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Sick Ferret Has Diarrhea And Weight Loss

What could be causing a ferret to lose weight and suffer diarrhea if all the usual causes are ruled out?

By Karen Rosenthal, DVM, MS
Posted: December 1, 2011, 2:35 p.m. EST

Q: I foster for a ferret rescue, and a ferret that came in from the shelter was sick when I got him. He has gotten worse, with diarrhea and weight loss. The veterinarian has tried about everything. I have not thought about a food allergy. If I change his diet, what would you suggest? I will ask the vet about doing a test for Giardia. Maybe we can cure him finally.

A: Ferret gastrointestinal disease can be very frustrating for the owner, the veterinarian and the ferret. Ferret diarrhea all looks the same, whether the cause is bacterial, viral, metabolic or even cancer. So, usually, we cannot make a diagnosis just on a physical examination alone. We need blood tests, stool tests, radiographs and other more advanced diagnostics to help find the answer.

At times, after veterinarians do some testing and the answer remains elusive, they try to treat for the most common diseases and hope the ferret responds. The problem is, not all ferrets get common diseases and not all common diseases respond to the common treatment! Where does that leave us? Just about where you are.

At this stage, veterinarians start looking for unusual causes of disease. It is uncertain if ferrets have food allergies. If they do, does it manifest as diarrhea? For most ferrets, Giardia is an unlikely cause of diarrhea, but it can occur. There is nothing wrong with changing your ferret’s diet to another brand of food or another type of diet altogether, as long as the nutrients are balanced for a ferret.

The last resort, after many tests have been run and medications have been tried, is to do an abdominal exploratory surgery on the ferret to take biopsies and bacterial cultures of different areas of the intestine. Although this is more expensive and riskier than other methods of diagnosis, this procedure usually provides an answer when other methods prove fruitless.

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