Pneumonia from Inhalation of Foreign Matter in Ferrets

By PetMD Editorial on Jun. 13, 2010

Aspiration Pneumonia in Ferrets

Aspiration (or inhalation) pneumonia is a medical condition in which the ferret's lungs become inflamed due to the inhalation of foreign matter, or from vomiting or the regurgitation of gastric acid contents. Aspiration pneumonia can also be a direct result of a neuromuscular disorder, which would cause difficulty with swallowing, as well as problems associated with the esophagus, with possible paralysis of the esophagus.


Symptoms and Types

Symptoms of aspiration pneumonia in ferrets may be immediately apparent (acute), or may develop over a long-term period of time (chronic). Signs can include weakness, sluggishness in the rear limbs, nasal discharge, fever, raspy breathing, bluish tinge to the skin (cyanosis), and an unusually rapid heart beat (tachypnea).


A common cause of aspiration pneumonia is an obstruction of the esophagus, the tube connecting the pharynx and stomach. Other causes include metabolic disturbances (such as hypoglycemia), an improperly placed feeding tube, and an altered state of consciousness (for example, if the animal is sedated for surgery).


There are two primary procedures used to diagnose aspiration pneumonia: a tracheal wash and a bronchoscopy. A tracheal wash, which involves a collection of the fluids and substances lining the trachea (a respiratory airway), can collect bacterial cultures for analysis. A bronchoscopy, in which a small tube with a tiny camera attached is inserted into the mouth and led into the bronchial airway, may be done to check for objects obstructing the airways. A bronchoscopy can also be used to collect airway samples or remove foreign bodies blocking the airway. Other diagnostic procedures include urine analysis and chest and lung X-rays.


Treatment varies depending on the severity of the case and the specific cause. If respiratory distress is evident, oxygen treatment should be administered. Cage rest may also be necessary to ensure the ferret stays still and does not worsen respiratory distress. Your ferret should not be allowed to lay on one side for more than two hours at a time.

Further treatment depends on the cause. For example, foreign bodies blocking the airway must be removed -- most likely via airway suction. Intravenous (IV) fluid therapy may also be necessary to treat for related shock or dehydration. Because secondary infection is a common development of aspiration pneumonia, antibiotics may be recommended as well.

Living and Management

After initial treatment, the ferret should be monitored for symptoms. Be sure to administer any prescribed medications regularly and follow a veterinarian’s instructions throughout recovery.


There are a number of causes that can lead to aspiration pneumonia, thus it is difficult to pinpoint effective preventative measures. One way to help prevent aspiration pneumonia is to limit the ferret’s access to foreign bodies that may be inhaled.

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