Q: I’m from the United Kingdom. My ferret Cleo, age 3 or 4, is going in for an operation tomorrow. She has had loose/water/seedy poo now for months. Vets, who are not as clued up on ferrets, have given her antibiotics (no luck) and changed her food (still no luck). She is happy and more playful than ever. I took her for a second opinion on Friday last week and they X-rayed her to find a nodule-like mass in her tummy. The vet is ruling out an infection. What could this be? What could make her poo that bad yet not make her act ill? I am worried I have made a bad move in having the operation, but what else can be done? Could it be swollen lymph nodes?
A: Gastrointestinal disease is common in ferrets and it has many causes. Unfortunately, no matter what the cause, the ferrets all look the same. They have diarrhea, seedy stools, and sometimes blood in the feces.
Veterinarians try to determine the cause by running blood tests and doing imaging studies like radiographs and ultrasound examinations. Sometimes, even with all of those tests, we still do not get an answer. We try antibiotics for simple infections and sometimes this is successful. But when antibiotics and other medications do not work and when our other tests do not give us an answer, we are left with the last resort to get an answer — a surgical exploratory examination.
What you describe could be swollen lymph nodes but swollen lymph nodes alone do not cause changes in the way the feces look. And we usually need to biopsy a lymph node to find out what is causing the lymph node to enlarge.
In most ferrets, an abdominal exploratory surgery carries a mild risk of complications, but it also gives an excellent chance of getting an answer to your ferret’s problems, which can lead to a faster and more appropriate treatment plan for your ferret.