Unfortunately, ferrets are very prone to a variety of cancers. In fact, most pet ferrets will have some sort of tumor or cancer during their lifetime.
Cutaneous mast cell tumors are probably the most common skin tumors in ferrets, often seen in animals over 3 years of age. These tumors can appear anywhere on the body but typically affect the trunk and neck. The tumor appears as a raised, irregular, and often scabbed mass. Signs of disease in other parts of the body are rare, but the tumors may bleed when scratched. Tumors are diagnosed by biopsy, and they should be surgically removed.
Lymphoma is common in ferrets and can affect many organ systems, including the lymph nodes, spleen, liver, heart, thymus, and kidneys. Less commonly, lymphoma may affect the spine and central nervous system. Lymphoma can progress rapidly in young ferrets. In adults it is often a chronic disease. Clusters of lymphoma have been seen in ferrets that are related to one another and in ferrets that live together.
Diagnosis of lymphoma involves bloodwork, radiographs (x-ray images), ultrasonography, and samples taken from tissues that may be affected. Treatment for ferrets has not been standardized but may include removal of the abnormal tissue, chemotherapy, or radiation. Because chemotherapy suppresses the animal’s normal immune response, careful monitoring by an experienced veterinarian is necessary.
Chordomas and chondrosarcomas have been reported in ferrets. Chordomas are tumors that typically appear as firm masses on the tail. They may develop a surface ulcer from being dragged on the ground, but otherwise chordomas on the tail cause few problems. These tumors may also occur on the neck. Surgical removal is suggested when possible. Chondrosarcomas are tumors that can occur anywhere along the spine, ribs, or breast bone and tend to cause spinal cord compression and associated problems. They should be removed surgically, if possible.
An enlarged spleen is common in adult ferrets and is usually caused by increased production of developing red blood cells. In most ferrets this is a benign condition. However, lymphoma and hemangiosarcoma, which are highly invasive, rapidly growing types of cancer, can occur in the spleen. Ultrasonography and needle aspiration of the spleen can be used to determine the cause of an enlarged spleen.
Also see professional content regarding cancers and tumors of ferrets.