Zeus and his friend Fred arrived at the Bay Area Humane Society (BAHS) at 7pm on Thursday June 6, 2002. According to the people surrendering them, they had become too time consuming and expensive to care for. It was mentioned that Zeus had a rough January, vomiting and losing weight. They also said that they had “nursed him through”. They gave the impression that he had recovered. Neither ferret had ever seen a veterinarian.
On Friday the 7th, Jennifer from BAHS called me at Fox Valley Ferret to tell me about the ferrets. Since as far as she knew the ferrets were both healthy, it was not an issue that my work schedule prevented pickup until Monday. However, by Saturday at Noon it was apparent to the people at BAHS that Zeus was not a healthy ferret. Arrangements were made for me to get there after I got off work, which meant a BAHS employee would have to stay after the normal closing time. Jennifer was so concerned about Zeus that she agreed to do this without hesitation.
When I arrived and saw Zeus it was very apparent that he had been ill for a long time. He weighed in at 2.2 pounds, when judging by his frame, he could easily be a healthy 3.5. He was painfully thin and had nearly no muscle mass on his hindquarters. He was dehydrated and throwing up. I took him home and started supportive care. He seemed to be showing classic signs of a gastro-intestinal foreign body, something that is unfortunately common in ferrets. By this time, Zeus could not keep anything, even liquid, down. The only food or water he was getting came from the subcutaneous fluids he was receiving. In the face of all this, he turned out to be one of the sweetest ferrets imaginable, tolerating repeated needle pokes and the injection of fluids under the skin of his shoulder.
Monday morning we headed for North Heights Veterinary Clinic. Zeus was examined for what was most likely the first time in his life. X-rays were done searching for a foreign body. Nothing showed up on the x-ray except fluid in his lungs indicating that he had aspirated some of the bile and mucus he had been throwing up with such regularity. Zeus was given more fluids, an injection of anti-nausea medication, and several days’ worth of injectable antibiotics. He did well the rest of the day managing to keep two doses of anti-nausea medication down and showing some interest in food. He received a total of 160cc of subcutaneous fluid.
By Tuesday the 11th Zeus was once again vomiting mucus. I called North Heights and picked up injectable anti-nausea medication. He continued on his antibiotics and took in 140cc of injected fluids.
On Wednesday Zeus was worse. He again visited North Heights Clinic, where a different Veterinarian examined him. This veterinarian felt that the x-ray indicated an abnormality in the esophagus, but he was not able to determine if it was a foreign body (fairly uncommon in the esophagus) or a condition called Mega Esophagus, which is far more common in certain dog breeds than it is in ferrets. More fluids were given, and a barium series was scheduled for the following morning. Zeus came home and actually perked up and tried to play following the last dose of fluids for the day (a grand total of 205cc).
On Thursday the 13th, the barium series was done. Barium dye was given and a series of three x-rays followed the dye through his system until it pooled in his esophagus. This indicated that something was stopping the passage of the dye, but was it an object, or an abnormal esophagus? Zeus was sedated and a tube was passed into his throat. When the tube hit the location of the barium pool, it passed through the pool without difficulty indicating that Zeus suffered from Mega Esophagus. He wants to eat, but a thickened area of his esophagus prevents food and water from passing into his stomach.
At this point a decision had to be made. Because Zeus was so sweet, and because he had the will to live, we decided to try a very unusual procedure (for a ferret that is). We decided to give Zeus a feeding tube. Feeding tubes have been used successfully with cats, dogs and people, but as far as we knew may never have been tried for a ferret before this. North Heights Clinic did not even have a small enough tube on hand and staff there spent a good part of the afternoon tracking down an appropriately sized one. They managed to locate one and the surgery was scheduled for Friday morning, June 14.
At 11:30am on Friday the 14th Zeus went into surgery. Everything went well, the tube was placed, and a feeding was done. Zeus went into recovery with the end of the feeding tube sticking out from the pink bandages that covered him from just behind his front legs to just in front of his hind legs. At 1pm, clinic staff looked in on Zeus and found him sleeping in his blankets. Surgery looked like a success.
Unfortunately, when the veterinarian checked on him at 1:45, he was gone. Zeus’ system had suffered too much for too long and although he had done well during the surgery, the stress was just too much for him. We will never know if it was heart failure, respiratory arrest, or formation of a blood clot that took him. I believe that had Zeus gotten to me even a month earlier, he would have lived. As it is, he will be cremated and “brought home” to join the other ferrets who have died while living at Fox Valley Ferret.
Less than a day has past since I lost Zeus and I have already been asked if I am sorry that I spent over $300 on him. My response was that given the chance, I would not have done anything different. Zeus deserved every chance to live and I gave him that. The shame is that his former did not live up to the obligation that comes with having a pet. In the end, I know that in the last week of his life Zeus was loved for a lifetime.