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Neoplasia of Ferrets


James K. Morrisey

, DVM, DABVP (Avian), Companion Exotic Animal Medicine Service, Department of Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell University

Last full review/revision Jul 2013 | Content last modified Jul 2013

Cutaneous mast cell tumors are probably the most common nonendocrine tumor in ferrets. 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. Systemic signs are rare, but the tumors may bleed when scratched. Treatment is by excision. Local treatment with strontium may also be beneficial.

Lymphoma is common in ferrets and can affect many organ systems, including the lymph nodes, spleen, liver, heart, thymus, and kidneys. Disease of the spine and CNS has also been seen. Lymphoma of young ferrets is often rapidly progressive, whereas it is often a chronic disease in adults. Clusters of lymphoma have been seen in related or cohabitating ferrets, and a viral agent is suspected in those cases. Diagnostics should include a CBC, chemistry panel, radiographs, ultrasonography, and aspirates of any suspected tissues. Treatment protocols for ferrets have not been standardized but can include removal of the neoplastic tissue if possible, chemotherapy, and/or radiation therapy. Immunosuppression is a common problem with chemotherapy in ferrets, and frequent CBCs are imperative with any treatment protocol.

Chordomas and chondrosarcomas have been reported in ferrets. Chordomas typically appear as firm masses on the tail. They may become ulcerated from dragging on the ground but otherwise cause few problems. These tumors have also been reported at the cervical region, causing paresis and ataxia. Surgical removal is suggested when possible. Chondrosarcomas can develop anywhere along the spine, ribs, or sternum and tend to cause spinal cord compression and associated clinical signs. Treatment should include removal, if possible.

Splenomegaly is common in adult ferrets and is usually caused by extramedullary hematopoiesis; however, lymphoma and hemangiosarcoma can occur. An irregular or firm spleen should be investigated with ultrasonography and aspiration.

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