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Helicobacter in ferrets.

Species: Other
Breed: ferret sable- Marsha
Age: 5-8 years
HI! I read your response regarding the ferret who was not eating, vomiting, lying in a crouched, painful position, etc. I'd like to add crucial, life-saving information that was omitted from the response to the ferret's caregiver. Many people do not know what I'm about to write.

I don't expect a response from you via email- I just would like this to be posted for all ferret (and cat- read the end sentence) caregivers to see.

The #1 illness and CAUSE OF DEATH IN FERRETS IS STOMACH ULCER according to Bruce Williams, DVM, the foremost expert in ferrets today. Ulcers can be caused by 2 factors, heliobacter (a bacteria found in all ferrets' stomachs) and kidney disease. The symptoms are the same for both causes, and the way to make them feel better short-term before you see your vet is the same (RUSH TO THE VET IF YOU SUSPECT ULCER), but only heliobacter (bacterial) ulcers can be cured by using 2 antibiotics together, Amoxi and Flagyll (metronidazole). Other medicines may be given to make your ferret feel better, but only these to antibiotics will CURE A BACTERIAL ULCER.



Ulcer Cause #1: Heliobacter: BACTERIA + STRESS = ULCER. It's very common, easy to miss, and deadly. Heliobacter is a naturally occuring gut bacteria in the stomach of every ferret that can overgrow just like a yeast infection can. Bacteria along with stress of any kind (like another illness, moving to a new house, new pet, anything...) can cause the painful ulcer. Symptoms include (PAY SPECIAL ATTENTION TO THE SECTION ON DIARRHEA AND FECES/POOP/STOOL- any diarrhea in a ferret is a bad sign- same goes for grinding teeth as it's a sign of discomfort or pain somewhere in the body), NOT EATING/DRINKING (too painful), grinding teeth after eating which indicates nausea or pain of any kind in any ferret, sticking paw in mouth or clawing at mouth which indicates nausea, nausea/vomiting/ dry heaving if stomach is empty (chances are stomach is empty as it's too painful to eat with an ulcer), DIARRHEA with BLACK OR NEAR BLACK STOOLS/FECES/POOP and/or BLOODY FECES/POOP (the black or near black is dried blood) (THIS CHANGE IN POOP/FECES/STOOL IS USUALLY THE FIRST SYMPTOM OF AN ULCER IN A FERRET OF ANY AGE REGARDLESS OF CAUSE OF ULCER!!), lethargy, dehydration (which can make them feel like they have a hangover/ ill in general), and there may be a few other less common symptoms, but these are the main ones. Ulcers can be in the stomach, esophagus, or in the mouth itself (usually the roof of the mouth). Quick relief can be found with 1cc (1 ml.) of Pepto Bismol (don't use generic- tastes too bad), but this only treats symptoms. Reduction of acid which is part cure (but not full cure) and part treatment can be found with Pepcid, generic is Famotidine. Vets can also administer a painless inexpensive Famotidine injection.
The cure for a stress/heliobacter-caused ulcer is a combo of two antibiotics: BOTH Flagyll (Metronidazole) AND amoxicillin or Clavamox or Biomox (just note the "mox" part). ONE WON'T WORK WITHOUT THE OTHER! Some vets don't know this life-saving fact.
This treatment should be maintained for 4-6 weeks to kill the heliobacter overgrowth. Even after treatment for a little while, you may still see occasional diarrhea from the antibiotics. Antibiotics can cause diarrhea in all creatures. However, every defecation should not be diarrhea...some well-formed stool should definitely be seen. Call your vet if you have any questions ever regarding diarrhea no matter what the cause may be. Do not let it go ignored for 2-3 days if the diarrhea persists. The vet may recommend Pepto Bismol and/or want to see your ferret to make sure (s)he's not dehydrated, especially if acting tired, not him or herself, or especially (emergency) if lethargic/lifeless. Vets can administer fluids under the skin (SQ) to rehydrate. Your ferret may even need IV fluids if dehydration is more serious- IV is very easy on your ferret, but don't wait to call. When in doubt, call your vet fast as this is very serious. Do not hesitate- diarrhea can be life-threatening as ferrets dehydrate quickly due to their small bodies--even to the point of dying if untreated.

Ulcer cause #2: Kidney/renal failure. Symptoms of kidney failure include but not limited to frequent urination, frequent drinking, very light-colored urine, possible mass/tumor on kidney that you may see or feel under skin on side of belly (looks like simple fat belly, but don't be fooled- have it checked). Bloodwork and possible urine test (if sample can be obtained) needed to diagnose for sure. Vet may also want to do x-ray and possibly an ultrasound after seeing x-ray.
Although the symptoms of a renal failure ulcer are the same as are the ways to make him/her feel better, there is no cure that I'm aware of for this type of ulcer according to my vet who specializes in ferrets and sees several every day. She is an exotic specialist vet, but she still will see some cats and dogs if another vet in the group can't that day. My point: she knows what she's talking about due to vast experience with ferrets.

I wanted to share this info on kidney failure ulcers because I only heard about it the other day when my ferret was diagnosed. I could tell he had an ulcer, but only knew of the bacterial type. I never suspected kidney failure and never knew that it could cause an ulcer. I never knew there was an untreatable form of ulcer either. I feel obliged to share this with anyone and everyone. Also, cats and ferrets are very similar in disease and treatment when it comes to main, general things...therefore, I suspect this could happen in cats too, but check with your vet.

Best of health to all!!

Money comes and goes...you only have one shot at health and life for your loved ones!!


Online vet, Dr. Marie

Dr. Marie replied:

Thank you for taking the time to type out all of this information. I believe this was the question you were referring to: Ferret with renal failure.

I didn't discuss helicobacter with this owner because with a creatinine level of 4 it was relatively certain that this ferret was suffering from renal failure.

When an animal has renal failure the body does not eliminate toxins properly. This buildup of toxins can cause ulceration in the stomach and on the gums as well. I wouldn't say that there is "no cure" for this however. I have had some animals (primarily cats) that we can treat with very aggressive fluid therapy and anti-ulcer medication. While these animals still have some degree of kidney disease afterwards they often can live very healthy lives for another 6-24 months.

I'm very sorry for the loss of your ferret.

Dr. Marie.



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Disclaimer: Although Dr. Marie is a qualified veterinarian, the information found on this site is not meant to replace the advice of your own veterinarian. AskAVetQuestion.com and Dr. Marie do not accept any responsibility for any loss, damage, injury, death, or disease which may arise from reliance on information contained on this site. Do not use information found on this site for diagnosing or treating your pet. Anything you read here is for information only.

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Dr. MarieDr. Marie is a veterinarian who practices in a busy animal hospital in Ottawa, Ontario. She created Ask A Vet Question as a resource for good, accurate veterinary advice online. Dr. Marie treats dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs, and rats. She has been a vet since 1999.

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