Monday, August 22, 2011

The Big C in Ferrets

We humans don’t like to talk about it even though it affects more than just us anymore. There are so many types of this horrible disease that it can be overwhelming to learn about it. Because we are afraid that if we even say the name we might be inviting it into our homes that we’ve given it a nickname. The Big C just to cover all its many forms or we give it other names so it doesn’t sound as scary.

The Big C is the cause of half of the deaths in companion animals over the age of 10. This number is huge considering that in the U.S. and it is estimated that there are 78 million dogs and 86 million cats according to the National Pet Owner’s survey released in March from the American Pet Products Association.

Our pets can get many of the same cancers we do including skin, oral, breast, and bone. Many of the known potential causes include heredity and environment. Pesticides, ultraviolet radiation, second hand tobacco smoke and viruses.

Cancer affects ferrets at an alarming rate with it showing up in nearly 2/3 of ferrets over the age of 3 and now it is showing up with greater frequency in ferrets 2 years and under. When we talk to people about what is wrong with our little fuzzy butt we give them the easy names like: Adrenal disease, Insulinoma, Lymphoma, Mass cell, when they are just cleaner names than Cancer.

The experts aren’t sure why so many ferrets are affected with these cancers and some get all of them and others only get one or two. What they do recommend is that our furry slinky get a physical every 6 months after age 3 but with the emergence of juvenile lymphosarcoma that recommendation may change to having them getting a physical every 6 months regardless of age.

Our best defenses in beating this cruel disease is to educate ourselves about the types of cancers and their symptoms and to be vigilant of our tiny charges for any changes that may seem innocent and harmless but could hiding the death dealing cancer from us.

Adrenal Disease: Tumors on the adrenal glands that can rapidly spread to other organs. Signs can be hair loss, drop in weight, eventually death. Usually shows up after age 3 in most ferrets. Options include surgery to remove the affected adrenal gland and other tumors. Giving Lupron shots and maintenance care if caught early has a good success rate.

Insulinoma: Tumors on the pancreas causing a rapid production of insulin reducing the blood sugar to dangerous levels. Signs can be weight loss, hind leg weakness, and seizures, staring blankly into space, lethargy and eventually death. Options include surgery to remove the tumors and/or giving Prednisone and monitoring the ferret’s diet.

Lymphosarcoma is divided into two groups.

The first is lymph neoplasm(tumor)also known as Juvenile lymphosarcoma and is a rapid progressive cancer that has proven fatal in ferrets two years and younger. “There is suspicion that there may be a transmissible agent that instigates the development of this cancer.” (1) Signs can be Anorexia, weight loss, rabid onset of weakness, and acting tired most of the time. Less seen signs are coughing, difficulty breathing, and difficulty defecating.

The second lymph neoplasm is often referred to as chronic lymphoma and with early detection can be put into remission in a majority of cases. Clinical signs in adult ferrets may include, cycles of inappetence, cycles of weakness, weight loss, swollen lymph nodes, chronic diarrhea, vomiting, difficulty breathing, yellowish tinged skin, enlarged abdomen, and difficulty walking. (2)

Options are Chemotherapy, surgery, and supportive care. Skin cancer is rarely seen in ferrets but they do get skin tumors such as Basal and Mast Cell and Cysts.

Basal tumors are small warty growths that have a depressed center and are easily removed by surgery and do not often reoccur. (3)

Mast cell tumors are a bunch of cells in the skin closely related to blood cells. although they are associated with a high rate of malignancy in the dog and cat, are generally benign in the ferret. There are no reports of malignant mast cell tumors in the ferret medical literature. (4)

Cysts a dilated sweat gland, known as an apocrine cyst. Apocrine glands may also form benign, or rarely, malignant tumors (5)

As a precaution all skin tumors should be evaluated in case they are a result of adrenal, Insulinoma, or lymphoma metastasized to the skin layers.

At this point and time there are no cancer clinics for ferrets like there are for cats and dogs. We as ferret owners need to keep up on the research that is being done by dedicated vets and scientists. By having this information in our hands we can help decide about the treatment of our beloved little furballs.

1, 2 Avian & Exotic Animal Hospital, PLLC: Cancer in ferrets PDF pages 3, 4

3, 4, 5 Skin Tumors in Ferrets, Dr. Williams DVM

Have a Chittering Good Day,

1 comment:

Mariodacat said...

OMC - I never knew Ferrets were so prone to getting the Big C. I sure hope they solve the mystery as to why so many are getting it. Doesn't that seem to be an unusual high number! Wow.