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What is Lower Urinary Tract Infection?

True bacterial cystitis is caused by bacteria entering the vagina or penis of the ferret, caused by improper hygiene and mating. This form of bacterial cystitis is easy to treat in generally healthy ferrets. Unfortunately, lower urinary tract infections can also be a secondary health condition as a result of uroliths (urinary stones) or prostatomegaly in males (prostate gland inflammation). A  proper diagnosis is mandatory for any ferret displaying clinical signs of a lower urinary tract infection, as a serious health problem could be hidden behind this condition. 

A lower urinary tract infection known as bacterial cystitis develops when bacteria colonize in the external urethral orifice, urethra, or bladder. If the bacteria are allowed to multiply, the infection can migrate to the upper urinary system, affecting the ureters and kidneys. 

Symptoms of Lower Urinary Tract Infection in Ferrets

A lower urinary tract infection will cause the tissues of the urethra to swell and inflame, causing a great deal of pain to the ferret. The exterior appearance of the urinary system may look red, swollen and irritated. Pet owners may notice their ferret is using the litter pan more frequently, but little to no urine passes. Upon urination, the ferret may vocalize, strain to urinate, and pass traces of blood or pus. The pet may appear tired from the constant feeling of needing to urinate and may display signs of depression. Additional signs of a ferret lower urinary tract infection pet owners should watch for include the following: 

  • Cloudy urine
  • Fever 
  • Pain during urination
  • Dehydration 
  • Foul-smelling urine 
  • Polyuria (frequent need to urinate) 
  • Polydipsia (increased water intake) 
  • Inflamed vaginal or penile external organs 
  • White or yellowish discharge 
  • Redness of the urinary tissues
  • Inability to urinate
  • Depression 


Causes of Lower Urinary Tract Infection in Ferrets

A lower urinary tract infection in ferrets can be caused by various strains of bacteria including; E.coli, Klebsiella, Pseudomonas, Proteus, Staphylococcus, Enterococcus and other gram-negative bacteria. E. coli, however, is the most common form of bacteria to cause lower urinary tract infections. E. coli, also known as Escherichia coli, is the cause for over 50 percent of all lower urinary tract infections. Like many forms of bacteria, E.coli lives in the environment and is easily picked up by the ferret. Female ferrets have a higher rate of contraction than males, due to the close proximity of vagina to rectum and their anatomy. Feces can easily enter the urinary system during mating, as the males can have bacteria on their external reproductive organs or the male himself could be infected by a urinary infection. 

A ferret can also develop a lower urinary tract infection due to disease found in other areas of the urinary system. The kidneys are filtration organs that separate toxins from the blood to be passed through the ureters and into the bladder. If the kidneys are affected by infection, stones or adrenal gland disease, an infection could develop lower in the urinary system. Stones, also known as uroliths, in the bladder itself, ureters or urethra can also cause infection to develop. A male with an enlarged prostate (prostatomegaly) can cause tissues to swell and an obstruction of the lower urinary system. An obstruction can cause bacteria inside the urinary tract to collect and colonize, leading to a noticeable infection. 



Diagnosis of Lower Urinary Tract Infection in Ferrets

Diagnosing a lower urinary tract infection in ferrets is relatively easy for veterinarians. The clinical signs associated with bacterial cystitis are primarily linked to an infection of either the upper or lower urinary tract, so the veterinarian can direct diagnostic tests related to a urinary infection. A urinalysis is the most effective form of diagnostic testing for Bacterial Cystitis, paired with a urine cytology test. These tests will detect strains of infection and/or crystals that would indicate the presence of stone formation. The vet may also perform diagnostic imaging on the ferret’s abdomen which would reveal the presence of stones, inflammation, an obstruction or an enlarged prostate. 



Treatment of Lower Urinary Tract Infection in Ferrets

A lower urinary tract infection in ferrets is usually treated with fluids and a strong antibiotic to kill the colonizing bacteria. Intravenous fluids will both provide the ferret with hydration, reversing dehydration, and aid in the removal of the bacteria. Pain medications may also be paired with your ferret’s antibiotics to relieve inflammation and swelling of tissues. Any other illnesses the veterinary found that have caused the ferret to develop Bacterial Cystitis will be treated accordingly. 



Recovery of Lower Urinary Tract Infection in Ferrets

Most ferrets make a full and positive recovery following treatment of bacterial cystitis. Most ferrets can be treated in the comfort of the home and recover within one to two weeks’ time. 




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