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What is Vaginal Discharge?

Vaginal discharge is the drainage of a thick substance from the female vulva. In female ferrets, referred to as jills, some vaginal discharge is normal if they have reached estrus. This stage of the reproductive cycle usually affects females between the ages of eight and twelve months of age and commonly causes a clear to white colored discharge. When the ferret goes into heat, blood may seep from the vagina and attract males, as she is near ready to mate. If the female is still intact, this vaginal behavior is normal and is not a sign of underlying illness or disease. Vaginal discharge in ferrets that is thick, yellow, green, or clumpy white is a sign of clinical illness and should be addressed promptly. Large amounts of blood, foul odor, or itchiness are all signs of vaginal illness that must be promptly addressed by a veterinary professional. 

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Symptoms of Vaginal Discharge in Ferrets

The primary symptom of vaginal discharge in ferrets is an abnormal substance draining from the vaginal organ of the jill. In a ferret’s hormone cycle, vaginal discharge is normal and is limited to a clear, white to slightly yellow colored substance. A small amount of blood during the heat cycle is also common and will attract male ferrets to the jill. However, if the vaginal discharge contains a large amount of blood, gives off a foul odor, or is draining in a large amount, this is a sign of illness. If the ferret’s vaginal discharge is the result of a yeast infection, the clinical signs are limited to a thick, white discharge, paired with pruritus and swollen genitalia. If bacteria is to blame, the vaginal discharge will have a strong, pungent odor and the discharge will likely be yellow to a greenish color. 

Causes of Vaginal Discharge in Ferrets

Vaginal discharge in ferrets can be caused by a variety of conditions and is often seen in ferrets that have reached sexual maturity. Female ferrets, or jills, between the ages of eight to twelve months old are commonly reported to have this condition. Vaginal discharge that appears abnormal, such as with blood or a foul odor, can be the result of the following causes: 

  • Infection of the vagina 
  • A blood clot of the vagina 
  • Death of a fetus inside the uterus
  • Injury to the vagina
  • Vaginal tumors
  • Foreign body entrapment 
  • Urinary tract infection 
  • Pyometra 
  • Adrenal disease 

Diagnosis of Vaginal Discharge in Ferrets

Diagnosing vaginal discharge in ferrets is primarily a differential diagnosis, eliminating all the possible causes from the discharge to occur. Clinical signs the ferret is displaying will likely clue the veterinarian in to what is happening inside the ferret, but diagnostic tests will be required for an accurate diagnosis. Common diagnostic tests for vaginal discharge in ferrets include blood tests, urinalysis, vaginal cytology, palpation, and imaging. A blood test will pinpoint signs of infection, endocrine irregularities, and hormonal imbalances. A urinalysis will also pinpoint an infection in the urinary tract and reproductive system. Ultrasound or x-ray imaging will aid in the discovery of a tumor, cyst or pyometra. 

Treatment of Vaginal Discharge in Ferrets

The treatment plan for a ferret with vaginal discharge depends on the underlying cause. In most cases, the veterinarian will begin with symptomatic treatments, including fluid therapy and pain management. If the vaginal discharge is the result of a bacterial infection, the vet will prescribe a broad spectrum antibiotic. Yeast that has caused vaginal discharge to occur will be treated with an antifungal medicine given orally or intravaginally. Tumors and pyometra may require surgical treatment, removing the growth or pus-filled uterus. Endocrine complications that cause discharge to drain from the vagina in ferrets will require hormone replacement therapy, paired with secondary treatment options that should be discussed with the veterinarian. 

Recovery of Vaginal Discharge in Ferrets

The prognosis for vaginal discharge in ferrets is variable, as it lies dependent on the underlying cause. Bacterial and yeast infections of the vagina usually have an excellent recovery rate if treatment is received promptly. Tumors of the vagina, pyometra, and endocrine irregularities have a guarded to poor prognosis.