Older Ferret With Fluid Buildup

Is mysterious fluid buildup in a ferret a sign of heart trouble or something else?

Q: Our 5-year-old, male ferret was first diagnosed with a racing heart. We put him on diltiazem and lasix. He was continuing to bloat up, so I insisted that we drain him. What came out was pink, milky fluid. Our vet didn’t seem to know what it was. I called a different vet who deals more with ferrets, and she said it was lymph fluid. She implied that there wasn’t much to do other than to continue to drain him. I do that about every week and a half. He is still on the heart meds. Are there any other meds or procedures that could help him? He is also losing some tail hair. We haven’t given him a melatonin implant yet. His overall manner is good. He eats well, plays well and is not lethargic. We feed all our ferrets a raw diet of chicken, pork, organ, duck, eggs, etc.

A: The most common heart problem in older ferrets is dilated cardiomyopathy. As of yet, we do not know why ferrets get this condition. This type of heart disease is also common in older dogs, especially the smaller breeds.

What happens with dilated cardiomyopathy disease over time, both in dogs and ferrets, is that the heart muscles become weaker and thinner and can no longer effectively pump blood to the lungs and the rest of the body. We give medications to help the weakened muscles to pump more efficiently and to help the body remove the excess fluid that builds up due to the poor pump action of the heart. The fluid that builds up in the chest and abdomen is usually very clear.

What you are describing is very different and may not be associated with heart disease. A buildup of lymph fluid looks much like what you are describing, and that is why the other veterinarian gave you that specific answer.

Is there more you can do? Possibly. What you need to first find out is why this fluid is building up and where is it coming from. If it is in the chest, the mere presence of the fluid may make it difficult for the heart to work properly, leading to a secondary heart condition. If it is in the abdomen, it may press on the stomach and intestines, making it difficult for your ferret to eat properly.

Unfortunately, a leading cause for this type of fluid buildup is cancer. Certain types of cancers can be treated, so it is important to find the cause of this fluid and see if this is a treatable cancer. Some causes of this fluid buildup are unknown and we have no cure, but we can treat with draining the fluid and using medications that decrease the build up of fluid.

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Critters · Ferrets