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What are Stomach Ulcers?

Stomach ulcers are a type of contusion that appear on the inner wall of the stomach. They are typically quite painful and their presence will provoke a variety of unpleasant symptoms depending on the severity of the damage to the digestive system. If they are left untreated, ulcers can lead to more serious problems such as bacterial infections or necrosis that can threaten the life of the ferret.

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Symptoms of Stomach Ulcers in Ferrets

Many of the symptoms of stomach ulcers are readily observable, meaning that ferret owners should try to keep note of when and how each one presents itself, as this information can be of great help in the diagnostic stage.

  • Vomiting 
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea 
  • Lethargy
  • Abnormal feces (green or black, tarry appearance)
  • Pain 
  • Behavior changes

Causes of Stomach Ulcers in Ferrets

Stomach ulcers are most often caused by relatively common factors such as bacterial infections, poisoning, and long-term alterations to the chemical composition of the stomach. Bacterial infections that result in lesions can result from either foreign objects being ingested and damaging the lining of the stomach, or from simply eating food that contains harmful bacteria. In both cases, these microbes will feed both on the stomach itself and its contents, causing a large amount of irritation and digestive discomfort. In a similar vein, poisonings will usually result from eating contaminated food (such as a harmful plant that has been ingested by a prey animal) and in some circumstances can cause physical damage to the stomach itself. Longer-term damage can result from upset pH levels, which can increase the acidity of the stomach and thereby eat away at its lining. Such long-term conditions often arise as a result of stress or imbalances in other associated organs.

Diagnosis of Stomach Ulcers in Ferrets

When brought to the veterinary clinic, the ferret will undergo a thorough physical examination. This will allow the vet to assess the animal's overall health and look for additional symptoms that could expose an underlying problem. The lesion itself will often be examined via the use of an endoscope, a camera that will show the extent of the damage to the stomach. Samples of blood and urine can be analyzed in order to determine if a bacterial infection is responsible for the problem. The vet will also have some questions for the owner of the ferret regarding the circumstances leading up to the first time the symptoms were noticed, as well as the general lifestyle of the animal. This information can be extremely useful when trying to determine the root cause of the issue.

Treatment of Stomach Ulcers in Ferrets

Due to the extent of the vomiting and diarrhea that stomach ulcers can often provoke, the vet will most likely opt to give the ferret 'fluid therapy', meaning that they will intravenously put extra liquids into the animal's body in order to combat dehydration. Additionally, antibiotics may be administered in order to fight off any bacteria that may be causing the ulcer. It should be kept in mind that the full course of treatment will have to be followed in order to fully eradicate the microbes responsible and prevent them from returning. Other causes of the ulcer (such as organ failure or environmental factors) may require more testing to be done before a treatment strategy can be finalized.

Recovery of Stomach Ulcers in Ferrets

A typical course of antibiotics will require three to four weeks to fully complete. It is worth bearing in mind that failure to properly finish the course of antibiotics can result in the creation of a drug-resistant strain of bacteria that may not respond to further treatment. Also of note is the fact that the ferret may be unable to easily digest many foods. For this reason, the vet will commonly advise people to keep their pet's diet as bland and simple as possible for a few weeks. This will greatly reduce digestive upset and give the ulcer plenty of time to heal.