Megaesophagus in Ferrets
Rather than a single disease entity, megaesophagus refers to dilation and slow movement of the esophagus, a muscular tube connecting the throat to the stomach. This may be a primary disorder or secondary to esophageal obstruction or neuromuscular dysfunction. If esophageal motility is decreased or absent, it can result in severe complications, including starvation and aspiration pneumonia. Megaesophagus is usually seen in adult ferrets (3-7 years old), implying that the disease is acquired.
Symptoms and Types
Regurgitation is considered the hallmark sign of megaesophagus. Also, aspiration pneumonia may develop due to the entrance of food or liquid into the lungs. Other common symptoms include:
- Coughing and choking
- Nasal discharge
- Shortness of breath
- Weight loss (cachexia)
- Extreme hunger or loss of appetite (anorexia)
- Excessive drooling (ptyalism)
- Bad breath (halitosis)
The acquired form of megaesphagus is commonly idiopathic (of unknown origin), but may be due to:
- Neurological and neuromuscular diseases (e.g., botulism, distemper, cancer)
- Esophageal obstruction (foreign object, stricture, tumor)
- Inflammation of esophagus
- Toxicity (e.g., lead, thallium)
Your veterinarian will first ask you for a thorough history of your ferret’s health. He or she will then perform a complete physical examination on your ferret and attempt to differentiate, with your description, whether it is regurgitating or vomiting, which is important in ruling out underlying diseases that cause vomiting. The shape of expelled material, presence of undigested food, and length of time from ingestion to vomiting (or regurgitation) will also help differentiate between these two issues.
Routine laboratory tests will be performed, including a complete blood count (CBC) and urinalysis, which are usually normal in ferrets with megaesophagus. However, abnormalities related to underlying diseases or complications, like aspiration pneumonia, may be seen. Radiographic studies will show the enlarged esophagus filled with fluid, air, or food, and will help identify abnormalities related to aspiration pneumonia.
More advanced techniques, like endoscopy and biopsies may also be employed to confirm a diagnosis of megaesophagus.