What is Excessive Production of Saliva?

Saliva is continuously produced due to an excitement response of the salivary nuclei in the ferret’s brain stem. Common excitement stimuli are the scent or taste of food, triggering a response in the brain to allow saliva to flow from the saliva glands in the mouth. When a ferret is producing too much saliva, it is an indication of underlying disease. An overproduction of saliva can be the result of other conditions, such as disease of the stomach, esophagus, or pharynx, as well as oral cavity lesions and central nervous system lesions. Young ferrets are commonly affected with ptyalism due to a foreign body entrapment or ingestion of a caustic or toxic agent. Older ferrets are more likely to develop an excessive production of saliva due to metabolic or gastrointestinal disease. 

An excessive production of saliva in ferrets is termed ptyalism or pseudoptyalism in the veterinary world, depending on the symptoms your ferret is displaying. A case of excessive production of saliva alone is termed ptyalism. An excessive release of saliva characterized by the accumulation of fluids in the oral cavity is termed pseudoptyalism. An excessive production of saliva is an extremely common problem in ferrets as saliva is constantly secreted from the salivary glands. 

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Symptoms of Excessive Production of Saliva in Ferrets

The most obvious symptom of an excessive production of saliva in ferrets is a large amount of fluid produced from the mammal’s mouth. This abnormally excessive saliva production also causes a ferret to display behavior changes, such as refusing to eat, irritability, and even aggression if the condition is causing a great deal of pain. Additionally, a ferret with an excessive production of saliva can show any of the following clinical signs: 

  • Anorexia 
  • Halitosis (bad breath) 
  • Muscle wasting 
  • Weight loss 
  • Dropping food from the mouth 
  • Pawing at the face 
  • Swallowing difficulties
  • Grinding of the teeth 
  • Facial pain
  • Tarry stools
  • Diarrhea 
  • Regurgitation 
  • Vomiting 
  • Drooling 

Causes of Excessive Production of Saliva in Ferrets

Excessive production of saliva in ferrets can be caused by a variety of conditions. A ferret could develop ptyalism or pseudoptyalism due to drugs and toxins, neurologic disorders, salivary gland disease, oral disease, pharyngeal disease, esophageal disorders, gastrointestinal and metabolic disorders. 

Drugs and Toxins

  • Caffeine 
  • Insecticides
  • Pyrethroids 
  • Pyrethrin
  • Boric acid 
  • Cholinergic drugs
  • Organophosphate compounds 
  • Caustic agents 

Neurologic Disorders

  • Vestibular disease 
  • Seizures 
  • Botulism 
  • Rabies 
  • Canine distemper virus 

Salivary Gland Disease 

  • Sialocele or ranula 

Oral and Pharyngeal Disease 

  • Gingivitis 
  • Stomatitis 
  • Neoplasm 
  • Foreign body 
  • Esophageal disorders 
  • Megaesophagus 
  • Esophagitis 
  • Esophageal neoplasm 
  • Esophageal foreign body 

Gastrointestinal Disorders 

Infectious or parasitic gastroenteritis 

  • ECE
  • Salmonellosis 
  • Giardiasis 

Infiltrative Gastroenteritis 

  • GI lymphoma 
  • Lymphoplasmacytic gastroenteritis

Eosinophilic gastroenteritis  

Gastrointestinal foreign body 
Gastric ulcer 

Metabolic Disorders 

  • Hepatoencephalopathy 
  • Uremia 
  • Insulinoma 

Diagnosis of Excessive Production of Saliva in Ferrets

Following a thorough review of your ferret’s medical history and performing a physical exam, the veterinarian will proceed to perform logical diagnostic tests to determine the underlying cause of the problem. The symptoms an excessive production of saliva causes mimic similar clinical signs of a dental complication, toxicity, gastritis and a foreign body obstruction, so a differential diagnosis will be required. The veterinarian will likely request the following diagnostic tests: 

  • A CBC (Complete Blood Cell count): blood test used to evaluate the number of circulating platelets, red and white blood cells. 
  • A biochemistry profile: a blood test that provides information of the amount of electrolytes and gastrointestinal enzymes the ferret is making. This blood test also indicates the functionality of the ferret’s organs and overall internal health. 
  • Urinalysis: examination of the urine to screen for infection, metabolic conditions, and damage to the kidneys. 
  • Radiographs 
  • Thoracic x-rays: ultrasonic imaging of the chest containing the heart, lungs and upper digestive tract. 
  • Abdominal x-rays: ultrasonic imaging of the abdominal cavity. 
  • Endoscopy: the use of a fiber-optic camera placed inside the esophagus, lower airways, or trachea for evaluation purposes. 
  • Biopsy: taking a small sample of tissues from the mouth or a saliva swab for examination. 

Treatment of Excessive Production of Saliva in Ferrets

The treatment option for an excessive production of saliva in ferrets depends on the underlying cause. The veterinarian will base his/her treatment plan on the clinical findings from the diagnostic examination and your ferret’s specific symptoms. 

Recovery of Excessive Production of Saliva in Ferrets

The majority of ferrets suffering from an excessive production of saliva fluids make a full recovery once treatment is received. The recovery time varies from case to case, but young ferrets usually recover faster than those of an older age.