Difficulty Swallowing in Ferrets

By PetMD Editorial on Jun. 5, 2010

Dysphagia in Ferrets

Dysphagia is a condition that makes it difficult for the ferret to swallow or move food through the esophagus. This often occurs because of structural problems in the oral cavity or throat, weak and uncoordinated swallowing movements, and/or pain involved in the chewing and swallowing process.

Symptoms and Types

The most common sign of dysphagia in ferrets is an inability to (or difficulty when) swallowing, chewing, and moving food through the back of the throat and esophagus into the stomach; some coughing or choking may also occur. Other ferrets vomit food that is only partially swallowed or food.


The primary causes for dysphagia or difficulty swallowing usually involve neuromuscular problems that make swallowing, chewing, and moving food difficult. Other causes for dysphagia in ferrets may include rabies, dental problems or diseases that can cause painful chewing, anatomical problems that can cause narrowing of the throat, or central nervous system problems.


You will need to give a thorough history of your ferret's health, onset of symptoms, and possible incidents that might have led to this condition, such as recent illnesses or injuries. Your veterinarian will order standard tests, including a chemical blood profile, a complete blood profile, and a urinalysis. These tests will indicate if your pet has an infectious disease, kidney disease or a muscular injury. During the physical exam it is crucial that your veterinarian distinguish between vomiting and dysphagia. Vomiting involves abdominal contractions while dysphagia does not.

Your veterinarian may also draw blood to run laboratory tests for inflammatory disorders of the chewing muscles, like TMJ (temporomandibular joint disease).


Treatment will depend on the underlying cause of the dysphagia. If your ferret's issues are due to masses or foreign bodies in the oral cavity, surgical removal may be necessary. Nutritional support, such as an exclusive liquid diet, may also be helpful for those suffering from underlying dental and oral diseases.

Living and Management

Typically, dysphagia is not life-threatening if treated early and appropriately. However, eating small meals may improve a ferret’s long-term outlook in cases where swallowing problems are moderate.

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