When a ferret's stomach contents (i.e., food) move backwards up the esophageal track and into the mouth, it is referred to as regurgitation. This may not only affect the digestive system, but the respiratory system, too. The displaced contents may be inhaled, causing aspiration pneumonia.
This medical condition can be congenital (inherited) or acquired from a variety of causes, though it is relatively rare in ferrets. Fortunately, modifications to the animal's diet, in conjunction with medication, will often correct the condition.
Symptoms and Types
Common symptoms associated with regurgitation include:
- Weight loss
- Runny nose
- Difficulty swallowing
- Increased breathing noises
- Bad breath (halitosis)
- A ravenous appetite
Although it is relatively rare in ferrets, there are several medical problems which can cause regurgitation, including:
- Problems with the throat and esophageal tract, often present at birth
- Acquired problems with the throat that can involve cancer, foreign bodies, poisoning, and muscle disease (myopathy)
- Acquired esophageal disease that can develop from an enlarged esophagus, tumor, cancer, hiatal hernia, narrowing of the esophagus, and problems with the automatic nervous system
First, your veterinarian will determine whether vomiting alone caused the symptoms associated with regurgitation. If the condition has been prolonged, an examination of the throat area will be performed to determine the extent of long-term damage. X-rays or other forms diagnostic imaging may also be used to locate internal damage, or the esophagus may be examined with a fluoroscope.
Experimentation with the ferret's diet will likely be undertaken to see if the condition subsides with modifications. In most cases, the regurgitation will require ongoing therapy, including electrolyte fluid therapy, medication to improve gastric motility and tone, and antibiotics to fight off any infection. If no specific underlying cause is identified, the veterinarian's goal will be to minimize risk of aspiration (contents entering the lungs).
Living and Management
Monitor for the development of aspiration pneumonia; i.e., signs of fever, cough, nasal discharge. A high-calorie gruel formulated from meat-based human baby food may be recommended. When feeding the ferret, it should be placed in an upright position (at a 45- to 90-degree angle to floor) and maintained in that position for 10 to 15 minutes after feeding. Ferrets with severe regurgitation, however, may require a feeding tube.