Proliferative Colitis

Proliferative colitis (inflammatory bowel disease) is an intestinal disorder of a variety of domestic animals associated with the presence of an intracellular Campylobacter-like organism (ICLO). In ferrets, this is a relatively uncommon disease that affects young male ferrets under 1 year of age. The infection can spread to lymph nodes and liver. Clinical signs of proliferative colitis include frequent painful defecation, blood in the green stool, weight loss and diarrhea. Diarrhea may persist for over 6 weeks. Affected ferrets are dehydrated, thin, and may have a partial prolapse of the rectum. The rectal area and tail become smeared with scats and the affected animals cry and moan when straining to defecate. The ferret loses its weight rapidly and can lose half of its weight in 2 weeks if not treated.

This inflammatory bowel disease, sometimes called "fading ferret syndrome", probably has multiple causes and may have an underlying genetic trigger, particularly considering its progression to neoplasia in many ferrets. Food allergies and the grain carbohydrates used in commercial food formulations may be a problem.

Clinical signs of proliferative colitis are seen in ferrets that are less than 10 months of age. The animals have green to bloody diarrhea that may persist intermittently for over 6 weeks. Affected ferrets have poor appetite, dehydrated, thin, and have a partial rectal prolapse.

Diagnosis is based on clinical signs and biopsy from the colon tissues. Supportive care with antimicrobial therapy are typical treatments of proliferative colitis in ferrets. However, antimicrobial therapy may not change the course of the disease if improvement is not observed after 48 hours of drug therapy. Metronidazole or chloramphenicol treatments for 2 weeks have been reported to be effective. This condition is subject to periodic periods of recurrence, often during times of stress. Severe cases develop neurological signs such as poor movement coordination, head tilt, and tremors. If untreated, the condition may be fatal.


  1. Animal Models in Toxicology, Second Edition Shayne C. Gad
  2. MU College of Veterinary Medicine, Ferret Diseases
  3. The Experimental Animal in Biomedical Research By Bernard E. Rollin
  4. Ferret Husbandry, Medicine and Surgery by John Henry Lewington

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