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Ferrets/choking ferret?


I have a female ferret, approximately 3 years old. A few months ago she wasn't walking right. I thought she injured herself but the vet ran blood work instead of a X ray. She has high liver enzymes. So, she began taking Lactulose, Denimarin, and Orbax. About 2 months latter she began having what I believe are choking episodes. She drools profusely, hacks, and paws at her mouth. Also, twice now she seemed to loose control of her bowels. Nothing is obviously in her mouth or throat and her tongue is actually purple. These episodes last about 5-10 mins then she is fine. So far, she has one episode about once every week or two. She has had Xrays and they are not sure what is causing them. Typically this happens after she eats, once when she woke up.  Do you have any ideas about what could be causing this?

Hi Sam:

This story worries me very much.  Is your vet an Exotics Specialist or a dog/cat vet?  You would know because they would advertise online and/or in yellow pages as an Exotics Specialist, specializing in Ferrets, etc.  your ferret is seriously sick enough, there is NO WAY he should be seeing anything except a specialist.  The symptoms and medications you describe to me, I have not heard of being given to a ferret ever in my 20-years experience....HOWEVER, that does NOT mean they are not being properly used in your ferrets case....just that I personally would want a second opinion by s specialist, even if you have to go out of town to get it.  You do not say specifically what your ferret's diagnosis is by this vet, so I did a little research on the medications:

( I do need to say up front, however, I am NOT A VET; these are my opinions based on things I have read, personal experience with ferrets for 20-years, and helping others with ferrets for about 14-years)

Here is information in a very washed down version of what I found on the internet about the medications she is on:

LACTULOSE:     ( :Jacquie's 'dumbed-down version/understanding, may be much more to it:  Reduces ammonia levels in blood  (is basically a form of several types of sugars) and has somewhat of a laxative effect.

Lactulose is a disaccharide sugar composed of galactose and fructose and is used in veterinary medicine to reduce ammonia blood levels in the prevention and treatment of hepatic encephalopathy. It is also used as a laxative.
How Lactulose should be used:
Lactulose is not FDA approved for use in veterinary medicine; however, it is a commonly accepted practice for veterinarians to use this medication in dogs, cats and birds. As a laxative to treat constipation, the usual dose in dogs and cats is 1 ml per 2 lbs of body weight every 8 hours initially, then use when needed.
What are the side effects of Lactulose:
Side effects of lactulose include symptoms of flatulence, bloated stomach and cramping. Diarrhea and dehydration are symptoms of overdose.

ORBAX:   (an antibiotic, i.e., fights infections)  ( :Jacquie's 'dumbed-down version/understanding, may be much more to it:  Antibiotic for bacterial type infections that may be effective against a wide number of infections)

What are the benefits?
*   Orbax treats bacterial infections in your pet
*   Absorbs rapidly into the body
*   Usual once-a-day dosing makes administration easier
Orbax is a prescription broad-spectrum antibiotic used in cats and dogs to treat bacterial infections of the urinary tract, skin, and soft tissues caused by susceptible bacteria.

How does Orbax work?
It works by blocking the bacteria's ability to make DNA, resulting in death of the bacteria.

Orbax tablets are given orally. Provide plenty of fresh water for your pet to drink. If possible, it should NOT be given with food or supplements. Do not give within two hours of giving dairy products.

Always follow the dosage instructions provided by your veterinarian. If you have difficulty giving the medication, contact your veterinarian. Use all of the medication prescribed, even if your pet appears well. If the entire course of treatment is not given, the infection may recur or worsen.

What results can I expect?
Orbax is well absorbed from the intestinal tract and is carried by the bloodstream to many tissues of the body where it kills susceptible bacteria. To be effective, Orbax must be given multiple days in a row. If doses are missed or the entire treatment regimen is not completed, the infection could recur or worsen. Consult your veterinarian if the animal's condition does not improve or worsens after beginning treatment with Orbax.


DENIMARIN:   (Given when liver disease is suspected.....also brain problems - seizures, etc)

Denamarin from Nutramax is a supplement for liver support in cats and dogs. Denamarin for dogs and cats is a supplement used to improve liver health, helps cell repair, and regeneration. Denamarin may also be used in other areas of tissue oxidant injury, which is caused by certain toxins or drugs. Although Denamarin is mainly used for liver support it, Denamarin is also known for supporting brain health. Denamrain comes in two forms: Denamarin Tablets and Denamarin Chewable Tablets. There are also variations of the product, such as Marin for dogs and cats, and Denosyl. Shop for the best prices on Denamarin products.

This treatment applies to the following species:
Manufacturer: Nutramax Labs.


I see you are in Indiana, USA.  This combination of drugs, I must be honest with you...I have never seen given to a ferret.  That does not mean they are wrong medications.  He must have seen some what he felt were serious problems with her liver for one thing, and must have heard bubbling around in her tummy, indicative of constipation (liver insufficiency may also cause bad liver values). At any rate, he is hitting her hard with trying to get rid of any infection and/or constipation problems, at least that is what I see.  HOWEVER, most liver problems, unless they have liver cancer, are usually pretty benign in ferrets. It is not at all unusual for a ferrets liver to be big....even huge...some ferrets are just that way.  I had one ferret whose overall liver probably weighed at least 50% of his weight and it caused him no harm whasoever.

