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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).