
Living and Management
The long-term prognosis for most pets with gastrointestinal bodies is usually good, provided no major complications arise.
Keeping your ferret in a safe and friendly environment with age-appropriate toys (i.e., toys that aren't too small) is the best way to prevent them from swallowing objects that will prove harmful or toxic. In addition, chemicals and other toxic materials should be kept in secure containers.