Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Ferrets

By PetMD Editorial on Jun. 12, 2010

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a group of gastrointestinal diseases that result in the inflammation of the intestines and chronic symptoms related to gastrointestinal system. Though the exact cause of IBD is not known, abnormal immune system response thought to be initiated by normal inhabitant bacteria of the intestine is suspected to be the cause of inflammation. There is no sex or age predilection for IBD.

Symptoms and Types

The inflammatory response is usually lymphocytic (white blood cells found in bone marrow), lymphoplasmacytic (The fluid portion of the lymph), or eosinophilic (cells that can be stained and then detected). This may lead to:

  • Vomiting
  • Lack of appetite (anorexia)
  • Weight loss and/or muscle wasting
  • Diarrhea (sometimes with blood or mucous)
  • Black stool (melena)
  • Excessive salivation, pawing at the mouth


Though no single cause is known, more than one cause is suspected. Hypersensitivity to bacteria and/or food allergies are suspected to play a major role in this disease. Food allergens suspected to play a role in this disease include meat proteins, food additives, artificial coloring, preservatives, milk proteins, and gluten (wheat). Genetic factors are also suspected to play a role in IBD.


Your veterinarian will take a detailed history and ask you questions regarding the duration and frequency of symptoms. A complete physical examination will be conducted and after the examination your veterinarian will conduct routine laboratory tests, including complete blood count, biochemistry profile, and urinalysis. The results of these routine laboratory tests are often normal. In some ferrets, anemia and abnormally high number of white blood cells (as in infections) may be present. Fecal examination, meanwhile, is performed to verify the presence of parasitic infection(s).


In most ferrets, IBD cannot be “cured” but can be successfully controlled. However, even after complete recovery, relapses are common. Major goals of treatment are the stabilization of body weight, the amelioration of gastrointestinal symptoms, and the reduction of the immune system's response.

In cases of dehydration, fluid replacement therapy is started to overcome the fluid deficit. Ferrets with continuous vomiting are usually not given anything orally and may require fluid therapy until vomiting resolves. Dietary management is another essential component of therapy, with hypoallergenic (even cat food) diets being the most recommended. Usually two weeks or so are given to see your ferret's response to such a diet.

Living and Management

Again, it is important to note that IBD cannot be “cured,” but can be managed in most ferrets. Be patient with the forms of treatment suggested by your veterinarian and strictly adhere to diet recommendations made him or her. In stabilized patients, a yearly examination is often required.

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