4 conditions affecting ferrets

As part of our Vet Club this month, we bring you a summary of the 4 top conditions affecting pet ferrets in the UK. How much do you know?

Posted: 14 March 2017

4 conditions affecting ferrets


As part of our Vet Club this month, we bring you a summary of the 4 top conditions affecting pet ferrets in the UK. How much do you know?

1. Adrenal Gland Disease

This hormonal condition is a very common disease. Also known as hyperadrenocorticotrophism, this disease is caused by an overproduction of the sex hormones from part of the adrenal gland. It usually affects ferrets over 18 months of age.

Look for these signs

  • Bilateral hair loss - particularly around the back half of the ferret
  • Thinning of the skin - the coat usually develops a moth eaten appearance
  • Swollen vulva - female ferrets can produce a mucoid vaginal discharge
  • Swollen abdomen – the typical Cushing’s belly
  • Pruritis – owners notice their pet continually scratching
  • Straining to urinate - if this occurs in males, this needs to be dealt with urgently as prostatic enlargement can obstruct urinary outflow.
  • Anaemia – look for pale gums, nails and skin
  • Weight loss – it helps to keep a record of the ferrets weight

Diagnosis and treatment;

  • Blood tests - haematology, biochemistry and adrenal hormone levels will support the clinical signs and history
  • Ultrasonography - look for splenic and prostatic enlargement
  • Exploratory laparotomy - a useful tool when used appropriately
  • Spaying / neutering - the best way to prevent the condition from occurring

2. Insulinoma

This is a very common disease affecting middle aged and older ferrets. It results from neoplastic cells within the pancreas secreting excess amounts of insulin resulting in hypoglycaemia.

Signs include;

  • Weakness or collapse
  • Paralysis of hind legs
  • Weight loss
  • Teeth grinding
  • Excessive salivation

Diagnosis and treatment;

  • Take blood samples and perform ultrasound scans to identify the problem.
  • Treatment may involve surgery to examine the pancreas for evidence of a tumour. Medical treatment may be offered but is usually given for the remainder of the ferret’s life to maintain proper glucose levels.
  • If the ferret goes into a fit as a result of the insulinoma, lay the animal on its side and administer liquid glucose to its gums.

3. Lymphoma

This is one of the commonest cancers seen in ferrets, and can affect the lymph nodes, spleen, liver, heart, thymus, and kidneys.

Lymphoma can develop rapidly in young ferrets, more slowly in adults.

Diagnosis involves blood samples, xrays, ultrasound examinations and biopsies.

Chemotherapy is an option with a good patient.

Signs of lymphoma include;

  • Weight loss
  • Weakness
  • Breathing problems
  • Loss of appetite
  • Swollen lymph nodes

4. Skin cancer – mast cell tumours

  • Mast cell tumours are the most common skin neoplasms seen in ferrets.
  • Affected animals are usually over 3 years of age.
  • The skin tumours often appear on the body and neck as scabbed raised and sometimes bleeding masses.
  • Take skin biopsies to make the diagnosis.

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