Ferrets develop diarrhea from a variety of causes. Any time your ferret has diarrhea for more than a day, it may signal a serious underlying disorder and we strongly recommend a health consultation. It is easier to treat diarrhea disorders when they first start than when they have lasted long enough that your ferret has lost weight and energy!
What Causes Diarrhea?
Diarrhea is any stool that is softer and less formed than usual. It may range from a slight soft stool that retains its shape to a softer stool that collapses into a pile the consistency of pudding. It may be more liquid and quickly spread across the floor like a puddle of water. Diarrhea may be yellow, green, brown, or black, and there may be blood and mucus present in it. Some forms of diarrhea have tiny granules present. Unfortunately, diarrhea is not a diagnosis of a disease, but merely a sign of many different kinds of illness. It is often helpful for you to bring the diarrhea to the office for a veterinarian to evaluate.
Stress diarrhea often accompanies a move, a change in diet, a change in routine around the house, or even just a ride in the car sometimes.
Young ferrets may develop diarrhea due to parasites such as coccidia or giardia. Young ferrets may contract proliferative bowel disease (PBD) caused by a specific bacteria infection. This is closely related to Campylobacter jejuni that has been implicated in outbreaks of diarrhea but also may be found in healthy ferrets. Troublingly, this bacteria can be passed from ferrets to humans so if you are having a problem that isn't resolving, you should talk to your doctor and we should check your ferret for this bacteria. Another bacteria, Helicobacter mustelae, may cause gastritis and gastric ulcers that result in diarrhea; the diarrhea often appears like black tar due to the presence of digested blood (see our Care Sheet, "Ferrets - Gastric Ulcers"). Aleutian Disease Virus (ADV) is a parvovirus (a distant relative of the ones that cause diseases in dogs) that can cause diarrhea, black tarry stools, and death. Epizootic catarrhal enteritis (also known as ECE or "green slime" disease) is caused by a coronavirus. With ECE, the feces may change color and consistency, even within the course of a single day, and may be green and slimy, brown and watery, or have an appearance like tiny yellow to brown millet seeds covered with mucus. Some ferrets with ECE may go on to develop gastric ulcers. There are several other viruses that can cause diarrhea.
Inflammatory bowel disease is one of the leading causes of diarrhea in adult ferrets. Lymphoma, hair balls and other intestinal foreign bodies (see our Care Sheet "Ferrets - GI Foreign Bodies"), spoiled food, household chemicals, and many other things may also cause diarrhea. Inflammatory bowel disease is quite common and it is worth noting that an early sign of this disease are inermittent diarrhea every few weeks to months(see our Care Sheet "Ferrets - Inflammatory Bowel Disease"). Some ferrets with early adrenal disease may have diarrhea off and on that readily responds to appropriate hormonal treatment (see our Care Sheet "Ferrets - Adrenal Disease Complex").
What To Do Until You Get To A Vet
Ferrets can become dehydrated quickly when they have diarrhea. Make sure your ferret is warm and comfortable. It is important to make sure a ferret has plenty of clean drinking water available both in a water bottle and in a water bowl. Some ferrets with diarrhea feel to uncomfortable to struggle with a water bottle and need to drink out of a water bowl. Some are even too weak to drink from a water bowl and need to be given water with a syringe or eye dropper. Pedialyte (found in most drug stores and grocery stores in the Baby Care aisles) can be used short term at home to try to rehydrate a ferret and provide electrolytes that are lost with diarrhea. You may need to offer a tablespoon or more of water or Pedialyte every hour or so to offset dehydration. If your ferret is extremely weak, you need to get to a emergency veterinary hospital immediately.
Do not give over-the-counter medications to your ferret without talking to a veterinarian. Some of the medications used to treat diarrhea in people can be deadly to ferrets!
As mentioned at the top of this care sheet, whenever your ferret has diarrhea for more than 24 hours, we encourage you to make an appointment with us or another veterinarian for a health