It is never a dull day when you work with pet ferrets. It seems like no matter how many ferrets you see, there is always something new or a new challenge to overcome. I recently had two such ferret cases.
The first ferret came in with a history of not eating well and doing some teeth grinding. These signs are very common with stomach ulcers, and ferrets are very prone to ulcers. Upon palpation of the abdomen, I found something abnormal — a soft, mass-like object in the upper part of the abdomen. Based on location and feel, I suspected that there was a hairball in the ferret’s stomach.
Ferrets can get hairballs (trichobezoars) just like cats do. Unlike cats, ferrets do not vomit up hairballs. Hairballs can be hard to see on radiographs, even when barium is used. The treatment for hairballs is to go in surgically and remove the hairball from the stomach.
When I did the surgery on this ferret, I was quite surprised to find not just one hairball in the stomach but three very large hairballs in the stomach. No wonder the ferret was having a hard time eating, there was very little room left in the stomach for food.
In general ferrets heal rather rapidly after hairball removal, but this ferret also had some enlarged lymph nodes in the abdomen. Cancer (lymphoma) is one of the most common reasons for enlarged lymph nodes in adult ferrets, so the lymph nodes were sent out to a pathologist for microscopic examination. Unfortunately, the ferret did have an aggressive form of lymphoma in addition to the three hairballs.
The second case was a ferret with a tumor right below the anus. Tumors in this area are typically malignant cancers (adenocarcinomas) that spread to the lymph nodes and become fatal with time. They originate from either the sweat glands (apocrine glands) or from anal gland tissue if the ferret was not de-scented as a kit. Treatment for this type of cancer can include radiation and/or chemotherapy. This ferret was already in bad shape, so euthanasia was the most humane option.