Noninfectious diseases of ferrets include those that are not caused by viruses, bacteria, or other infectious agents. Some of the more commonly seen noninfectious diseases include gastric foreign bodies, dilated cardiomyopathy, and kidney disease.
Foreign Objects in the Stomach
Because of their inquisitive nature, ferrets often swallow foreign objects that can become lodged in the stomach or intestines. Foreign objects are usually soft rubber or plastic items, but can also be hairballs. Signs include loss of appetite, teeth clenching or grinding, overabundance of saliva, sharp abdominal pain, diarrhea, and stools stained black by blood. Vomiting is more common with gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining) than with foreign objects. Veterinarians use x-rays to diagnose the problem. Surgery or endoscopy is usually required to remove the foreign object. Ferrets should be treated for inflammation of the stomach once the object has been removed.
Dilated cardiomyopathy (heart disease) occurs in ferrets that are more than 4 years old. The walls of the heart become thinner, reducing its ability to pump blood. Signs can be similar to those of insulinoma, a tumor that causes the body to overproduce insulin (see Ferrets: Insulinomas). Your veterinarian should test for both problems. Signs include lethargy, weakness, and trouble breathing. Affected ferrets may also have an enlarged abdomen and decreased activity level. X-rays and echocardiography are used to diagnose the disease. Treatment is based on abnormalities revealed on the echocardiograph.
Kidney disease in ferrets is similar to that in other species. Kidney cysts are common in adult ferrets and usually do not cause a problem unless they are present in large numbers. Bladder stones can develop in ferrets fed diets high in plant proteins and are usually composed of crystals known as struvite.
Last full review/revision July 2011 by James K. Morrisey, DVM, DABVP (Avian)