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What are Black Tarry Feces?

Black, tarry feces refers to when the stools of the ferret take on an unhealthy dark coloration and a texture that is far more gelatinous and mucous-covered than normal. This is due to the presence of blood in the feces, which is often indicative of a serious health problem that requires treatment. Furthermore, the blood in the feces is often accompanied by a variety of other symptoms that can be used to determine the underlying problem.

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Symptoms of Black Tarry Feces in Ferrets

The symptoms of the conditions associated with black, tarry stools are mostly quite evident. If a combination of these symptoms are noticed, owners should take immediate steps to seek professional assistance.

  • Vomiting 
  • Behavioral changes
  • Diarrhea
  • Dark or greenish colored feces 
  • Hair loss
  • Weight loss 
  • Poor coat condition
  • Excess saliva

Causes of Black Tarry Feces in Ferrets

Black, tarry feces is caused by the presence of blood in the animal's stool. This is because as the blood passes through the intestines, the enzymes and bacteria contained therein will darken its color from a bright red to an extremely dark shade of brown. This shade of blood may indicate bleeding within the intestines, whereas green feces are caused by digested blood, meaning the bleeding is occurring 'earlier' in the digestive system. 

There are three main reasons for bleeding in the intestines: poisoning, kidney or liver failure, and intestinal damage. In the case of poisoning, many harmful substances will directly attack the lining of the intestines and cause bleeding. Kidney and liver problems induce bleeding due to the circulation problems they can induce, resulting in burst blood vessels in many parts of the body. Lastly, the intestines can be directly damaged by the ferret ingesting a foreign object that gouges and cuts the digestive system as it makes its way through the body.

Diagnosis of Black Tarry Feces in Ferrets

The vet will typically begin with a thorough physical examination of the ferret in order to confirm the symptoms and check its overall health. Next, they will likely want to confer with the owner regarding the animal's medical history and the events leading up to the appearance of the abnormal feces, as these can yield vital clues for determining the cause of the problem. If at this point a diagnosis is not forthcoming, they will move to draw a blood sample for laboratory testing, as this can confirm kidney or liver failure and perhaps reveal any harmful substances that are present in the ferret's body. An ultrasound scan of the digestive system may also be used in order to check for foreign objects and blockages.

Treatment of Black Tarry Feces in Ferrets

Dehydration will often be present due to vomiting and diarrhea. To treat this, the vet will often intravenously introduce more liquids into the ferret's body in a process called 'fluid therapy'. In order to treat kidney or liver problems, there are a variety of solutions, ranging from surgery to remove cysts or other growths or drugs to properly regulate the organs' continued functions. Foreign objects or intestinal blockages can either be removed via surgery or with the use of laxatives, depending on their size and the damage they have done thus far. The vast majority of poisonings will resolve themselves if the ferret is kept well hydrated and fed, though some may require drugs such as atropine to relieve the worst of the symptoms.

Recovery of Black Tarry Feces in Ferrets

When the ferret is brought home, it will take several weeks to fully recover, no matter what the original source of the bleeding was. This is because of the amount of strain placed on the body by poisonings, dehydration, and surgical treatment for some problems. The animal will typically require intensive aftercare, with its movements limited in order to conserve energy and drugs, painkillers or antibiotics being administered as needed. It may be necessary to limit the types of food the ferret is given, so that its digestive system has ample time to recover. Additionally, follow-up visits may be necessary so that the vet can check on the animal's progress or run further testing (especially if some form of surgery or tumor was involved).

Black Tarry Feces Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

3 Years
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Dry Heaving
Black Stool
Dark stool
Not interested in eating

My ferret recently underwent surgery to remove a spleen (over a week since surgery). She was doing great with recovery but tonight she started dry heaving and trying to throw up. Her stools have been darker than usual and she hasn't been interested in eating by herself but will eat from a syringe. We were told by the vet to feed her Hills prescription urgent a/d to help gain weight and promote healing from the surgery. We started mixing it in with her kibble mix (Zupreem) but earlier today (before all of the dry heaving) we just fed her the urgent a/d without mixing it. Could that be why she is dry heaving and could the food be causing her dark almost black stools or could she possibly have developed a stress ulcer?

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3320 Recommendations
Dark tarry faeces is normally due to the presence of blood, a sudden change in diet may irritate the gastrointestinal tract or stress may be a factor; you should give Stella just water for the time being and visit your Veterinarian for a quick examination to be on the safe side. Tarry stools may also be a side effect of some medications, so a review of those may be useful as well. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Oh also she is regularly stooling and it is not liquid-y or mucus-y. Amount varies each time.

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3 Months
Fair condition
1 found helpful
Fair condition

Since i have been feeding her twice a day tsp ball chicken mince tsb ball beef mince plus 1 chicken heart both morn and eve. Plus she has her dry ferret food anytime. Her stool has gone from med brown to almost black tarry. When was feeding her woolworths cat packaged meat plus her dry the stool was med brown.A few times 1 in 3 wks i gave her pigtail cartilage pieces.where am i going wrong Doc?

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3320 Recommendations
Black tarry faeces is an indicator of digested blood in the stools which may be due to internal bleeding, consumption of blood or other cause; if you are feeding raw meat the blood present may be causing the tarry faeces, wean Chico off the raw meat and see if there is an improvement in faecal quality. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Thankyou Dr. If colour doesnt change over few days I will get Chiko checked.



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