QUESTION#1:    What DIAGNOSIS did your vet give...what did he/she say was wrong?  (I have some questions I will put in parenthesis and hopefully you will write back right away and answer them for me; it will help me help you/her, okay?)

The medications DO make sense that she could lose control of her bowels, as two are stool softeners and she probably had abdominal distention puffed up tummy) when he first saw her.

QUESTION #2:.... What symptoms did you originally take her in for?  did she have the coughing and purple tongue then...before all these medications??

Purple tongue tells me she is (LETHALLY!!) NOT GETTING ENOUGH OXYGEN.....there is no other reason for that  (if it is only off and on) I would be VERY CONCERNED about that.  That alone would send me RUSHING to another (Exotics Specialist, even if I had to drive hours to get there...take ALL HER MEDS WITH YOU and ask your old vet for a copy of her blood test he took when you were in casual about it, say you just thought maybe you would get a second opinion since she seems so sick and what she has is a bit u usual).  Of course you don't want to anger him (a good vet would not be upset anyway) if he is the only local exotics vet you have. ( I STRONGLY suspect this guy is an old vet who has seen maybe three whole  ferrets in  his life (?)  but we will worry about that later.)  I could be totally wrong, it's just that 1:...I don't really understand what he is treating her for.....nothing matching all this is even a remotely common problem (i.e.may have a WRONG DIAGNOSIS) in ferrets and, 2:...I have never heard of ANY of these medications used on a ferret; they are basically dog/cat medications, which is what is encouraging me so strongly to tell you to get her to an Exotics Specialist (if you need a referral, write, telling me what larger city you are near & I ill try to help locate one).  Now, maybe he is a total ferret genius who just graduated from a top University specializing in ferrets and I am behind the times, but I am concerned...very concerned.   

The coughing to the point of nearly passing out is one of my greatest worries....that purple tongue....not good. That could result in death OR brain damage due to lack of oxygen.....speaking of which, do you know how to give CPR on a small animal?  If not, do an internet search and find out, OR stop by any Fire Department (take her with you if possible) and have them demonstrate for you till you are an expert at may well save her life.  She could have something called "megacolon", that would cause terrible backing up of stool (poop), which he feels may be poisoning her system....but even that SO unusual in ferrets, especially at her age.

Her "not walking right" weeks ago MAY have been something as simple as insulinoma (COMMON in ferrets of her age and can be has that symptom too.  If that's what she has, which is basically bouts of low blood sugar, giving her ANYTHING that the word ends in "ose" is a sugar and can make her sicker.  ANY sugar right now could be deadly anyway, so even tho it's NEVER a good idea, it's REALLY a bad idea now.

While you are diagnosing her, please DO NOT feed her anything except the hi protein ferret food....NO TREATS, NO PEOPLE FOOD, etc...NONE. It could kill her.  Totally Ferret is a good all around food....get the adult crunchy one in the dark blue bag.  If you need to, get it online at Drs Foster & Smith (a ferret store) OR Ferret Depot.  They will ship to you; not that expensive for one's what mine eats now that Evo for Ferrets  has been recalled.

Watch her closely.  Please continue ALL your vets recommendations/medications  until you see another vet who MAY (or may not) take her off them.   Please DO get her in for another opinion with a ferret specialist (Exotics Vet) as soon as possible.  Know that you MAY lose her, just that you are doing the best as soon as you can to get the best care possible AS SOON AS POSSIBLE, okay?  When you call the new vet for an appointment, let them know it is somewhat of an emergency due to her symptoms and the very strong medications she is taking and hopefully they will get you in right away for an appointment.  

I don't really know that I have helped you any yet....just brought up more questions.  Unfortunately I cannot read that vet's mind, nor am I a vet....but something serious is *possibly*  going on here that needs at the very least a second opinion by an Exotics Specialist, some regular and top grade food, no treats of any kind, PLENTY of fresh water (changed fresh at least once DAILY IN A BOWL, NOT A makes them drink more water because they like it more. ) as she is probably thirsty from all the meds.....and a few prayers would be an excellent idea also.

Feel free to come to my Facebook group at THUNDERING FERRET PAWS - Great ferret lovers there and they will welcome you :-).   I check in there frequently (usually daily) , and there are lots of great folks there who LOVE ferrets and may even have other experience with something like this.  Private Message me thru the group message system  if you do join, so I will know who you are :-) and be familiar with your case.

Please at least write back with the questions above answered, that will help a lot; learn CPR for your ferret, Get an appointment with an Exotics Vet and keep me updated.  This is very interesting....but even more than that, a precious little one's life may well be at stake here, so we need to get a good plan, stick with it ASAP and get some answers!  The more cuddling, loving, holding in a thin (hot summer!) baby blanket close to you (when mine is sick I hold him helps give them reason to live & sounds like she could use that.

You & your baby are in my thoughts and  prayers.  BTW, she is still considered pretty YOUNG, so don't give up,on her.  Ferrets can heal so quickly once they are on the right path....just MUST be sure we have her on the right path!


