Q: My baby ferret is almost 3 months old, and he’s losing weight and eating his bed. I find pieces of the bedding in his stools. What’s wrong?
A: Ferrets have a very strange predilection for eating items like rubber and pieces of synthetic materials like bedding stuffing. We see this more commonly in ferrets under the age of 1 than in older ferrets. Some have suggested this happens due to a young ferret’s innate nature to explore the environment. “Eating” the environment, the theory goes, is one way of exploration!
The first thing you should do is remove the bedding immediately. If you are seeing pieces of the bedding in your ferret’s stool, this may be an ominous sign of a partial or complete gastrointestinal blockage. When ferrets eat foreign objects, these objects have a tendency to get “stuck” in the outflow tract of the stomach or in certain narrow areas of the intestines. The first sign of a ferret that has a blockage is a decreased appetite and subsequent weight loss.
The best way to treat a GI blockage is with an abdominal exploratory surgery. This surgery allows your veterinarian to see the blockage, make an incision in the intestine, remove the material and then close the incision in the intestine. As scary as this surgery may sound, it is a common procedure to perform in ferrets and rarely are there any complications to this straightforward surgery.
If you do not have the surgery performed and the blockage remains, there can be very dire consequences to your ferret. The most dangerous being continual weight loss leading to a loss of important nutrients and finally the intestines will rupture leading to a very painful condition called peritonitis. Most cases of peritonitis in ferrets (and many animals) are fatal.
In rare instances, oral medications can help break up an intestinal blockage, but I do not recommend anyone try that without direct supervision from their veterinarian. If the treatment does not work, then there is a great risk for an intestinal rupture and you will not know that a rupture has occurred until your ferret is so sick, that it is beyond saving.