What is Diarrhea?

Diarrhea, by definition, is the increased frequency, volume, and liquid content of fecal matter. Diarrhea in ferrets commonly occurs when the intestinal tract fails to absorb a sufficient enough amount of fluids from waste products, or water is directed toward the intestines, increasing the overall intestinal fluid volume. The intestines have the ability to control fluid volume by secretion, if not enough water is present, or absorption, if too much water is present. The functionality of the intestines can become compromised  due to a number a causes, leading to the number one intestinal tract disease to affect ferrets, diarrhea. 

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Symptoms of Diarrhea in Ferrets

Diarrhea is easily identified by a loose or watery stool, paired with frequent defecation. The color of the feces may be dark brown, greenish, or yellow, and can contain blood or internal parasites. The exact symptom paired with a ferret’s diarrhea condition depends greatly on the primary cause. No matter what the cause, diarrhea always causes a decrease in hydration, termed dehydration, as well as a weakened overall state. If the ferret’s diarrhea is a result of an infection, the pet may also have a fever and decreased appetite. If the condition of diarrhea in ferrets persists for a long period of time, the pet may lose weight. A summarized list of symptoms related to diarrhea in ferrets follows: 

  • Loose, watery stools 
  • Frequent defecation 
  • Pain upon defecation 
  • Dehydration 
  • Fever 
  • Abnormal stool coloration 
  • Presence of pus, blood, or parasites in the stool
  • Weight loss 

Causes of Diarrhea in Ferrets

Diarrhea in ferrets can result from a range of causes, from a simple dietary change to internal parasites, which is why a proper diagnosis is crucial in any diarrhea case. If your ferret is experiencing diarrhea for a short period of time, it is likely that he or she ate something inappropriate and the digestive system reacted poorly. The same is true for a change in brand, ingredient, or flavor of your typical ferret food. If you would like to make a change in your ferret’s diet, you will need to make a gradual change in order to allow the intestinal tract time to adjust to the change. Ask your veterinarian how to properly adjust your ferret to make a change in diet. Chronic cases of diarrhea, on the other hand, can be a red flag for a more serious condition such as an infection. The common causes for a ferret to develop diarrhea include the following: 

  • Dietary change 
  • Parasites 
  • Toxins 
  • Foreign bodies lodged in the intestinal tract 
  • Viral infections 
  • Bacterial infections 

Diagnosis of Diarrhea in Ferrets

If your ferret is experiencing diarrhea for greater than two or three days, it is important to have the pet evaluated by a licensed veterinary professional. Diarrhea is often diagnosed through an evaluation of the fecal matter, therefore, if you are able to collect a fecal sample prior to visiting the veterinarian, please do so. Fecal samples can be gathered the night before, collected in a plastic bag and stored in the bottom of your refrigerator away from food items. The veterinarian will hand off the sample to one of the veterinary technicians to perform a fecal analysis and a fecal flotation test, which will identify the presence of parasites. The doctor will then proceed to perform a physical examination, checking the ferret’s vital signs and overall health. If the results from the fecal examination are negative, the veterinarian may request a urinalysis and blood analysis. An ultrasound of the small and large intestines may be requested to identify a foreign body enlarged in the intestinal tract. Lastly, an exploratory procedure or a colonoscopy may be required to see the internal aspects of the intestinal system. 

Treatment of Diarrhea in Ferrets

The treatment option selected to treat diarrhea in ferrets greatly depends on the primary ailment. Infections are treated therapeutically with intravenous fluids, electrolytes, and an antibacterial medication. If parasites are detected, an anti-parasitic medication will need to be administered to kill and remove all life stages of the parasites. In other cases, a dietary change may be prescribed and at-home medications may be required. To better understand the treatment options for your ferret’s diarrhea, ask your veterinarian. 

Recovery of Diarrhea in Ferrets

Most ferret diarrhea cases have an excellent prognosis, as those that receive treatment promptly make a fast and full recovery. If your ferret has had chronic diarrhea and was taken to the veterinarian in a poor state, the recovery time will be much longer. Diarrhea in ferrets does not always need veterinary attention if the condition only lasts a day or two, but any diarrhea case that lasts longer than two or three days must be properly diagnosed by a veterinarian.