Ferret With Chronic Diarrhea Getting Weaker

What can be done for a ferret with an undiagnosed ailment that causes diarrhea and weakness?

Q: My ferret, Stuart, is a white-striped back, PVF, male, just about 18 months old. He has been sick since he was about 6 months old. It was an extremely hot summer in Japan 2010, and his diarrhea was frequent and watery, so I first took him to a small animal hospital nearby. The vet gave him a shot of antibiotics and some medication to stop the diarrhea.
He seemed to get better, but a month or so later, he still had diarrhea and he was also vomiting. The first vet was not too familiar with ferrets and suggested I find a vet with more ferret experience. Luckily, a vet who specializes in ferrets and other small animals had moved from central Tokyo to the area where I live.
Since then, my ferret is a regular patient. He has been on steroids for almost a year. He has had tests for Aleutian disease, which came back negative. At one point his white blood cell count was so high, the vet suspected leukemia, but the steroids seem to keep his white blood cell count low enough.
His last blood test results show WBC: 113H, RBC: 845H, HGB: 13.4, HCT: 38.8%, MCV: 45.9L, MCH: 15.9L, MCHC: 34.5, PLT: 30.7, GLU-PS: 114mg, TP-PS: 9.4g, ALB-PS: 3.7g, GPT-PS: 138, BUN-PS: 25mg.
His temperature goes up when he is vomiting and not well, but being on steroids stops the vomiting and keeps his temperature down. He is still able to take a quick bath once a week, but cannot swim around in the tub like our other ferret, Suzy. He tires easily and wobbles like an old ferret. When the vets at his current clinic first saw him, they thought he was an old ferret and were surprised to know he was less than a year old.
He is eating, just as much as Suzy, although he has no interest in ferret snacks, but he seems to be losing weight again. He likes to be let out of his cage to wander around the house, but tires easily and instead of playing with Suzy, follows me around and sits close by. Recently, he ends up asleep in a towel someone left on the floor, or my youngest son’s sweater, anything that looks comfy.
He stopped playing with toys at 6 months when he first got sick, but found a liking for folded umbrellas, which he dragged from the front door bench to the living room under the sofa. He still drags an occasional umbrella, but has to rest before getting to the sofa. He is obviously getting weak, and a vet told me that an animal on steroids will not live long.
The vets at the clinic say ferrets are not affected as much as other animals by steroids, so maybe it’s not the steroids, whatever disease or problem he has may be making him weaker.
His poop is soft and grainy, but is not as green and watery as it used to be. He seems to have problems holding his tail up these days, and I have to wipe his tail and butt frequently. Is there anything we can do for my ferret?

A: It is very obvious that you have taken extraordinary care of your ferret. The fact that he is still alive is a tribute to the work you and your veterinarians have done to help Stuart.

Sometimes, the cause of disease, no matter how sick the disease makes your ferret, is not easy to diagnose. This appears to be the case with Stuart.

There is no doubt that your ferret is plagued with a serious, chronic debilitating disease. And it sounds like your veterinarians have diligently worked to find the cause and have also treated your ferret appropriately. We sometimes think that we know all we can know about the internal medicine of ferrets but, in reality, we are just beginning to understand some of the things that make ferrets “tick.” Therefore, it is not surprising to have a ferret that is sick and yet a diagnosis remains a mystery.

What should you do as a ferret owner if your veterinarians cannot give you a diagnosis, especially when your ferret is so ill?

First, realize that your veterinarians are as frustrated as you are when they cannot give you an answer. Vets may not be able to save every patient that comes to see us, but we certainly want to at least give ferret owners an idea of what is wrong with their ferret and what the prognosis is.

If you are able to continue with diagnostics, revisit your veterinarian and discuss retesting for some of the diseases that you have already tested for but received negative results. The treatment Stuart has received might interfere with some of the tests but not all of them.

Although you may find that Stuart has a disease that you cannot cure, at least you will receive a prognosis and know how to give your ferret the best quality of life that you can.

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Critters · Ferrets