Posted: April 1, 2010, 5 a.m. EDT
4. How is a gastrointestinal obstruction treated?
Treatment of an obstruction can be either surgical or medical. Which option is best for your ferret depends on what was ingested, where the obstruction is located and your ferret’s condition.
In my experience, surgery is usually the best option. An exploratory surgery is done to look at the stomach and intestinal tract. At this time, the veterinarian looks at the other abdominal organs for any other problems in addition to the obstruction. These organs include the adrenal glands, pancreas, liver, spleen and kidneys.
Most foreign bodies and hairballs can be easily removed from the stomach. After the surgery, most ferrets are treated with an appropriate antibiotic like amoxicillin (Amoxi drops or Clavamox drops); an antacid like Pepcid AC; Carafate to coat the stomach before feeding the ferret; and a soft food like baby food, Hill’s a/d or Carnivore Care for roughly seven days to help the stomach to heal. Your veterinarian will advise you on the best treatment for your ferret.
Obstructions in the intestinal tract can be more difficult to repair. With a full obstruction in the small intestines, the intestinal tract can become so damaged and necrotic that a section of it must be removed along with the object that caused the obstruction. This is called a resection (removing part of the intestinal tract) and anastomosis (attaching the two ends back together). Treatment after the surgery often includes a broad-spectrum antibiotic like amoxicillin (Amoxi drops or Clavamox drops), enrofloxacin (Baytril) or marbofloxacin (Zeniquin) along with a soft food. Again, your veterinarian will advise you on the best treatment for your ferret.
Medical treatment can be used in cases with a partial obstruction, provided that the ferret is still in good shape. If the ingested foreign body is small enough to pass out in the poop (i.e. an eraser from a pencil, a very small piece of fabric like the eyes from a stuffed toy), then either a high-fiber product like canned pumpkin or a laxative like most cat and ferret hairball products (Ferret Lax, Laxatone for ferrets, etc.) can be used to help the ferret pass the object out in its feces. This treatment should only be tried if your veterinarian recommends it. Using this method, the ferret must be closely supervised to insure it doesn’t take a turn for the worse. If the ferret does not pass the object with the help of fiber or a pet laxative, then surgical removal is required.
5. Can gastrointestinal obstruction be prevented?
Most obstructions can be prevented by restricting access to any indigestible object. This usually means ferret-proofing the room before the ferret comes out of its cage and very closely supervising a young ferret that is out for playtime. Hairballs may be prevented during the shedding season (spring and fall) by frequent brushing, weekly bathing and daily use of a pet laxative during the shedding season.
Similarly, ferrets with itchy skin and hair loss from adrenal gland disease would also benefit from frequent brushing, weekly bathing and daily use of a pet laxative to prevent hairballs. Ferrets that groom their cagemates can also be treated with a pet laxative, and the cagemates can be frequently brushed and bathed to decrease hair ingestion.
Gastrointestinal blockages are common in ferrets. Fortunately these blockages can be treated, and, in most cases, the ferret has a complete recovery. Be aware that intestinal obstructions must be treated quickly to limit the damage to the intestinal tract.
Preventing an obstruction is far better than treating an obstruction, so double-check your ferret’s room for any object that could be ingested, and brush, bathe and offer a pet laxative to your ferret during the shedding seasons.
Dr. Jerry Murray practices at the Animal Clinic of Farmers Branch in Dallas. He currently has one senior ferret (Bam-Bam) and one hyperactive Rottie (Katrina).