One of the most frequently encountered problems with ferrets in veterinary practice is GI foreign bodies. Ferrets are not always very discriminating about what they swallow, and seem to have a special affinity for soft, chewy objects such as foam rubber, neoprene, pencil erasers, etc. But I have also removed string, cherry pits and a long list of other items from the intestinal tracts of ferrets that only a "carpet shark" would find palatable!

Symptoms of intestinal foreign bodies vary considerably according to the location and the degree of obstruction which is being caused. Cases involving foreign objects in the stomach which are irritating to the stomach lining, but are not obstructing the flow of intestinal contents may take a long chronic course consisting of intermittent periods of diarrhea, appetite depression and vomiting. On the other hand, if the foreign objects make their way into the narrow small intestine they are capable of causing complete obstruction. Symptoms of such obstruction are acute and dramatic, and may include abdominal pain, vomiting, anorexia and collapse.

Diagnosis of intestinal foreign bodies involves a veterinary examination, and usually additional diagnostic procedures such as an x-ray. If the diagnosis is still uncertain, an upper GI (barium) study should be performed, which allows the veterinarian to further define the site and degree of obstruction present.

Treatment of GI foreign bodies is surgical. Supportive care is started immediately to control dehydration, infection or shock, and the object is removed during an exploratory surgery. In some cases the bowel is so badly damaged at the site of obstruction that it must be cut out, and healthy bowel edges sewn together (a procedure called an anastamosis). The prognosis for complete recovery is usually good. Following successful surgery the patient is maintained on antibiotics and a soft bland diet for a few days after being released from the hospital.

If you have any questions or comments about the information above, feel free to send a message to Dr. Suzanne Lee, D.V.M. at

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