Ferret owners occasionally ask me, “Why is my ferret’s foot puffy?” Many conditions can cause a ferret’s paw to be swollen. Injuries, foreign bodies, cancer, edema, infection and mites can all cause an enlarged paw.
Foot Puffiness From Injury Or Trauma
A ferret’s paws can be injured in a number of ways. Over the years I have seen several really odd injuries, but the most common injuries happen when a paw is stepped on, an object falls on it or it gets hit by a closing door. Sometimes paws get injured when a ferret jumps or falls off of an elevated area or goes down ramps in a cage.
Most of the time these accidents do damage to the soft tissues of the paw, and inflammation makes the paw appear puffy. Typically these can be treated with an anti-inflammatory medication like prednisolone or meloxicam, along with cage rest for a few days.
Unfortunately sometimes these accidents result in fractures to the little bones in the paws. These fractures can usually be treated with a splint and cage rest for 6 to 8 weeks. Of course it can be quite challenging to keep a splint on a ferret’s paw.
It is not uncommon for young ferrets to dislocate their elbows when they jump or fall from an elevated spot. This will cause inflammation in the elbow area and all the way down to the paws.
Paw Trouble From A Cut Off Blood Supply
Sometimes a string from a blanket, fleece hammock or other bedding material can wrap around a ferret’s limb. This can become tight enough to act like a tourniquet. When this occurs, rather quickly the blood supply going to the paw and the blood leaving the paw are stopped. This will cause the paw to become puffy. The enlarged paw will add to the tourniquet effect and make things even worse.
The string will need to be removed as soon as possible. Usually the inflammation resolves fairly quickly after the string is removed. If the inflammation does not resolve quickly, then it is time to take the ferret to your veterinarian. A small rubber band or a hair scrunchie can also cause the same problem, so always supervise young children when they play with a ferret.
Cancers That Can Cause Puffy Feet
Skin tumors are very common in pet ferrets, and this means the skin on the paws can have skin tumors, too. Mast cell tumors and sebaceous cell tumors are frequently seen in ferrets and are regularly seen on the paws. The size of the tumor and the inflammation from the tumor can make the paw appear large. These tumors can usually be surgically removed, but it can be a challenge to remove a large tumor from the paw. Thus removing these tumors as soon as possible is the best option. This prevents the tumor from becoming too big to remove without doing a skin graft or an amputation.
Lymphoma is another cancer that is very common in ferrets, and it can also affect the skin on the paws. This is called cutaneous lymphoma. Lymphoma has also been reported in the foot pads of a ferret. This caused the pads and paw to become very large.
Occasionally a tumor of the blood vessels called a hemangioma is seen on the paws.
Another unusual cancer that can cause an enlarged paw is a tumor of the nerve sheaths called a schwannoma. This cancer is difficult to remove surgically and may require amputation of the limb.
Courtesy of Jerry Murray, DVM
The left image shows the paws of a ferret with canine distemper; the middle image shows a ferret with a schwannoma on one paw; the right image shows a ferret with a sebaceious cell tumor on one paw.
Conditions That Cause Edema
Some diseases can cause fluid retention and edema of the legs and paws, which will cause the paws to enlarge. The most common disease that will cause this is congestive heart failure. Heart disease is common in older ferrets and is usually from dilated chambers of the heart. This makes it difficult for the heart to pump out blood and maintain normal circulation of the blood. Thus blood and fluid will accumulate in the legs and paws. Heart disease can be treated with a diuretic to help remove the excessive fluid and medications to help the heart contract better (pimobendan and an ACE inhibitor).
Heartworms can also cause heart disease and fluid retention in the legs and paws. It is best to prevent heartworms with a heartworm preventive. Currently there is one heartworm preventive that is FDA-approved for use in ferrets (Advantage Multi).
Severe cases of cancer of the liver, spleen or kidneys could also cause edema and enlarged paws. Likewise kidney failure could do this, too.
Puffy Paws Caused By Infections
Infections of the paws are not too common. Bacterial infections of the skin, foot pads and the space between the toes can cause the paws to become puffy. This is called pododermatitis and is typically caused by bacteria that are normally found on the skin (staph). Most of these cases respond well to antibiotic treatment. A wound or a bite wound on the paw can push the normal skin bacteria under the skin and cause an infection and an abscess to form. The abscess will need to be cleaned, opened up and drained. This allows the pus to come out and make the infection easier to clear up. An antibiotic is usually needed to clear the bacterial infection.
Ferrets are susceptible to canine distemper. In the early stages this viral disease can cause damage to the paws and pads of the paws. Frequently a rash and crusty lesions appear on all four paws. The pads will also become thicker and harder. This is sometimes called “hard pad disease” in dogs. Unfortunately there is no cure for this viral disease, so it is necessary to vaccinate your ferret to prevent this fatal disease.
Ferrets can sometimes acquire ringworm lesions on their paws that can make their paws appear to be red and puffy. In my experience, this is more common when ferrets are allowed to play with kittens and cats. Ringworm is actually a fungal infection and can be treated with a topical medication and an oral medication.
Yes, Mites Can Cause Puffy Feet
Ferrets can develop “foot mange.” Sarcoptic mites commonly infest the paws of working ferrets in England and Australia. This infestation produces very crusty and swollen paws. From the paws, the mites can spread to the rest of the ferret’s body. Sarcoptic mites can be treated with ivermectin, selamectin, moxidectin or milbemycin. Demodex mites can also infest the paws. Demodex mites typically cause hair loss, and the paws will become red and swollen. These mites are typically seen in ferrets that have an immune-suppressive disease like cancer or are being treated with an immune-suppressive medication like prednisolone or chemotherapy. Demodex mites can be treated with ivermectin or moxidectin.
A wide range of problems can cause a ferret to have a puffy paw. Your veterinarian needs to conduct a physical exam to determine what is causing the swollen paw. The treatment will depend on the underlying condition that is causing the enlarged paw.