Chapter 15 Diseases of the Digestive System
Digestive system disease in the ferret parallels those of the dog and cat. Dental diseases, diarrheas (infectious), gastrointestinal (GI) foreign bodies, neoplasia, and rectal disease are common occurrences in pet ferrets.
Gingivitis and periodontal disease are common in older ferrets. Animals fed moist or semimoist diets or those high in sweets are most commonly affected. As in dogs and cats, as tartar accumulates on the tooth, inflammation of periodontal tissues occurs, causing dysphagia and drooling.
GI foreign bodies are common in ferrets. These animals are curious and love to chew, putting them at risk for swallowing almost anything they can chew on, particularly items of latex rubber or sponge materials. Hairballs can also cause obstruction in older ferrets.
Most cases of enteritis and diarrhea can be related to bacterial or viral infections in the ferret. Salmonella, Mycobacteria, Campylobacter, rotavirus, canine distemper virus, and human flu virus may all be causes of diarrhea in the ferret. Epizootic catarrhal enteritis, a highly transmissible disease, is more common in older ferrets exposed to new or young ferrets that may be asymptomatic carriers. Inflammatory bowel disease does occur with some frequency in pet ferrets. Although the exact cause is unknown, it may be related to a hyperimmune response to dietary components.
Helicobacter mustelae, proliferative bowel disease (PBD), and eosinophilic gastroenteritis can all cause diarrhea and wasting in ferrets. Most ferrets are exposed to H. mustelae as kits, becoming persistently infected but asymptomatic until later. Infection may result in mucous gland depletion in the stomach, followed by gastric ulceration or chronic gastritis. Stress is usually the underlying cause for development of clinical symptoms. PBD is caused by the bacteria Lawsonia intracellularis. Infection usually results in segments of the intestine becoming thickened by cellular infiltration of the intestinal wall. This disease, primarily transmitted by the fecal-oral route, is most common in young, fast-growing juveniles; stress also plays a role in development of clinical symptoms.
(From Quesenberry KE, Carpenter JW: Ferrets, rabbits, and rodents, ed 2, St Louis, 2004, Saunders, by permission.)