What is Foreign Object in the Stomach?

In the course of day to day activities, a ferret will come across multiple objects that it will investigate by gnawing or biting. This is often an attempt to determine whether or not an object is edible and, in the wild, this is generally a sound strategy. However, in captivity, the ferret has a tendency to consume man-made materials that are not only indigestible, but which are actively dangerous to the ferret's wellbeing. These foreign objects can cause serious discomfort and damage once they enter the digestive system.

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Symptoms of Foreign Object in the Stomach in Ferrets

Most of the symptoms of a foreign object in the stomach are quite noticeable, though it can be hard for most owners to determine the exact nature of the problem. Care should be taken when transporting the ferret that pressure is kept off its abdominal area, as this can cause further damage.

Vomiting

After swallowing a foreign object, the ferret may attempt to regurgitate it once it realizes that it is unable to digest the item. If this is unsuccessful, however, the object will make its way to the stomach, where it can cause significant irritation. At first, the ferret will display signs of feeling nauseous by becoming more lethargic and sedentary whilst refusing to eat any meals offered to it. This will eventually lead to the ferret throwing up as it tries to purge the contents of its stomach in order to get rid of the foreign object. However, if the object cannot be removed, then the ferret may continue vomiting for some time. It is important for owners to consider that the act of vomiting removes a lot of water from a ferret's body and can easily lead to dehydration setting in. To mitigate the chances of this happening, owners should make as much drinking water available to the animal as possible.

Hypersalivation

A common reaction to swallowing something indigestible is for the ferret to begin producing excessive amounts of saliva. The purpose of this is to provide lubrication which will help remove the object from the throat and mouth as it is regurgitated. It can also be a consequence of the foreign object containing irritants that the ferret will try to flush out of the mouth by producing copious amounts of saliva. Owners will typically notice the ferret starting to either appear to be drooling or starting to foam at the mouth.

Blood in Feces 

Foreign objects in the digestive system can cause a surprising amount of direct damage to the lining of the esophagus, stomach, and intestines. This is especially true if the object is hard or has sharp edges. Because of this, it is not uncommon for owners to observe a quantity of blood appearing in their pet's feces when they have swallowed such an obstruction. Fortunately, it is relatively easy for owners to determine the rough location of the damage by examining the color of the ferret's feces. Green feces indicates that the blood has been mostly digested, meaning that the bleeding is either in the throat or the stomach itself. Black or very dark feces, however, means that the bleeding is coming from the intestines.

Abdominal Pain

An obvious consequence of an obstruction of the digestive system is that it will invariably produce some quantity of pain and discomfort for the affected animal. This is both due to the damage that the object can do to the insides of the digestive tract, as well as the fact that the blockage can cause food matter to pile up behind it. This means that the ferret's abdomen will commonly become very sensitive to the touch and the animal may even refuse to willingly allow its owners to inspect it. Owners may notice an increased level of defensiveness in the ferret, as well as a general unwillingness to move.

Causes of Foreign Object in the Stomach in Ferrets

The main culprits that commonly cause obstructions in the stomach are pieces of plastic and animal bones. Plastics are ubiquitous in modern society, and despite the hazard they pose, ferrets' natural curiosity will prompt them to attempt to test their edibility whenever possible. Small things such as bottle caps, pen lids, or even buttons from shirts can provide the perfect item for a ferret to gnaw on or inadvertently swallow. As they cannot be broken down by the digestive system, they will often lodge in the stomach or gut and cause problems. Animal bones, on the other hand, provide a hazard that is present in the ferret's natural diet. Broken bones are often sharp and, if swallowed, can gouge and cut the inside of the digestive tract before coming to a rest in the stomach.

Diagnosis of Foreign Object in the Stomach in Ferrets

In the majority of cases, the vet will be able to diagnose the presence of an obstruction by using a simple physical examination, as the sensitivity exhibited by the various parts of the digestive will allow them to narrow down the location of the blockage (if not feel the object itself). To precisely locate the object, however, there are several techniques that can be used. Firstly, an ultrasound scan will give a good idea of the state of the stomach itself and the location of the object, whilst an x-ray will show the vet exactly how it is positioned within the stomach. Finally, an endoscopy can be performed by threading a camera down the ferret's throat to observe the blockage up close. This will also provide a good opportunity to assess the extent of any damage to the digestive system.

Treatment of Foreign Object in the Stomach in Ferrets

Depending on the type of object and its alignment within the stomach, the vet may be able to simply use an endoscope probe to grab the obstruction and pull it out via the throat. If it is not safe to do this, however (such as if the object is too big or sharp), then the obstruction will have to be surgically removed. Fortunately, this procedure (known as a 'foreign body removal') is considered fairly minor and straightforward by many vets. Almost immediately, there will be a noticeable change in the ferret's condition.

Recovery of Foreign Object in the Stomach in Ferrets

After surgery, the majority of ferrets can be expected to make a fairly rapid recovery, with most regaining full mobility within three to four weeks. However, owners will still have to provide a diligent level of aftercare in order to ensure that the ferret receives any painkillers or antibiotics that they may require and is not allowed to pull out its stitches. Because of this, it will be important to confine the animal to its enclosure for several weeks so that it does not pick up dirt from the outside that could potentially cause an infection. Additionally, to ensure the digestive system has a chance to fully recover, the vet may recommend feeding the ferret as bland a diet as possible until it is fully healed.