What are Coccidiosis?

Coccidiosis refers to a parasitical infection of single-celled organisms in the intestines (or larger digestive system). Whilst most types of coccidiosis will either be dealt with by the ferret's own immune system or simply remain asymptomatic and never be noticed, others may provoke a quite violent reaction in their host's digestive system.

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Symptoms of Coccidiosis in Ferrets

Fortunately (from a diagnostic point of view), the symptoms of coccidiosis are quite noticeable, providing owners with plenty of time to seek medical assistance before the condition becomes life-threatening. It is important for ferret owners to keep a close eye on their ill pets, as any information regarding the development of the symptoms can be of great help to a vet when they are trying to diagnose the problem.

Diarrhea

As the ferret's condition starts to deteriorate, it will typically begin to start voiding the contents of its bowels. This diarrhea will typically include a noticeable quantity of blood caused by the coccidiosis inflaming and damaging the lining of the digestive tract. Owners may also notice that the fecal matter excreted by the ferret will contain a large quantity of intestinal mucus when compared to regular bowel movements. It is worth noting that in smaller species of animal, diarrhea can cause a lot of water to leave the body in a short amount of time. Because of this, owners should be watchful for signs of dehydration and its related complications.

Vomiting

A short time before diarrhea begins to set in, the ferret may begin to appear nauseous. This will result in a loss of appetite and possibly an aversion to being touched (signified by increased aggression) that will eventually turn into vomiting. As distinct from regular regurgitation or food poisoning, this throwing up will last for quite a while and may have repeated bouts. Much like diarrhea, vomiting results in a rapid loss of a lot of fluid from the animal's body. 

Weight Loss 

Owners may notice their ferret quickly losing much of its fat deposits and lean mass as the infection continues. This is because as the condition worsens, the bacteria both feed on the food being swallowed by the animal and irritate and damage the gut. Thus, the ferret loses weight due to both an inability to properly digest food and an unwillingness to eat in the first place.

Depression 

Ferrets suffering from coccidiosis may also display the classic signs of fatigue. This is because their energy levels will be low owing to their lack of nutrition. As a result, they will normally choose to stay in one area of their enclosure or the property and will ignore offers of food or attempts to play, instead appearing somewhat listless and sedentary.

Causes of Coccidiosis in Ferrets

Coccidiosis is caused by infection of coccidian protozoa in the host's body. There are many ways that this can happen, but the most common methods require direct contact with contaminated material. This normally takes the form of physical contact with infected fecal matter, which can happen when outdoors exercising, or simply by contact with other pets that may be infected. Alternatively, the ferret could have developed the condition by eating infected meat. Normally, the meat will outwardly appear fine, causing it to make its way into processed pet food or even the supermarket shelf. However, the infected meat will contain cysts full of the harmful bacteria, which once ingested, will stay and thrive inside the host animal's gut.

Diagnosis of Coccidiosis in Ferrets

When the infected ferret is brought to a clinic, the vet will normally perform a simple physical examination in order to observe the symptoms and rule out the presence of other conditions. This will also give the vet a chance to assess the animal's overall health. In order to confirm the presence of harmful parasites in the digestive tract, the vet may next take a sample of the ferret's stool for examination under a microscope. Dependent on how advanced the condition is, the vet may have some additional questions for the owner regarding the timeline of events surrounding the coccidiosis infection, in order to try and trace the condition back to its source.

Treatment of Coccidiosis in Ferrets

Following diagnosis, the vet will, in all probability, move to administer drugs such as sulfadimethoxine to the ferret. These drugs will limit the reproductive power of the organisms, bringing the population of parasites down to a manageable size whereby the ferret's own immune system can destroy them and remove them from the body. Drug courses will typically only last a couple of weeks, allowing for a somewhat speedy recovery. The vet may also recommend intravenous fluid therapy be conducted on animals that have suffered from extended periods of vomiting or diarrhea, due to the fact that dehydration may be starting to set in. Thankfully, this will only take a matter of minutes to complete, and will have almost instantaneous results.

Recovery of Coccidiosis in Ferrets

Prescribed drug courses will have to be maintained for several weeks in order to allow the ferret to entirely remove the parasite from its system. Following this, it may still take a while to regain its full health and return to a healthy weight if the infection had continued for any substantial length of time. The vet may also request that the owner keeps the ferret's diet as bland as possible for a few days, in order to give the stomach a chance to recover after the episodes of vomiting.