Cachexia in Ferrets
When a ferret loses more than 10 percent of what is considered normal body weight for an animal its size, it is referred to as weight loss. This can result from a variety of mechanisms, but they often share a common feature: insufficient calorie intake and high-energy demand.
Cachexia, meanwhile, is defined as the state of extreme poor health. It is associated with loss of appetite (anorexia), weight loss, weakness, and mental depression.
- Malabsorptive disorders
- Bowel disease
- Gastric foreign body
- Metabolic Disorders
- Organ failure—cardiac failure, hepatic failure, and renal failure
- Virus disease
- Excessive nutrient loss
- Protein-losing diseases
- Anorexia and pseudoanorexia
- Inability to smell or chew food
- Difficulty swallowing
- Poor quality or insufficient quantity of food
- Neuromuscular disease
- Lower motor neuron disease
- CNS disease
- Increased physical activity
- Pregnancy or lactation
- Cancer (very common cause)
Your veterinarian will begin with a variety of diagnostic tests to find the underlying cause for the weight loss. After an initial health assessment, the following tests may be recommended for your pet:
- Fecal studies to identify bacteria or intestinal parasites
- Blood analysis to look for infection, inflammation, leukemia, anemia, and other blood disorders
- Urinalysis to determine kidney function, to look for infections/protein loss from the kidneys, and to determine hydration status
- Chest and abdominal x-rays to observe heart, lungs, and abdominal organs
- Ultrasound of the abdomen
- Bile acids test to evaluate liver function
- Exploratory surgery (laparotomy) to search for cancer
At times your veterinarian may recommend treating your ferret’s symptoms, especially if they are severe. This, however, is not a substitute for treating the underlying cause of the weight loss.
Once the appropriate treatment has been assigned, make sure a high-quality diet for your pet is provided. It may be necessary to force-feed, with nutrients and electrolytes given intravenously as necessary. The diet must be supplemented with vitamins and minerals. Appetite stimulants are also used occasionally to get the animal to start eating again. The veterinarian may even recommend warming the food to body temperature and offering it via syringe.
Living and Management
A proper medical follow-up is vital, especially if the animal does not show improvement quickly. Monitoring during this period is also critical. The underlying cause of the weight loss will determine the appropriate course for home care. This includes frequent weigh-ins for the animal. Follow your veterinarian’s recommendations for treatment. And if your ferret does not respond to the treatment, contact your vet right away.
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