Q: Goofy, my 8-year-old ferret, has a severely distended abdomen with swollen hind legs. He eats well, and his stool is fairly normal. Recently, I noticed that one side of his body tends to swell more than the other. Can you please help me figure out what is causing this? Also, how can I help alleviate his swollen hind legs? He makes the effort of walking, but his stomach’s size impedes his progress.
A: It sounds like your ferret has a serious problem but, very characteristic of ferrets, he is able to maintain the appearance that he feels well. This ability to look “good” when he feels “bad” is both a positive and a negative. It is positive because it means that you still have time to help your ferret before he is severely ill. It is negative because he is trying to hide an illness, and your ferret could be quite sick even though he is bravely putting on a good show for you.
When internal organs stop functioning properly, one consequence is that the body can accumulate a large amount of fluid. The fluid can build up in the abdomen causing the distended belly you have observed. Heart, liver and kidney failure are examples of internal organ disease that cause an accumulation of fluid in the abdomen. If the organ failure is not treated, fluid build up continues to occur and it can obstruct the venous return of blood to the liver and heart.
The best thing you could do for your ferret is to visit your veterinarian so he or she can determine the cause of the bloated abdomen. It is relatively easy and quick to determine what is causing the bloated abdomen. The physical examination and radiographs will likely narrow down the causes as to which internal organ is not healthy if the bloating is due to fluid accumulation. Further testing might include an ultrasound and removal of fluid. The fluid removal has two purposes. It will both help with determining a diagnosis and give your ferret some relief from the pressure of fluid buildup.
Most conditions that lead to fluid accumulation are treatable, and treatment can greatly improve the quality of life for your ferret. Therefore, it is important that you bring your ferret to the veterinarian as soon as you can.