What is Cough?
Coughing is the involuntary reaction of quickly forcing air from the lungs through the throat to remove an obstruction from the airway. In most animals, it is almost always an indicator of a larger health problem, be it a common cold or a chronic lung condition. For this reason, a constant and long-lasting cough is cause for concern, especially in an animal as small as a ferret.
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Symptoms of Cough in Ferrets
Thankfully, coughing is a readily apparent symptom with a host of other indicators that can appear with it. This means that owners can easily monitor its progression and seek medical help if it does not readily subside.
The most obvious symptom is the cough itself, due not just to the noise but also because of the convulsions the ferret will undergo as it quickly contracts its diaphragm. Coughing can also result in fluids or material being expelled from the ferret's mouth that may yield a clue as to the cause of the condition. The sound generated by the cough can also provide a clue as to the nature of the problem, as a more phlegmatic sound can be an indicator of fluid in the lungs.
The ferret may also start exhibiting signs of discomfort that point to an external cause for its coughing (such as plant poisoning). If its throat is irritated, the animal may start drinking extra water or salivating noticeably in order to wash the irritants away. Owners may notice this being accompanied by a degree of swelling or redness around the mouth, which will often provide fairly conclusive evidence for the ferret having swallowed or inhaled a harmful substance.
Many ferrets affected by coughing fits will also exhibit a degree of difficulty breathing. As coughing is often an attempt to clear the lungs, the obstruction or fluid within may cause the ferret to find it hard to inhale. This may produce a noticeable wheezing sound as the animal struggles for air. This may additionally cause them to become quite sedentary, reducing their activity levels to the point that they will move only when absolutely necessary.
Causes of Cough in Ferrets
Most bouts of coughing have a relatively simple and non-threatening explanation: viral infection. In an effort to clear the virus out of the body, the lungs will begin to produce an excessive amount of mucous in which to trap the germs. This mucous then proves irritating to the animal, which begins coughing in order to draw it out of the lungs and expel it from the body. The vast majority of viral infections are relatively benign and will be dealt with by the animal's immune system in a matter of days. The second, (and most serious) cause of coughing is liquid in the lungs. This fluid buildup is often indicative of larger problems such as heart disease or pneumonia. The lungs and throat may also be irritated by harmful substances, such as chemicals found around the house or toxins found in plants. That said, these will often be accompanied by more noticeable symptoms that will spur most owners to take more urgent steps to get veterinary help.
Diagnosis of Cough in Ferrets
Once in the clinic, the ferret will undergo a physical examination in order to test their vital signs and check for additional symptoms. Next, the vet may choose to inspect their lungs either via the use of an endoscope or an ultrasound imaging scan. The vet will also have a series of questions regarding the ferret's living conditions in order to try and determine if there is an environmental factor responsible for their symptoms. They may also request the animal's medical history in order to have a complete picture of the animal's prior health.
Treatment of Cough in Ferrets
Depending on the diagnosis, the vet will normally move to begin treatment immediately, although most viral infections can be left for the ferret's immune system to deal with. Fluid buildup in the lungs due to heart disease can be treated by using diuretic drugs that will provoke urination, which will stop the body from retaining water. Poisoning due to exposure to plants or toxic substances will be treated either with specific drugs or using simple fluid therapy to flush the toxins out of the system.
Recovery of Cough in Ferrets
When the ferret returns home, it will usually be necessary to limit their level of activity. This will prevent them from straining their lungs in an attempt to breathe faster. It will also help conserve their energy in order to speed up their recovery. Most colds will end within the space of a few days to a week, whilst poisonings can take longer depending on the chemicals involved. If there is a more serious underlying issue causing the coughing, the vet will most likely require follow-up visits in order to both treat the condition and assess the animal's rate of recovery.
Cough Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
I just got a new ferret, she is about 5 months old. She seems to have a cough every once in a while and then stops for a bit. Sometimes she wheezes, sometimes she grinds her teeth. I have given her Vaseline in case she has hairballs, but it doesn't seem to be helping. She has also gagged while eating. Her appetite is completely fine and she is very playful, just this cough and gagging that is worrying us.
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