What is Vomiting?

Vomiting in ferrets is the expulsion of stomach contents from the gastric organ through the mouth in a forceful and uncontrollable fashion. Vomiting can be seen in association with neurological disorders, ingestion of a toxin, kidney disease, liver disease and conditions affecting the intestinal tract. Unlike cats and dogs, where vomiting is a common symptom associated with a variety of illness, vomiting in ferrets is triggered by gastric irritation and is the common result of a foreign body obstruction-- a nonfood object that the ferret swallowed which cannot be passed or digested. Pieces of plastic, cloth, and especially toys are common foreign bodies that ferrets swallow or mistake for food. A gastric obstruction is a very serious and deadly condition. A foreign body entrapment inside the esophagus can cause suffocation, lack of oxygen and sudden death.

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Symptoms of Vomiting in Ferrets

Aside from the primary, uncontrollable epilation of gastric fluids, symptoms associated with vomiting in ferrets depend on the underlying ailment. If the ferret vomits once and there are no other clinical signs of illness, the pet likely consumed something that irritated the stomach. However, if a ferret vomits several times and/or if the vomiting continues for several days, the ferret owner may note the following accompanying symptoms: 

  • Dark brown or black tarry stools
  • Fresh blood in the feces
  • Mucus covered feces 
  • Straining to defecate 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Lethargy 
  • Pawing at the mouth 
  • Drooling 

Continuous vomiting will always cause some level of dehydration, as the ferret is forcefully removing liquids from the body and decreasing electrolytes. 

Causes of Vomiting in Ferrets

Vomiting in ferrets can be caused by a simple cause such as eating bad food or food that irritated the stomach. However, there are several other causes of vomiting in ferrets that could indicate a more serious problem including: 

  • Parasites 
  • Toxins
  • Foreign body entrapment (esophageal, stomach, or intestinal) 
  • Dietary changes 
  • Neoplasia (cancer of the liver or intestinal tract) 
  • Viral infections
  • Bacterial infections (like Helicobacter mustelae gastritis) 

Diagnosis of Vomiting in Ferrets

The case of vomiting in ferrets is sometimes difficult to diagnose as the symptom can result from many ferret health abnormalities. The veterinarian will want to perform an analysis of the ferret’s blood, urine and feces to rule possible causes for the ferret’s irritated gastrointestinal system. Parasites, bacterial infections, viral infections and a variety of other common ferret health problems will be differentiated using these tests. An ultrasound and/or radiograph of the ferret’s abdomen may be requested to identify foreign objects trapped in the intestine, tumors, or other abnormalities. Tests performed may include:

  • Complete blood cell count (CBC): blood test used to evaluate the number of circulating platelets, red and white blood cells 
  • Biochemistry profile: a blood test that provides information of the amount of electrolytes and gastrointestinal enzymes the ferret is making. This blood test also indicates the functionality of the pet’s organs and overall internal health
  • Urinalysis: examination of the urine to screen for infection, metabolic conditions and damage to the kidneys
  • Thoracic x-rays: imaging of the chest containing the heart, lungs and upper digestive tract
  • Abdominal x-rays: imaging of the abdominal cavity 
  • Endoscopy: the use of a fiber-optic camera placed inside the esophagus, or evaluation purposes

Treatment of Vomiting in Ferrets

The treatment option your veterinarian chooses for the treatment of vomiting depends on the diagnosis of the pet’s specific underlying cause. If the ferret’s regurgitation is a result of an infection, the doctor will prescribe a course of antibiotics and/or anti-parasitic medication. However, if the vomiting was due to a foreign body entrapment, the veterinarian can treat the ferret with an exploratory surgical procedure in which the vet will open the ferret’s abdomen or chest to physically locate the object.

Recovery of Vomiting in Ferrets

The prognosis for vomiting in ferrets is guarded, as the outcome of this condition depends on the underlying cause and if treatment was sought by the owner. Ferrets that have received treatment have a very good chance of survival and may not require a follow-up appointment. Foreign body entrapments and severe infections may have a less positive prognosis, as these conditions require prompt treatment. The best way to prevent or pickup on a foreign body entrapment of a ferret is supervising the pet, as well as paying attention to his/her overall behavior.