What is Large Bowel Diarrhea?

Large bowel diarrhea refers to a range of symptoms that primarily affect the functionality and integrity of the large intestine. The condition usually presents itself as a consequence of bacterial infection and, if not promptly dealt with, poses a risk of allowing other pathogens to take hold in the ferret's body. The diarrhea itself is also a threat to the ferret's wellbeing, with some especially dangerous symptoms appearing as the condition progresses and the potential complications proving to be lethal in some cases.

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Symptoms of Large Bowel Diarrhea in Ferrets

It is fortunate that the symptoms of large bowel diarrhea are so pronounced and visible to even the most unobservant of owners. This allows them to seek proper medical advice whilst the condition is still in its relatively early stages, potentially preventing further damage to the animal.

Diarrhea

After the ferret has become infected with the relevant bacteria, it will begin to exhibit the warning signs of nausea and digestive discomfort. This includes a refusal of food and a general unwillingness of the ferret to be touched by its owners. In time, this discomfort will transform into an outright loss of bowel control, with the animal starting to defecate seemingly at random. Owners will not usually see any marked difference in the texture or coloration of the ferret's fecal matter, though in some cases it may seem substantially darker than normal (which is indicative of intestinal bleeding). Furthermore, it is important to bear in mind that diarrhea can quickly sap fluids out of the ferret's body, making it essential that they receive a good amount of drinking water in order to stave off dehydration.

Distention 

Another regular consequence of large bowel diarrhea is the twisting and bloating of the intestines. As this occurs, they ferret may start to twitch slightly as its abdominal muscles spasm. Furthermore, the animal will normally start to show signs of localized pain, namely a reduced level of activity and an elevated level of aggression and irritability. It is important for owners to consider the possibility that the ferret may react violently if they attempt to physically touch the affected area. In some cases, however, it may be possible to visually notice a degree of swelling in the ferret's belly without touching the animal.

Weight Loss

If the problem is ongoing and left untreated, then the ferret may start to lose a drastic amount of its body fat and muscle mass. This is partly due to the fact that ill animals will oftentimes refuse to eat any offered food, as well as the issue of diarrhea removing precious nutrients from the body before they can be fully digested. This lack of proper nutrition can also have an effect on the quality of the animal's coat, with it losing its shine and neatness as time goes on.

Rapid Heartbeat 

If the infection is allowed to remain untreated, the ferret will start to experience an elevated heart rate. Whilst this is not normally a cause for alarm, it can (if secondary complications are also present) lead to heart failure. Owners can easily gauge the heartbeat of their ferret by laying their fingers against its torso. Note that the ferret may wish to remain undisturbed and relatively sedentary in order to alleviate the discomfort of a rapid heartbeat, so a degree of caution is advised when trying to make physical contact.

Causes of Large Bowel Diarrhea in Ferrets

The main reason for the appearance of large bowel diarrhea is the presence in the digestive tract of 'Clostridium perfringens' bacteria. This strain of bacteria is typically found on raw meat that has been left out, as well as in rotting plant matter. Thus, the bacterium can be easily spread to the ferret by feeding it scraps from the kitchen counter or allowing it to consume carrion. However, it is also worth bearing in mind that the bacterium can be transmitted via contact with another animal or their feces, meaning that the ferret should usually be kept away from unfamiliar animals. The irritation caused by the activities of the Clostridium perfringens is responsible for the diarrhea and loss of appetite. Meanwhile, the production of gas due to the respiration of the bacteria causes a fair amount of the visible bloating and distention.

Diagnosis of Large Bowel Diarrhea in Ferrets

When the ferret is brought to the appointment, the vet will typically perform a thorough physical examination in order to both gauge the overall health of the animal, and look over their symptoms for themselves. Next, they will typically move to take a blood and stool sample, as this can be quickly examined under a microscope to identify the microorganisms contained therein. It is at this point that the vet will usually move to question the owner regarding the origins of the infection, so as to possibly pinpoint the source of the problem and understand the origin of the bacteria.

Treatment of Large Bowel Diarrhea in Ferrets

In the majority of cases, the vet will simply keep the animal intravenously hydrated and allow the ferret’s immune system to destroy the bacteria by itself. If however, the infection is particularly virulent, they may prescribe some antibiotics for the owner to give to the ferret. These are usually delivered in pill form and are either force-fed to the animal or crushed into subsequent meals.

Recovery of Large Bowel Diarrhea in Ferrets

Most ferrets will recover from large bowel diarrhea within the space of a couple of weeks. That said, it is important for owners to keep in mind that the ferret must complete the full course of antibiotics (which will typically last for roughly a month) in order to prevent a resurgence of the bacteria. It should also be noted that due to the strain put on the digestive system by the infection, the animal’s meals should be kept as bland and easily digestible as possible until it is back on its feet.