Lymphoma is common in two age groups of ferrets, juveniles and older individuals. The young ferret is often affected with mediastinal (thoracic) lymphoma and may present with difficulty breathing, lethargy and coughing. Peripheral lymphadenopathy is not usually noted. Multi-systemic lymphoma is also common in this age group.
Older ferrets with lymphoma have a more variable and usually more gradual presentation. Peripheral lymphadenopathy (external lymph node enlargement) does occur, but the practitioner should be cautious when palpating peripheral lymph nodes to differentiate between the pronounced accumulation of fat that commonly surrounds these lymph nodes (especially the prescapular and submandibular nodes) and the actual nodes lying within the fat. Lymph node excision and submission for histopathology is usually conclusive, whereas aspirates are difficult due to the surrounding fat and the relatively small size of even enlarged nodes. The popliteal lymph node (behind the knee) in ferretsis easily accessible for resection and not as vascular as in dogs and cats. Spleniclymphoma may occur, but without biopsy and histopathology it is difficult to diagnose due to the nearly universal splenic enlargement (usually benign extra-medullary hematopoesis) that occurs as ferrets as they age.
In these older ferrets, cardiac (hilar) lymphadenopathy occurs with some frequency, and is often noted in conjunction with cardiomyopathy (an enlarged heart) on radiographs. Peripheral lymphocytosis (an increased white blood cell count) may or may not occur, and the finding of peripheral lymphoma cells on a blood smear is rare. Liver involvement is also common, requiring biopsy for diagnosis.
Many protocols for chemotherapy have been published, and many ferrets respond very well, with average remissions of about one year and an excellent quality of life.
Learn more about this disease by contacting our oncology service at your nearest BluePearl veterinary hospital. Here are our hospital locations.
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