By Karen Rosenthal, DVM, MS
I have two ferrets, a male cinnamon name Loki and an albino female named Scottie. We have had them both for the last 1½ years and they are now both about 2½ years old. The issue is with Loki, my cinnamon ferret. A short time back he scratched his neck and I really hadn’t noticed until I was watching him in his cage constantly scratching at his neck, so I got him out and checked him. He had a scab that he was scratching and the next day I came home and checked him and he scratched it off. I figured he would be OK and I kept an eye on him. The scab disappeared and his skin looked normal and I figured he was OK. I picked him up the night before last and he has a large bump where the scab was. This bump seems to be at the skin level as when I move his skin it moves with it. It doesn’t seem to be attached to his muscles, etc. The night before last when I checked him the bump seemed to be a very dark red or almost black color. Last night I checked him, and he had scratched it again and I could see where he now has very small patches of scab like where he scratched it and it began to bleed. The bump is still there but not as large as the day before. I sent a photo. Can you see enough of it to make out what it is? I am curious, because I have seen ticks clamp on and fill themselves with blood. Could a tick have gotten under his skin and be doing this, or is it something else?
This ferret’s itch caused him to scratch so much that bleeding started and a scab and lump formed.
There are many things that can be causing what you are describing in your ferret. It is more likely the cause of the skin problem is something inherent in the skin rather a parasite like a tick that got under the skin.
Different types of skin masses can cause what you are describing. Some are called mast cells tumors, some are histiocytomas, and there are many other classifications of these skin masses. Most of them are benign, meaning that even though they may be cancerous, they do not spread beyond that small area on the skin.
But even though such masses may be called benign, they can still cause discomfort and should be examined and treated by your veterinarian. Some of these masses are “itchy” to your ferret, and the more the ferret scratches, the more discomfort he appears to be in and eventually the mass starts to bleed.
What should you expect when you go and visit the veterinarian with your ferret? At the hospital, there are a couple of things your vet may suggest that will help diagnose what is wrong with your ferret. Your veterinarian may want to do a fine-needle aspirate of the mass and look at these cells under a microscope. This is called a cytological examination of the mass. Basically, your veterinarian is examining hundreds of thousands of cells that were extracted from the mass by a needle. An even better method to get a firm diagnosis is with a biopsy. In this method, a piece of tissue is removed, usually millions of cells are examined. Sometimes so much tissue is removed, that it leads to a surgical cure of the skin mass.