Intestinal Blockages

Intestinal blockages, sometimes also called “bowel obstruction” happens when either the small or large intestine is partly or completely blocked. The blockage prevents food, fluids, and gas from moving through the intestines in the normal way. The blockage may cause severe pain.

Cause of Intestinal Blockages in Ferrets

The cause in simplest of terms – what goes in is not able to come out.

The majority of blockages in ferrets are self-inflicted from chewing and eating something that is indigestible. Hairballs, created as they groom themselves, are another common cause of blockages. Much less common causes are other medical conditions such as tumors, scar tissue, or twisting or narrowing of the intestines.

Symptoms of Intestinal Blockage

Intestinal blockages are a dangerous and potentially deadly situation for a ferret. If you notice any of the symptoms below it’s urgent that you visit your veterinarian immediately.

  • Vomiting. What can’t go down often comes back up.
  • Poor appetite, sometimes even refusing special treats or water.
  • Straining to use the potty box.
  • Signs of abdominal pain such as pawing at the mouth or grinding teeth.
  • Unusual stools when using the potty box. There may be a total lack of stools or in the case of a partial blockage, the stools will be a very thin amount or there may be diarrhea.
  • In addition to these signs, your ferret may also experience dehydration or low blood sugar and be lethargic if not eating and drinking properly.

Treatment of Intestinal Blockage in Ferrets

The first thing your veterinarian will do is feel the ferret’s abdomen. If the mass inside is large enough he may be able to feel it and determine there is a blockage by touch alone. He may also want to get get an x-ray of your pet’s stomach and intestines. From there, depending on the size and shape of the item found, there are several ways to get the item out.

It the item is fairly small and smooth it may be determined it is safe to allow the ferret to try to pass it through the body naturally. In this case, a ferret laxative would most likely be prescribed to help.

If the object is too large for passage or the laxative fails to work, the object will need to be removed either by surgery or possibly the use of an endoscope.

Endoscopy is the use of a long, thin, flexible tube which has a light and a video camera attached allowing the doctor to see inside the patient. Endoscopy is a non-invasive alternative to surgery and is often an excellent option for foreign object removal from the gastrointestinal tract.

If none of the options above are an option or have failed to work, surgery must be performed to save the ferret’s life. Surgery always carries with it some degree of risk. For ferrets who are otherwise healthy, the risk is low. If you suspect an intestinal blockage in your ferret it is vitally important that you seek medical help immediately. Don’t let your pet suffer and don’t allow your pet’s health to deteriorate to the point where surgery is a high-risk procedure.

If your pet has become thin or dehydrated because of the blockage additional treatment such as subcutaneous or intravenous fluids given by IV may also be necessary.

Ferret-Proofing to Prevent Future Blockages

Some ferrets are chewers and some are not. If yours has just been treated for an intestinal blockage and had a foreign object other than a hairball removed, obviously yours fits into the prior category. (And I wouldn’t take the chance with one I consider not to be a chewer either.)

A ferret who has had one blockage is likely to have another in the future unless you take the steps now to prevent it. Meticulous ferret-proofing of the home and supervision during play is the best thing you can do to prevent these type of intestinal blockages. It won’t be easy, because ferrets love to be into everything.

You’ll want to look over their toys and re-think whether or not any of them can be chewed on creating small dangerous pieces. Stuffed animals should have stitched on eyes, not the hard plastic type which come apart and create a hazard. When stuffed animals seams begin to come apart either stitch them back together (sometimes it’s a favorite) or throw it out.

Ferrets being ferrets, they’ll not limit themselves to playing with only “their” toys, so you’ll also need to be constantly watching for anything in the house which they have access to that could be dangerous. Most ferrets seem to have a natural attraction to any type of foam rubber, soft rubber, couch stuffing, sponge and Styrofoam. Pens with cushioned foam grips, cell phones with a soft silicone case . . . I volunteer at a ferret rescue. They ALL go for the same things in my purse. Amazing, but at least it somewhat narrows the focus of what to look for and what to hide. 🙂

If you have children who play with toys with very small pieces such as Legos either block the ferret from getting in that room or keep the pieces picked up.

Some ferrets enjoy chewing on paper, plastic bags, cardboard and fabric – all items which can cause obstructions. The best thing to do is watch your ferret. If you notice he or she has a habit of chewing or chewing on certain things you will need to be more vigilant in looking for these type items in your home and removing them.

Preventing Hairballs

Marshall Ferret Lax Hairball Treatment

The best way to prevent hairballs is to feed each ferret a hairball remedy daily as a treat and to brush and bathe often during the shedding season.

Hairball treatment, such as
Marshall Ferret Lax Hairball Treatment
, is a lubricant – a thick petroleum jelly like product which traps and holds hair that would otherwise cling to the sides of the intestines and build up over time to form a hairball.

Hairball treatment should be fed daily during spring and fall when ferrets are shedding heavily and once a week otherwise. When shedding begins you’ll notice by the amount of hair left behind on your clothing or on the ferret’s bedding. Feed the hairball remedy by squeezing approximately a one inch strip from the tube onto your finger or other surface and allowing the ferret to lick it off.

Brushing and bathing during shedding can help prevent hairballs as well. The more hair you can remove, the less there will be left to end up in your pet’s intestines. While bathing, lather your ferret up well with a tear free shampoo and use your fingertips to massage well. If it’s the right time during shedding, the hair will be loose and easily removed. You can gently tug on the hair as you lather to remove more ……….. After the bath is complete and the ferret dried, use a pet brush the gently remove more hair. Repeat this every few days until shedding is complete.