Pregnancy Complications and Labor Difficulty in Ferrets

By PetMD Editorial on Jun. 6, 2010

Dystocia and Fetal Death in Ferrets

A difficult birthing experience is medically referred to as dystocia. This condition may occur as a result of maternal or fetal factors, and can occur during any stage of the labor. Abnormalities of presentation, posture, and the position of the fetus within the uterus can negatively affect the temporal relationship between the birthing offspring and the maternal birth canal, thus causing serious problems.

Symptoms and Types

There are many signs and symptoms of dystocia among ferrets, including:

  • Crying or other signs of pain
  • Abnormally shaped pelvic canal
  • Overly large or small fetuses during pregnancy
  • Presence of bloody discharge prior to delivery of first offspring or between fetuses
  • Ineffective abdominal press during childbirth
  • Constantly licking of the vulvar area when contracting
  • Abnormal positioning of the birth canal during childbirth and gestation
  • Abnormal vaginal structures resulting from masses within the vaginal vault or the growth of excess vaginal tissue or cells


Much like childbirth in humans, ferret childbirth is fraught with consequences should something go awry. Prolonged labor (lasting more than two to three hours), for example, can result in maternal and fetal death among ferrets. Likewise, abnormal fetal positioning resulting in gestation that is longer than 43 days, can result in fetal death.

Causes for abnormal or malpositioning in the birth canal can include abnormally small (less than three fetuses) or abnormally large litters, and abnormal levels of hormones in the mother ferret. Fetal head deformities can also lead to dystocia, as can poor cervical dilation and insufficient cervical contractions.


Diagnosis may first involve ruling out other causes for abnormal or difficult childbirth or labor such as a false pregnancy. Other tests that may confirm dystocia include ultrasound imaging (which may reveal the viability of the fetuses) or X-rays (which may help reveal the overall fetal size and whether fetal death has occurred in uteri).


Treatment will depend on the health of the mother ferret and the fetuses she carries. Medication such as prostaglandin agents or oxytocin, for example, may be necessary to help with induction of offspring. Fetuses that die while still in the mother's womb, meanwhile, must be surgically removed. Fluid replacement and electrolyte therapy helps with the mother's recovery.


Living and Management

Ferrets that experience one or more episodes of dystocia are at an increased risk for future complications

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