Proliferative colitis is a cause of serious diarrhea in ferrets, and occurs primarily in young ferrets less than 1 year of age. This disease appears to be caused by an infection of the colon by a bacterial organism called Desulfovibrio. This bacterium is closely related to Campylobacter, which is another cause of diarrhea in ferrets, but work by Dr. James Fox has demonstrated that Desulfovibrio is a distinctly different microorganism. This is a very serious disease in untreated ferrets, but fortunately can be cured with proper therapy.

Symptoms of proliferative colitis include watery diarrhea which may be bloody or contain mucous. These ferrets often strain to defecate and may act painful. Continued and prolonged staining may lead to rectal prolapse, a condition in which the colon is pushed out through the rectum. Weight loss and dehydration are seen, as they are seen in most cases of diarrhea in ferrets.

Diagnosis may be suspected on the basis of symptoms and thickened bowel loops which can be palpated by a veterinarian or seen in x-rays. A definitive diagnosis requires a surgical biopsy of the colon.

Treatment of proliferative colitis is usually effective. The antibiotic chloramphenicol at 25mg/lb body weight twice daily for 21 days is most commonly used.

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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