What are Masses in the Stomach, Esophagus, and Intestines?

Blockages in the stomach, esophagus, and intestines create a very serious and potentially deadly condition. A foreign body entrapment inside the esophagus can cause suffocation, lack of oxygen, and sudden death. In the stomach, a mass could prevent the ferret from digesting food, losing a dangerous amount of weight. Intestinal obstructions can prevent the ferret from defecating, and can irritate and even tear the intestines. Masses in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract of ferrets will cause a great deal of discomfort, pain, and eating and defecation irregularities. 

Masses in the stomach, esophagus, and intestines of ferrets create obstructions of the gastrointestinal system. A mass can cause partial or complete obstruction, preventing the flow of food and liquids from entering the stomach and/or intestines. A mass in the gastrointestinal tract may be due to the development of a tissue growth, a health disorder, or from a nonfood object that the ferret swallowed and cannot be passed, or digested. Non-food swallowed obstructions are referred to as foreign bodies by veterinarians. Pieces of plastic, cloth and especially toys are common foreign bodies that ferrets swallow or mistake for food. The item becomes trapped high in the gastrointestinal system or esophagus is very large, or makes its way down to the stomach or intestines. 

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Symptoms of Masses in the Stomach, Esophagus, and Intestines in Ferrets

Masses in the GI tract of ferrets can cause a variety of symptoms depending on where the object is lodged. Stomach foreign bodies and intestinal blockages are limited to digestion or nutritional abnormalities, whereas esophageal obstructions are commonly associated with the respiratory system. Below is a list of common symptoms associated with the condition:

  • Vomiting (may contain blood if the stomach has ulcerated or torn)
  • Dark, tarry stools (an indication of stomach bleeding) 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Pawing at the mouth 
  • Teeth grinding 
  • Drooling 
  • Nausea 
  • Lack of appetite 
  • Refusing food 
  • Weight loss 
  • Chronic wasting 
  • Lethargy 
  • Reluctance to move 
  • Pronounced weakness 

Causes of Masses in the Stomach, Esophagus, and Intestines in Ferrets

Masses in the stomach, esophagus, and intestines of ferrets can be caused by a foreign item the pet swallowed, a tumor, or inflammation of the intestines. A foreign body obstruction can be a toy, hair, or other inedible object found in the ferret’s environment. The development of cancer or a tumor, inflammation of the intestines, or granulomatous enteritis, and intussusception, the folding inward of a section of intestine into another, can also be potential causes. A complete list of potential causes are listed below: 

  • Intussusception 
  • Intestinal stricture 
  • Granulomatous enteritis 
  • Tumor 
  • Cancer 
  • Foreign body
  • Pyloric stenosis 

Diagnosis of Masses in the Stomach, Esophagus, and Intestines in Ferrets

The diagnostic process to pinpoint masses in the stomach, esophagus, or intestine will begin with a review of the patient’s medical records and a consultation with the pet owner. The ferret’s owner will be expected to relay all the clinical signs of illness they have noticed their pet displaying at home. Be prepared to provide important diagnostic information such as the pet’s current diet, favorite toys and what the pet owner considers normal behavior for their pet. The veterinarian will proceed to conduct a physical exam, auscultating the respiratory system to detect any struggle to breathe. Based on the presenting clinical symptoms, the vet will likely move onto diagnostic imagining through the use of an ultrasound or radiograph. A mass or obstruction of the digestive tract of a ferret is easily seen, pinpointing the source of the ferret’s condition. However, additional tests may be required to identify the mass or obstruction prior treatment. A colonoscopy may be required to enter the ferret’s intestines and view the object. 

Treatment of Masses in the Stomach, Esophagus, and Intestines in Ferrets

Masses in the stomach, esophagus, and intestines of ferrets are often treated, even diagnosed at times, with exploration: a surgical procedure in which the vet will open the ferret’s abdomen or chest to physically locate the object. If the object is a foreign object, such as a toy, the vet can simply remove the object from the organ it occupies. Unless, of course, the object has caused damage and then the organ will need to be repaired accordingly. If the surgeon discovers a tumor, intussusception, or granulomatous enteritis, surgical removal or correction is necessary. 

Recovery of Masses in the Stomach, Esophagus, and Intestines in Ferrets

Ferrets affected by masses in the stomach, esophagus, and intestines can make a full recovery if the pet was treated promptly. The best way to prevent or detect this condition in a ferret is by supervising the pet as well as paying attention to his/her overall behavior.