A hairball is defined as a small collection of hair or fur which is formed in the stomach of animals that is occasionally vomited up when it becomes too big.
Vomiting is the forceful ejection of the stomach contents up the esophagus and through the mouth.
Regurgitation is the backflow of undigested food (which has never reached the stomach) up the esophagus and through the mouth. (Can be thought of a softer version of vomiting.)
Ferrets, along with rabbits and cows, are not able to regurgitate or vomit hairballs like cats can so it can be a life threatening situation. Ferrets are capable of vomiting, but it is actually very difficult– usually if you see vomiting, that is a clear indication that something is not right.
*Please see the above description of vomiting and regurgitation so you don’t mix or confuse the two.*
Usually during shedding season, the ferret would get a piece of hair stuck in their throat and make a nasty cough while trying to hack it out. That is not a hairball, that is just a piece of hair in their throat. They can get the hair out of their mouths naturally by coughing it out. Once the hair gets into the gastrointestinal tract, it usually will go through the system without any issues but sometimes hair will accumulate after combining with fat molecules then they become a trichobezoar; a mass of hair which is trapped in the gastrointestinal system – an extreme form of hairball.
Surgical intervention is often required.
There are also other ways to prevent the hairballs from forming.
Whole prey: Feeding adult whole prey helps by cleaning the insides and pushing the hair through the ferret, so it can also help to reduce the chance of a hairball forming.
Brushing daily to remove excess loose hairs. It helps remove hairs which could then be groomed and ingested.
Changing bedding. Remove bedding with hair, and wash/clean bedding as best as you can to remove any hairs. The more hairs that end up on bedding ends up making your ferret more itchy, so remove bedding and replace with fresh and clean bedding every couple of days.
Egg. Raw Egg contains lecithin and choline, both are great for helping hair move through the digestive tract of your ferret.
****The best and most efficient prevention is using multiple of these. Brushing daily during shedding season is essential, and along with the help of the egg, you would have a double whammy!****
Blockages can happen for a variety of reasons, many of which could be from ingesting things they shouldn’t such as rubbers, plastics, fabrics, anything bedding. The best prevention is to minimize exposure to something that would be considered an object they could swallow or chew off and ingest. Though we cannot remove everything, the best thing we can do is just remove what we believe a blockage hazard and in future remove anything that has been a known blockage or swallowing hazard for your particular ferret(s).
Since ferrets are notoriously well known for eating anything they shouldn’t such as rubbers, plastics, fabrics and so on, understanding when to do a blockage protocol and how to do a blockage protocol is crucial.
Blockage protocol is something we need to do when we suspect a ferret has a blockage.
The blockage protocol is as followed:
1TBSP of Pumpkin, and
1TSP of Vaseline (petroleum jelly)
You will then need to be alternating between those every hour for up to 4 hours.
If within 4 hours that the ferret has not passed stool or anything they have ingested, then you will need to VET ASAP as it is most likely a FULL BLOCKAGE.Blockages aren’t something you can wait till morning, the protocol should NOT be delayed as Blockages are LIFE THREATENING situations. Ferrets go down very quickly, some will get sick and die within hours, that is how serious it is. Having pumpkin and vaseline on hand in your emergency kit is CRUCIAL. You need 100% Pure Canned Pumpkin and 100% Pure Petroleum Jelly. If you don’t have Pumpkin on hand or cannot locate canned pumpkin, you can purchase an actual pumpkin, bake it or boil it until soft and turn it into a mash. You can freeze the pumpkin and use when needed. In the chance that you need pumpkin asap but have it frozen, start with the vaseline and defrost the pumpkin within the hour as soon as possible to use for the protocol.
But I thought ferrets couldn’t eat plant stuff?
PUMPKIN is used as an indigestible fiber. Ferrets being obligate carnivores have issues digesting and utilizing plant based nutrients. This means that the pumpkin and vaseline will go straight through the ferret while at the same time, pushes and lubricates anything blocking the way, making it a very useful tool for blockage protocol.
PUMPKIN and Vaseline should ONLY be used for blockage protocol or emergency reasons only.
The pumpkin as mentioned, is not easily digested and if fed frequently may be harsh on the ferret body in the long term. It is not appropriate for anything other than blockage protocol / emergency situations, especially for Insulinoma ferrets. The Vaseline will also interfere with nutrient absorption, so excessive long term use is never recommended.
You can use Vaseline as a Laxative, but Egg is preferred.For a natural laxative, try using simply the egg on it’s own, or some Salmon oil with Vaseline, or simply look at the diet you’re feeding and alter accordingly. (Example, raw fed ferrets consuming a high bone content diet will have dry, seedy stools and will require more muscle meat in their diet and less bone, so doing a laxative will only mask a once off situation, you need to look at the diet as a whole to fix the problem.)Commercial Pet Laxatives are often filled with unhealthy ingredients such as Malt Pastes or Sugary stuff like Syrups. The main issue with those is the fact they contribute to Insulinoma and should be avoided at all costs. You can so easily create your own laxative at home using simply ingredients. Just please keep in mind that only use a laxative if you absolutely find you need it. If possible, simply prevent week;y with the whole egg. You can use the whole egg, whites and yolks on their own, or simply the yolk on it’s own for a hair ball preventative. Laxatives will not do much for a blockage and while you may have some luck with the Vaseline on it’s own, it is still recommended to have Pumpkin on hand as the Pumpkin will do more to physically push through the gastrointestinal tract. Any blockages that don’t have results from the protocol need vetting ASAP.
**** [ Blockage Symptoms ] ****
Some Common and Severe symptoms of a hairball blockage would be:
– Small, skinny poops or no poop at all, Tarry or black poop,
When you suspect you have a blockage, it must be treated immediately or the ferret may stop feeding and ultimately die due to dehydration or other cause. Remember, Blockage Protocol should be used when you are concerned about a potential blockage.
Example, you found your ferret chewed some fabric, that is the best time to do the protocol. While doing the blockage protocol, you must monitor food and water intake and watch for stools. Take photos of stools, DISSECT STOOLS (to check for anything causing blockage), and note anything out of the ordinary. If within 4 hours, you see no change in behaviour, then VET ASAP and have a barium xray done. The barium xray should hopefully push through anything that the protocol didn’t, but in the odd chance that it doesn’t it still is important to vet in case the ferret requires urgent surgery.
When in doubt regardless, don’t put it off or think they will be fine til morning and VET ASAP.
Please keep in mind that the blockage protocol is simply a tool to buy you some time. It is always recommended that you vet regardless of the outcome with the protocol. Even if you do the protocol and you see the ferret has passed what you think is all of the blockage, you can never know for sure if the blockage was fully passed. There have been ferrets who have passed partial of their blockage but still ended up needing urgent veterinary care.
This subject is a very important one, so PLEASE, everyone be prepared for the worse. Owning ferrets is more than cute weasels and stinky cat snakes…. I hope that this information becomes useful for anyone.
This article was originally posted to FB group The Natural Ferret. Too see more great content, feel free to join the group!
Ferret lover and enthusiast from VIC, Australia. Machan currently has 5 ferrets who are fed a combination of raw frankenprey model diet and wholeprey. She is a major species appropriate diet for ferrets advocate, co-creator/admin/writer for The Natural Ferret. Machan loves writing and research, her favourite topics being toxicology, infectious diseases & holistic veterinary medicine.
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