Friday, March 26, 2010

Ferrety Intestinal Blockage

So here we are once more, eager to learn about our ferrety friends on my favourite day of the week: ferrety Friday.

“Speak for yourself; I don’t care much for ferrets.”

Oh, come now. You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t like ferrets.

“Well it’s not like I have much choice. I’m linked to you. Everywhere you go - POOF - there I am”

This is true.


Today I’m going to write about something very important; something that can be fatal to a ferret. This something is: intestinal blockage.

“Ewwww... Who the heck wants to hear about the goings-on inside intestines?”

Well, I’m not going to write about what goes on inside a ferret’s intestines. I’m going to write about how easy it is for your fuzzy’s intestines to get blocked, how important it is to prevent this from happening and how quickly it can prove fatal if left untreated.

“I guess that’s okay.”


Ferrets love to chew, and although chewing is nothing to be alarmed about since it’s perfectly normal behaviour, what is being chewed should be of concern. These furry faces can give toddlers a run for their money when it comes to eating what they shouldn’t. And many of the things they eat cannot be digested, which in turn can cause intestinal blockages, a common cause of premature death for ferrets.


Now that we’re all aware that it’s a natural instinct for ferrets to chew, and that they are notorious for eating things they shouldn’t, it’s important to provide them with products or items that are safe for chewing, and to keep them away from products or items that aren’t.

One of the most dangerous things for a ferret, which unfortunately happens to be one of their favourite items to chew on, is rubber, especially soft rubber. Fuzzies consider rubber a delicacy, and anything made from this product will be chomped to small pieces by their carnivorous teeth. Quite often, a ferret will swallow some of those pieces, which in turn may get lodged in the intestines. If the ferret is unable to pass the unsafe object, an appointment with the veterinarian must be scheduled immediately. Full blockage of the intestines is fatal, and surgery will be required to remove objects that are trapped. This must be taken seriously because if the obstruction is not removed without delay, your ferret will suffer a slow and agonizing death.

In addition to rubber, there are many foods that can prove fatal if swallowed. This includes (but is not limited to) cake, nuts, cookies, cereals, pasta, fruits and vegetables. Do not feed any of these foods to your ferret; my advice is to stick to ferret food to help prevent any unfortunate situations. If you’d like to supplement your fuzzy’s regular meals, pick up treats specific to ferrets and stay away from everything else.

Wood can also prove very dangerous. Ferrets have teeth similar to dogs, cats and us; they grow an adult set of teeth when they’re young that do not continue to grow. Therefore, unlike rabbits, chinchillas and guinea pigs that need to chew on wood to control the constant growth of their teeth, ferrets do not need to do this. If a ferret chews on wood, chances are he’ll ingest wooden splinters that can damage his stomach and intestines. So keep an eye on your fuzzy to make sure he’s not chomping away at a wooden object that will make him ill. Incidentally, although it’s acceptable to add accessories made of wood in your ferret’s cage, these same items must be removed immediately if there is the slightest indication that they’re being chewed on.

Rawhide is another thing that ferrets don’t fare well with. Because a ferret’s system only takes about four hours to completely digest food, there isn’t enough time for rawhide to properly hydrate, so pieces that have been eaten may end up causing intestinal blockages that can prove fatal. Don’t put your ferrets life at risk; do not give him rawhide.

A couple of other types of materials that can be chewed and swallowed include plastic and sponge, both of which can become trapped in the intestines. Older ferrets may also develop hairballs that will pose a problem. It sounds like pretty much anything that can be broken down into little pieces can be swallowed and prove fatal. And although this is more or less true, bear in mind that your ferret will not spend his entire playtime chewing. If he has a stimulating environment with toys that are suitable and safe to play with, he’ll be too busy exploring and running around to sit down and eat everything in sight. Either way, the best way to prevent your fuzzy from eating what he shouldn’t is by keeping an eye on him. The more supervision there is, the less likely an unfortunate incident will occur.

In the event that your fuzzy swallows something inappropriate, give him a ferret or cat laxative 3 to 4 times a day. In between the laxative, about two times a day, you can also offer him a few tablespoons of olive oil on a small plate, which will help keep him lubed up; you can add some ferretone (liquid supplement) to the oil to make it more appealing. Carry out this treatment for three straight days and watch your ferret’s stool during this period. If he does not pass the unsafe object, get him to a vet immediately. At this point, surgery will most likely be required to remove whatever is trapped in the intestines, and to save your ferret’s life.

And finally, these are signs that your ferret may have an intestinal blockage:

- loss of appetite
- vomiting (your ferret may also be attempting but unable to vomit)
- lethargy
- diarrhea
- a hard or swollen stomach
- very thin stools or non-existant
- signs of discomfort or distress

Be watchful and take action if necessary.

Let’s wrap up with the furry tribe.


Alright, so I’ve been a little cautious...let’s not exaggerate...


Oh Clair, try not to be such a tattletale all the time...

Nacho, since you’re back home from the vet’s, would you like to say something?

I’m sorry about that, Nacho, but your gorgeous fur will grow back in no time.

Oh boy, now I’m ridden with guilt...

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