Posted: October 1, 2011, 5 a.m. EDT
Q: I have a ferret about 4 years old that had been in perfect health but now has diarrhea. He’s had it about five days. He eats, drinks, runs around like crazy. It’s green, not too runny. Do you know what I could give him to help?
A: Ferrets get diarrhea for many reasons. It may be that green diarrhea disease, also known as epizootic catarrhal enteritis or ferret intestinal corona virus, is the most well-known cause of diarrhea, but ferrets have loose stools for many reasons. In general, the categories include parasites, bacteria, virus, toxins, neoplasia, metabolic causes and nutritional causes.
The problem is, no matter what the cause, there is nothing specific in the appearance of the diarrhea that gives a clue as to the cause. Even the “green” in green diarrhea disease can be from any disease that causes large amounts of bile to enter the intestinal tract and stain the feces green. This is why veterinarians use a good history and some diagnostic tests to help us determine the cause.
First, a veterinarian needs to know answers to the following:
Has your ferret has been outside?
Has your ferret been around other ferrets?
Has your ferret been vomiting?
Is your ferret urinating?
Is your ferret eating?
Do you have other ferrets that are also sick?
After learning the answers, a veterinarian might look at the ferret’s stools under a microscope for nematodes, protozoans and other types of parasites.
Finally, a veterinarian might need to go further and do a complete blood count and a biochemistry panel to get an answer for you. In some cases, a veterinarian might start treatment if the cause seems very obvious, i.e., you saw tapeworms in his stool.
Also, even though your ferret looks good right now, even mild diarrhea can take its toll, depleting his system of vital nutrients such as vitamins and minerals and fluid. Give him supportive care while he is sick so the mild diarrhea does not lead to a more serious case of secondary debilitation.
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