What are Hairballs?

If you believe your ferret could have hairballs, take him to a veterinarian for treatment as soon as possible. If hairballs are left untreated, your ferret’s condition may worsen and treatment may become more difficult.

Ferrets, like cats, often groom themselves with their tongues. It’s natural for ferrets to want to do this, but engaging in this behavior can cause hairballs to develop.

Hairballs may not seem like something to worry about, but they can be very serious. A hairball can become lodged in your ferret’s stomach, or even worse, his intestines, and make it difficult to eat or pass feces. Hairballs can also cause ferrets to vomit and lose interest in eating, which will then lead to extreme weight loss. 

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Symptoms of Hairballs in Ferrets

Symptoms of hairballs will vary on a case-by-case basis. Some ferrets that have ingested hairballs will not appear ill at all, while others will immediately begin to exhibit symptoms. Some of the most common signs of hairballs include:

  • Vomiting
  • Complete or partial loss of appetite
  • Passing feces with hair in it

Causes of Hairballs in Ferrets

Hairballs are often associated with cats, but ferrets can also have hairballs, which form when the ferret grooms himself and ingests a large amount of hair. Although hairballs can occur at any time, ferrets are more likely to groom themselves during the fall and spring, because that’s when their hair begins to shed.

Diagnosis of Hairballs in Ferrets

If your ferret begins to exhibit any of the symptoms of hairballs, take him into a veterinarian’s office as soon as possible. Describe the symptoms you have observed and let the vet know when they first began. If your ferret has passed feces with hair in it, be sure to mention this to your vet right away. The vet should be able to make a diagnosis based on this information alone, which will save you a lot of time and trouble. However, if your ferret has not exhibited this symptom yet, the vet will need to perform a physical examination to figure out the problem.

During the physical examination, the vet may be able to feel the hairball in your ferret’s stomach. But, if the hairball is small, this can be rather difficult. He can also perform an X-ray to see if there is a foreign object or hairball that is causing the symptoms. The X-ray should show a mass of hair that will help the vet confirm the diagnosis of hairballs.

Treatment of Hairballs in Ferrets

There are two main treatments for hairballs. The first involves administering a laxative paste to your ferret to make it easier for him to pass the hairball out of his system. The laxatives come in a toothpaste-like tube and can be administered directly into your ferret’s mouth or put next to his food. The vet will let you know how many times you need to administer the laxative, and how much should be given each time. You will typically be asked to administer a couple inches of the laxative per day until the ferret’s condition has improved. The vet will most likely ask you to return with your ferret for multiple follow-up visits so he can monitor the progression of his recovery.

However, some vets will not treat hairballs with laxatives because they fear it will cause the hairball to move into the intestine and become lodged there. An intestinal blockage is much more serious than a blockage in the stomach, so vets are right to be concerned. If the vet does not think laxatives are a good choice, he may recommend surgery to remove the hairball instead. The surgery will need to take place right away before the hairball moves into the intestines on its own. Intestinal surgery is riskier than stomach surgery, so the vet will want to act while the hairball is still inside the ferret’s stomach.

Recovery of Hairballs in Ferrets

Your ferret should make a full recovery from hairball treatment. However, complications may arise if the hairball has already become lodged in the ferret’s intestines. 

Be sure to follow the vet’s instructions carefully after treatment. Talk to your vet about whether you need to make changes to your ferret’s diet while he recovers from the treatment.

Owners should make an effort to prevent their ferrets from developing hairballs. Try to frequently brush your ferret’s hair with a soft brush to remove his loose hair. You should also give your ferret a bath at least once a week and vacuum or shake out his bedding to remove any excess hair that could end up in your ferret’s system.