What is Inflammation of the Stomach and Intestine?

A ferret with eosinophilic gastroenteritis may lose his or her ability to reproduce and show signs of dehydration. Additionally, a ferret with inflammation of the stomach and intestine will develop diarrhea with the presence of blood and/or mucus. He or she may vomit chronically and lose weight as consumed food nutrition cannot be absorbed before the ferret’s condition forces the mammal to expel food. This type of condition is not predisposed to one gender or age, but most reports have been made on ferrets between the ages of six months to four years.

Inflammation of the stomach and intestine in ferrets is known to the veterinary world as eosinophilic gastroenteritis or EG. This internal disorder is characterized by an abnormal accumulation of white blood cells in the intestinal wall called eosinophils associated with lymph nodes. Eosinophils are a type of blood cell that increases as the body reacts to a parasite infestation or allergic reaction. Although no cause has been confirmed for eosinophilic gastroenteritis, the presence of these cells makes experts think that a condition related to the ferret’s immune system could be the primary cause. Veterinarians often see this type of gastrointestinal disorder in young, male ferrets. 

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Symptoms of Inflammation of the Stomach and Intestine in Ferrets

The first symptoms ferret owners notice when their pet is suffering from eosinophilic gastroenteritis is related to defecation. Ferrets often develop diarrhea that often contains blood and/or mucus or the stools may be a dark, tar color, which is digested blood indicating bleeding high in the digestive system. The ferret may vomit intermittently, become lethargic, and develop anorexia. A complete list of symptoms associated with eosinophilic gastroenteritis are listed below: 

  • Mucus or blood-streaked diarrhea 
  • Intermittent vomiting 
  • Dark, tar-colored stools
  • Lethargy 
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Chronic weight loss

Causes of Inflammation of the Stomach and Intestine in Ferrets

Eosinophilic gastroenteritis has no known cause, but veterinarians and experts believe it is a result of immune-mediated disease. Allergies and effects of a  defective immune system are believed to be the source of this internal condition. The presence of eosinophils associated with lymph nodes in this disease is what brings experts to believe the problem could be immune related, however, this statement has not been proven. 

Diagnosis of Inflammation of the Stomach and Intestine in Ferrets

The diagnosis process of inflammation of the stomach and intestine will begin with a review of the patient’s medical records and a physical exam. Upon physical examination, the veterinarian will be able to detect enlarged eosinophilic granulomas in the mesenteric lymph nodes and an intestinal wall thickness through palpation. The doctor will likely request a CBC (complete blood cell count), fecal floatation test, a microfilaria test, an Aleutian disease serology, and fecal cultures for Salmonella and Campylobacter bacteria. If the ferret is suffering from eosinophilic gastroenteritis, the CBC will reveal hypoalbuminemia with eosinophilia in the 2.5% - 22% range. 

The ferret’s doctor may then request an exploratory laparotomy, which is a diagnostic procedure that is characterized by opening the ferret up to allow the veterinarian to see exactly what the problem is. Once inside the abdomen, the intestinal tract, stomach and/or mesenteric lymph nodes may be sampled for biopsy purposes. All test combined will allow the veterinarian to complete his/her differential diagnosis against other common ferret health issues such as; Salmonellosis, strange bodies, neoplasia (adenocarcinoma, lymphosarcoma), Aleutian disease, gastroduodenal ulceration (Helicobacter mustelae) and proliferative bowel disease (Lawsonia intracellularis). 

Treatment of Inflammation of the Stomach and Intestine in Ferrets

The treatment of stomach and intestinal inflammation in ferrets in non-definitive. Your veterinarian will provide supportive therapy including nutritional support, fluid therapy, and corticotherapy such as prednisone. Any underlying disease that might have been found upon diagnosis will be addressed according to the veterinarian’s recommendations.

Recovery of Inflammation of the Stomach and Intestine in Ferrets

Routine follow-up appointments with the veterinarian are to be expected for a ferret diagnosed with EG, as the doctor will want to examine the patient on a regular basis. A dietary change will likely be recommended to account for the digestive irregularities this internal condition causes. Canned or soft foods are easiest to digest and will be given to your ferret on a trial basis. If the condition is causing the ferret a great deal of pain or discomfort, your veterinarian may prescribe a course of pain relief drugs. 

The overall prognosis for EG in ferrets is rather poor, even with supportive therapy. The main goal the vet wishes to accomplish when treating a ferret with this condition is managing the symptoms and making the pet as comfortable as possible.