Jacquie Rodgers  


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Jacquie Rodgers


PLEASE READ ALL BEFORE ASKING QUESTIONS... WHAT I CAN DO: Being a ferret owner for 20 years, I can answer questions re: general care, cage ideas & requirements, healthy foods and snacks, safety issues, ferretproofing play areas, common causes of intestinal blockages, appropriate housing, litterbox training, making bathtime fun, toys, games galore, outdoor trips, "Do`s and Don'ts, traveling w/ferrets by car or RV, safe environmental temperatures & keeping your ferret cool in summer (NOT A FAN!!), setting up a hospital cage, IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), helicobacter (ulcers), adrenal disease symptoms & care,intestinal blockages, helping your ferret recover quickly/safely from surgery; common problems of ferret ownership, illnesses; care of sick or injured ferrets, hospice/palliative care, facing & coping with your ferret's death, choices that must be made when a ferret dies, memorializing your pet online and in your daily life. #1 TIP: FIND AN EXOTICS VET BEFORE YOU GET A VET...IF YOU WAIT, YOU MAY FIND YOU HAVE TO DRIVE UP TO 6-HRS TO GET TO A PROPER VET!..if you did not find one first, be WILLING to drive as far as possible for proper care. AND.... #2 TIP: FERRETS ARE EXPENSIVE TO FEED, HOUSE, VET & CARE FOR PROPERLY...IF YOU CANNOT AFFORD ONE/OR NOT READY TO SACRIFICE, PLEASE DON'T GET ONE!! A FERRET IS NOT LIKE HAVING A CAT OR DOG!! THEY REQUIRE MORE TIME, ENERGY, CARE AND MONEY to properly care for them. Prepare to spend up to $8,000-$10,000 OVER A FERRETS LIFETIME (6 to 8 years usually) FOR NECESSITIES & VET CARE. WHAT I CAN`T DO: I can`t take the place of your ferret vet; if your ferret appears sick,PLEASE have your ferret examined by a ferret vet .TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE FOR A SICK FERRET - PLEASE, IF IN DOUBT, GET THEM TO A VET! 24- hours of a ferret not eating/drinking may kill your ferret! NEVER FORCE FEED A SICK..he may choke. Sub-Q or IV fluids from your vet who is not eating WILL help save his life IF he gets it in time.


I have nursed ferrets through many illnesses, an injury, and a variety of diseases over the years.Ferrets are so very delicate, yet incredibly strong-willed; a well-loved ferret will fight courageously to live if given proper medical care, close monitoring, and especially lots of TLC.& LOVE. A ferret can entertain for hours on end when they know they are the center of attention; and they can make even the grumpiest person laugh. They do require a LOT of time, love and daily care, but the love you give a ferret always comes back to you tenfold OR MORE!! I dedicate the time I spend helping others here to my precious little ones who have gone to the Rainbow Bridge. They taught me how to laugh, to love unconditionally....and how to live each & every day to its fullest, and for that I am forever grateful.


Yuma Daily Sun (local newspaper) recognition for being an outstanding ferret mom and having incredibly well-trained ferrets. I am currently working on book of ferret care to share my experience. JOIN ME ON FACEBOOK:!/groups/thundering.ferret.paws/ for faster answers to your questions and input from other experienced ferret owners. Lots of past questions answered on that you can still reference by category. If you don't find your answer there, please submit it and I will be happy to help you :-)

I read everything I can get my hands on regarding ferrets, I learn from my great Exotics Vet, and my own experience and interactions with other ferret owners. I am writing a book on ferret care (Great Need for a CORRECT one!) never rely on a ferret book OR a website when your ferret is sick. I can help with suggestions to use IN CONJUNCTION with proper care by your exotics specialist vet (ASK when you call for an appointment whether or NOT your vet has EXPERIENCE in working with EXOTICS..if not, move on and continue to seek one. The wrong vet can KILL your ferret. I learned this early when my ferret hurt his front paw jumping off the couch...a vet, NOT EXOTICS SPECIALIST couln't handle ferret properly because he was afraid of the ferret...and ended up xraying THE WRONGBARM, telling me it was not hurt. I took xray & ferret to EXOTICS SPECIALIST VET 3-hrs away & found out the arm WAS BROKEN & wrong arm had been xrayed. THAT is how important it is to have a PROPERLY TRAINED VET FOR YOUR FERRET!

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WANT TO BE A FERRET EXPERT? I serve as the resident "guru" for this category. IF YOU WISH TO VOLUNTEER IN THE FERRET CATEGORY, please email me at and request an application. All volunteers must complete a general ferret information questionaire to be a volunteer in this category. Thanks for your cooperation :-)

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I try to educate anyone who is interested in ferrets, as I take my ferrets with me in public a lot. There is a lot of MISinformation out there about ferrets that needs to be dispelled with fact, and ferret owners who need to be keep abreast of the latest and best information. FACEBOOK FERRET GROUP (OPEN): THUNDERING FERRET PAWS - Join us as we all share our pictures, stories & experience!! :-)

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