Older Ferret Might Have Cancer

Is it time to let go of an older ferret that’s losing weight despite eating and possibly has cancer?

Q: We have three ferrets. The older one is Esteban, and he has not been doing well for the past four months. He started losing weight and lost his appetite. We took him to the veterinarian, who did a blood test on him. He said Esteban might have cancer or lymphoma (that’s what I more or less remember he told us). The vet said he didn’t want to do any more tests because they would be painful for our ferret, and he was too thin. He recommended feeding a special food to gain weight. Once Esteban had put on some weight, the vet would start medical treatment. The last visit we made, we saw Esteban was better. He is eating well and plays, but he still tires out quickly and sleeps all day. The vet told us that Esteban is still losing weight. He was about 1.70 pounds and now is at 1.30. The food he’s eating is Science Diet a/d. The vet still hasn’t given us any medicine for Esteban, and I’m really worried. He is the only vet where I live who knows about ferrets. Can you give me any advice or something I can do for him or tell to my veterinarian? Or do I have to start realizing that it’s time to let it go? Estaban is about 6 years old.

A: It sounds like you have a vague diagnosis for Estaban. Lymphoma is but one of many types of cancers that ferrets can get. Some cancers can be diagnosed by a blood test but most cancers can only be diagnosed with a biopsy to get a complete answer.

You are correct to be worried about Estaban, as his weight is very low for a male ferret. The food you are feeding is very palatable to ferrets and should help him put on weight. The fact that he is losing weight on this food is a sign that he is sick and certainly cancer can cause weight loss despite feeding a high-quality food.

Until you have a complete diagnosis, you cannot make an informed decision about “letting him go.” It may be that he has a cancer type or another disease that is easily treated. I suggest pursuing a diagnosis so you can feel as though you did the best you could for him. Even though we have learned a great deal about ferrets over the last 20 to 30 years, many veterinarians have not kept up on ferret medicine or never had courses about ferrets in veterinary school.

If you believe your veterinarian is not as well-versed in ferret medicine as you would like, you have a couple of choices. First, get a second opinion, even if that means driving to a more distant hospital. Contact the hospital first before you go to make sure you bring all the necessary paperwork so you do not duplicate what has already been done. Second, approach your veterinarian and suggest that he or she use a phone or online consultation service to review newer information about ferrets. You may need to pay the consultation service, but this is almost always less expensive than driving to a distant hospital and safer for your ferret.

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Critters · Ferrets