Excessive Production of Saliva in Ferrets

By PetMD Editorial on Jun. 15, 2010

Ptyalism in Ferrets

Ptyalism is the excessive production of saliva. Pseudoptyalism, meanwhile, is the excessive release of saliva that has accumulated in the oral cavity. It is an extremely common complaint in ferrets and is usually associated with nausea.

Although saliva is constantly produced and secreted into the oral cavity from the salivary glands, salivation increases because of excitation of the salivary nuclei in the brain stem. Stimuli that lead to this are taste and tactile sensations involving the mouth and tongue. Higher centers in the central nervous system can also excite or inhibit the salivary impulse. Other conditions that can stimulate excessive salivation include lesions of the central nervous system or oral cavity and diseases affecting the pharynx, esophagus, and stomach.

Young animals are more likely to have ptyalism caused by ingestion of a toxin, caustic agent, or foreign body. Older animals are more likely to have ptyalism due to nausea from gastrointestinal or metabolic disease.

Symptoms and Types

  • Drooling
  • Vomiting and/ or regurgitation
  • Diarrhea or tarry stools
  • Facial pain
  • Teeth grinding
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Pawing at the face or muzzle
  • Weight loss, muscle wasting
  • Bad breath (halitosis)
  • Loss of appetite (anorexia)

Ferrets with ptyalism are also prone to eating behavior changes such as refusal to eat hard food, frequent dropping of food, and eating while holding the head in an unusual position. Other behavioral change include irritability, aggressiveness, and reclusiveness, especially in ferrets that are in extreme pain.


Metabolic Disorders

  • Insulinoma (a tumor that secretes insulin)—very common cause; low blood sugar causes nausea characterized by ptyalism and pawing at the mouth
  • Uremia—an excess of urea and other nitrogenous waste in the blood
  • Liver failure

Gastrointestinal Disorders

  • Gastric ulcer—very common
  • Foreign body in the gastrointestinal tract—very common
  • Gastroenteritis (inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract from various causes).
  • Infection or parasites

Esophageal Disorders

  • Megaesophagus—enlarged esophagus
  • Esophageal foreign body or tumor
  • Esophagitis (inflammation of the esophagus)—secondary to ingestion of a caustic agent or poisonous plant

Oral and Pharynx Diseases

  • Foreign body
  • Tumor
  • Gum disease or stomatitis (inflammation of the mucous membranes of the mouth)

Neurologic Disorders

  • Canine distemper virus
  • Rabies
  • Botulism
  • Disorders that cause seizures
  • Nausea associated with diseases of the ear

Drugs and Toxins, especially those that are

  • Caustic (e.g., household cleaning products and some common house plants).
  • Have a disagreeable taste—many an­tibiotics and anthelminthics (worm medicine).
  • Induce hypersalivation, includ­ing insecticides containing boric acid, pyrethrin and pyrethroid insecticides (flea and tick repellents), caf­feine, and illicit drugs such as ampheta­mines, cocaine, and opiates.

Salivary Gland Diseases


There are many different causes for ptyalism. You will need to give a thorough history of your ferret's health, including vaccination status, current medications, possible toxin exposure, a background history of symptoms, and any other possible incidents that might have precipitated this condition. Your doctor will need to distinguish between hypersalivation associated with a condition that is causing difficulty swallowing from hypersalivation associated with nausea. Depression, lip smacking, and retching are some of the signs your veterinarian will look for.

Your veterinarian will also want to give your ferret a complete physical examination, with special attention paid to the oral cavity and neck, along with a neurologic examination. Diagnostic tools may include X-ray and ultrasound imaging to determine whether there is a problem in the structure of the liver, kidney, or in any other internal organs. If an immune-related disorder is suspected, your veterinarian may also want to conduct a biopsy of tissue and cells.


Treating the underlying cause of the ptyalism, once it has been effectively diagnosed, will be the first concern. Although it is generally not necessary, your doctor may also treat the outward symptoms to reduce the flow of saliva. Nutritional supplements and fluid therapy may be recommended if your ferret has been suffering from ptyalism for any length of time and has not been able to eat or drink properly.

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