What is Bacterial Diarrhea?

In animals such as ferrets, mink, pigs, cats, dogs and turkeys, clinical signs can appear two to five days after exposure. However, campylobacteriosis is also contagious to humans and if you have made direct contact with your infected ferret, symptoms can begin to appear in you approximately one to ten days after exposure. If you suspect your ferret has contracted the campylobacteriosis bacteria, contact your veterinarian right away to ensure a full recovery. If you have contracted the bacteria, contact your physician to receive the treatment you need.

Bacterial diarrhea in ferrets is caused by a bacterial infection called campylobacteriosis. Caused by the spiral-shaped bacteria strain, Camylobacter jejuni, this form of bacterial infection targets the intestines of both animals and humans. Campylobacteriosis causes gastrointestinal symptoms including fever, abdominal pain, cramping and acute or intense diarrhea. In humans, this bacteria can be contracted through the consumption or handling of uncooked poultry meat, but a ferret can contract the bacteria if they are exposed to an ill animal already infected with the sickness, or if they ingest water, food, or feces containing the bacterial strain.

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Symptoms of Bacterial Diarrhea in Ferrets

Symptoms of bacterial diarrhea in ferrets will begin to appear two to five days after exposure to the bacterium. Symptoms that commonly develop include:

  • Acute or chronic diarrhea 
  • Fever
  • Abdominal pain 
  • Cramping 
  • Slim or blood covered feces 
  • Vomiting 
  • Anorexia 
  • Dehydration

Causes of Bacterial Diarrhea in Ferrets

In humans, Camylobacter jejuni bacteria can be contracted through the consumption or handling of uncooked poultry meat, but animals contract the bacteria in their environment. A ferret can contract the bacteria if they are exposed to an ill animal already infected with the sickness, or if they ingest water, food, or feces filled with the bacterial strain. The bacterium is also known to be a hardy survivor in the environment and a ferret can also contract the bacteria if they lick or chew on an object that has traces of the bacteria strain on it. 

Diagnosis of Bacterial Diarrhea in Ferrets

Bacterial diarrhea in ferrets produces the same symptoms as a number of other ferret health conditions, so the symptoms alone will not be enough to diagnose a ferret with campylobacteriosis. Therefore, your veterinarian will likely request a number of diagnostic tests to identify any abnormalities that could link the ferret’s condition to the bacteria. A blood chemistry profile will be requested to evaluate the ferret’s potassium levels, electrolyte levels and sodium levels. A complete blood count test and blood analysis will be conducted to ensure the blood levels are in check. 

Other bacterial, viral, and yeast infections can mimic a campylobacteriosis infection, so the vet will want to rule these more common infections out before proceeding to other diagnostic tests. The veterinarian will also analyze the blood to ensure the blood cells are formed properly and the numbers are in a normal range. A fecal examination will also be conducted, as a ferret’s feces can tell the vet a lot about what is going on, especially when diarrhea is the primary symptom. A fecal analysis and a fecal floatation test will be used to identify infections of either viral or parasitic nature.  

Treatment of Bacterial Diarrhea in Ferrets

Bacterial diarrhea in ferrets is easily treated when the condition is caught early. If your ferret only has a mild case of campylobacteriosis, the bacterial infection can be treated in the comfort of your own home. The veterinarian will advise you to give plenty of water to your ferret to restore hydration, a powerful antibiotic medication, and perhaps an anti-diarrheal tablet. The doctor will also advise you to clean the ferret’s area, especially food and water dishes, as well as litter pans. You will need to wear gloves while cleaning your ferret’s area, as contracting campylobacteriosis from your ferrets is extremely likely. 

If your ferret has a severe case of bacterial diarrhea, he or she will need to remain in the veterinary hospital/clinic to receive fluid therapy. Medications will also be administered to treat the ferret’s clinical symptoms and to terminate the bacteria. The veterinary staff will monitor the patient during his/her hospital stay to ensure the medications are taking their full effect. 

Recovery of Bacterial Diarrhea in Ferrets

The prognosis for campylobacteriosis in ferrets is generally good, if treatment was sought out early. To avoid a bacterial diarrhea infection in the future, make sure your ferret’s environment is kept clean and avoid contact with contaminated material.