Vomiting in Ferrets

4 min read

Why Do Ferrets Throw Up?

Much like in humans, the ejection of a ferret's stomach contents through the mouth is known as vomiting. It occurs less frequently in ferrets when compared to dogs and cats, but you should be aware of it nonetheless.

Vomiting may be brought on by neurological issues, adverse drug reactions, or motion sickness. Various metabolic or bacterial toxins or inner ear imbalance will also trigger vomiting.

Symptoms and Types

 

Symptoms of vomiting include heaving, retching, and partially digested food coming up, along with a yellow fluid called bile. The contents being expelled may be in predigested form, tubular in shape, and often covered with a slimy mucus. The ferret's stools, meanwhile, may appear black and tarry. If the ferret becomes dehydrated, the mucous membranes will become dry and pale.

Signs of nausea, which often immediately prior to vomiting, include excess saliva production, licking of the lips, and pawing of the mouth. The ferret may even suffer extreme weight loss if it vomiting chronically.

Causes

Some risk factors include:

  • Dietary changes
  • Ingestion of raw meat products, which may contain bacterial enteritis, cryptosporidiosis
  • Exposure to other ferrets, which may expose the animal to Epizootic Catarrhal Enteritis (ECE) or other infectious diseases
  • Unsupervised chewing (foreign bodies)
  • Stress, debility (predisposes to Helicobacter-induced gastritis)
  • Vaccine reaction

Vomiting can also be initiated directly by stimulation of the cells in the vomiting center in animals with CNS disease.

Diagnosis

There are so many possibilities for this condition that determining a cause for the vomiting may take some time. You will need to cooperate with your veterinarian in trying to pinpoint if there is anything related to your pet’s background or habits that might account for it.

To start, your veterinarian will need to differentiate between vomiting and regurgitation in order to determine whether the cause is gastric or non-gastric (i.e., based in the stomach, or not). You will want to pay close attention to the pattern of your ferret's vomiting so you can give a thorough description of the symptoms, as well as how soon after eating the vomiting occurs. Your doctor will ask you to describe the appearance of the vomit, and what your pet looks like when it vomits.

If your ferret is retching, and heaving from the belly, it is probably vomiting. The food that is in the vomit will be partially digested and somewhat liquid. A yellow fluid called bile will normally be present along with the expelled stomach contents. If the pet is regurgitating, your pet will lower its head and the food will be expelled without a lot of effort. The food will be undigested and probably will be tubular in shape, more solid than not. Often it is covered with a slimy mucus. Your pet may try to re-eat the regurgitated food. It is a good idea to keep a sample of the expelled content, so that when you take your pet to see the veterinarian, an examination can be made to determine whether the material is vomit or regurgitation, and what might be present in the contents.

A few diagnostic procedures your veterinarian may use to identify the underlying cause include blood and urine analysis; X-rays and ultrasounds; endoscopy to evaluate inflammation, erosions and ulcers; or exploratory laparotomy and surgical biopsy if tumors are suspected.

Treatment

Once the cause of the vomiting is determined, your veterinarian will be able to come up with a course of treatment. Some possibilities:

  • Anti-emetics to prevent nausea and vomiting, especially for post surgery and chemotherapy related nausea
  • Antibiotics to treat ulcer-causing bacteria
  • Corticosteroids for inflammatory bowel disease
  • Fluid and electrolyte therapy
  • Dietary changes
  • Surgery if a tumor is found to be the cause

Living and Management

If there is little or no improvement, you will need to consult with your veterinarian to see if your pet needs to go back for further evaluation. Do not experiment with medications or food without your veterinarian's approval, and remember that it is important that you follow through on your doctor's recommended treatment plan so that the illness can be thoroughly eliminated. Often, he or she will recommend offering bland food such as canned chicken baby goods, even warming the food to body temperature and offering via syringe. Otherwise, monitor your ferret's attitude, body condition, and fecal volume for any irregularities. 

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