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When a ferret begins to decline food, it is a clear indicator that there is something wrong. Whether it is a simple stomach virus or a far more serious issue, the loss of appetite is usually one of the first warning signs of problems to come. The symptoms that follow soon after a loss of appetite will determine the nature of the problem.
Once the owner notices the ferret losing its inclination to eat, they should closely monitor it in order to have a clear idea of how the next symptoms developed. Such information can prove valuable to a vet during the diagnostic stage of treatment.
Along with a loss of appetite, the onset of lethargy is often one of the first symptoms of a larger problem. This unwillingness of the ferret to move can be explained by a number of factors, but it often boils down to either the immune system going into overdrive to combat a virus or bacterial infection, or discomfort of some kind that inhibits the ferret’s movements.
In the event of liver failure, many of the toxins that are usually dealt with by the organ can end up accumulating in the ferret’s blood supply. One of the most noticeable of these chemicals is ‘bilirubin’, as it changes the animal’s skin color to a shade of yellow. A similar effect can be noticed in some instances of kidney damage. This liver or kidney failure is often accompanied by a loss of appetite, as the body will not be able to filter toxins out of ingested foodstuffs.
Before vomiting starts to occur, the ferret will usually cease wanting to consume food due to increasingly intense waves of nausea. Eventually, this gives way to full-on vomiting, which typically lasts a considerable period of time in the event of poisoning or liver failure. Vomiting can also cause rapid dehydration of small animals such as ferrets, so extra drinking water should be made available.
The gastrointestinal issues that cause diarrhea will also cause a degree of nausea, preventing the ferret from eating more food. Note that diarrhea is a major cause of dehydration, an extra care should be taken to make sure the ferret does not incur additional health problems as a result.
The problems with the digestive tract that cause a loss of appetite will also commonly produce a degree of abdominal pain and discomfort. This can be due to the ingestion of poisonous toxins, organ failure, direct damage to the stomach or intestines or even bacterial infection. Owners can recognize abdominal pain by the change in the ferret’s behavior to a more defensive posture, as well as an unwillingness to be touched.
One of the tell-tale signs of poisoning is irritation of the delicate tissues of the mouth. This irritation will extend all the way down the digestive tract, causing the animal to refuse additional food. Ferrets suffering from such irritation may salivate, show visible redness, or paw at their face.
There are several main causes of a loss of appetite: liver or kidney problems, poisoning, a viral or bacterial infection or direct damage to the gastrointestinal tract. In the majority of cases, a virus or bacteria will be responsible, due in large part to the natural curiosity of ferrets and their propensity to get extremely messy when the opportunity presents itself. This disregard for hygiene can at times leave them vulnerable to infection from microbes in dirt or carried by other animals they may come into contact with. Liver or kidney problems can also cause nausea, mainly in an attempt to prevent further damage to the body via the ingestion of harmful substances at a time when they cannot be properly disposed of. Direct damage, meanwhile, will often cause an unpleasant period of nausea and pain, as the digestive system tries to give itself time to heal.
When the ferret arrives at the clinic, the vet will first perform a physical examination in order to confirm the reported symptoms and assess the ferret’s overall condition. This is also a good time to look for signs of irritation to the mouth and lips or search for signs of a penetrating injury. To diagnose a viral or bacterial infection, the vet may opt to take a urine and stool sample, as these will provide direct evidence of what pathogens are in the ferret’s gut. Organ failure, meanwhile is most often diagnosed via the use of blood tests, as the substances released into the bloodstream provide clear indicators of the nature of the problem.
In the event of vomiting and/or diarrhea, the vet will often choose to intravenously administer fluids to the ferret in order to prevent dehydration and stimulate the production of urine, which will help flush out any toxins in the body. Viral and bacterial infections can be treated with a course of the appropriate drugs, whilst injuries can be treated by rest or, in extreme cases, with surgery. Serious poisonings may require drugs specific to the chemicals that have been ingested, though most cases will see their symptoms subside naturally over time.
In cases of poisoning, the majority of cases are fairly minor, necessitating only around a week of rest until the ferret is back to normal. Older animals, however, may require more time as their bodies and immune systems are not able to recover quite as fast. Most infections can be dealt with within the space of a month, provided the owner ensures that the ferret takes the full course of prescribed antibiotics within the specified schedule. In cases necessitating surgery, the vet may wish to schedule a follow-up appointment in order to check on the ferret’s healing progress.
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