Archived Articles : Blockages 1993

Things ferrets shouldn't eat  

Ferrets eat all sorts of things they shouldn't. We have heard of ferrest eating disposable ear plugs, elastic bands, silastic sealant, soap (including flea soap), cork fishing floats, pieces of material, Cape Lilac berries and erasers.  

These objects can cause an obstruction either in the throat (causing problems with breathing), in the oesophagus (the tube leading to the stomach), the stomach or the intestine. All of the above can be very serious problems and can require surgery running into hundreds of dollars.An article in the Journal of the American Animal Assosciation (JAAHA, Volume 28 No 1, Pages 13 - 19) carried an article entitled "Gastrointestinal foreign bodies in ferrets; 25 cases (1986 to 1990)". The article is about objects ingested by ferrets that require surgical removal. They state one of the most common surgical procedures performed at the Animal Medical Centre, apart from routine desexing and anal sac removal, is gastrotomy or enterotomy for the removal of foreign bodies (gastrotomy and enterotomy are surgical o[enings of the stomach and intestine respectively).  

They reported the szes of the objects ranged from 5 - 7mm in diameter to objects 30mm wide by 40mm long. Eleven ingested foreign bodies made of rubber, four of sponge and six were hairballs (one formed around a 20mm x 3mm strap of leather). The remaining foreign bodies included a piece of wine cork, matted plant fibres, a pencil eraser and a rubber ear plug. Most owners were able to identify the item the ferret had ingested. Four ferrets did not survive following surgery.  

Clinical signs of ferrets included vomiting, bruxism (teeth grinding), pawing at the mouth, diarrhoea or anorexia of between 1 and 28 days in duration. The authors also noted signs of nausea (in half the ferrets) which included licking lips, bruxism, slit eyes, repeated swallowing, hyperventilation and face rubbing.  

The researchers concluded that:
"The transit time through the gastrointestinal tract is 2.5 to 4 hours, shorter than most monogastric animals, which means that ferrets eat more frequently. Ferrets of all ages are very curious by nature, thus prone to ingestation of foreign bodies. All ferrets in this study were allowed free access to the owners home some or all of the time. The authors recommend cage confinement when direct supervision is not possible. Toys made of sponge, rubber or particularly chewy non digestable materials should not be given to unsupervised ferrets".  

Important things to note from this article are that ferrets need to be fed more than once daily. Also ingestion of foreign items can be very serious and life threatening for ferrets.  

Hairballs seem to be quite common, and it would be wise to brush excess hair from ferrets when they are moulting. Brushing at other times may also be advisable.  

In areas where ferrets are allowed to roam, shut cupboards and pick up any item which could be hazardous.  


Article Published in Issue 54 of Ferreting Around  
(July / August 1993)