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Oct. 30th, 2008




I want to thank everyone for all of the advice and well wishes. Unfortunately little Badger passed on last night. He was sleeping with us in bed, and we woke to feel him struggling and breathing erratically. We held him and whispered to him, but in the end he had to leave us.

We are very grateful for the time we had with him and will miss him dearly. We were so proud of him and the strength he showed as he tried to recover from his illness. And we are grateful that he was able to get up and play with us and Annie Sunday and Monday.

He will be well missed by his Mom and Dad and his little buddy Annie. He loved to play as all ferrets do... playing chase with Annie around the house and in and out of the couch. He loved to roll! I've never seen a ferret roll like he did. He would just roll and roll and roll sometimes. He loved running back and forth through their big cardboard tube. He loved sleeping in the couch (much to consternation of his parents). He liked to be scritched and petted, but only for a little while. He loved to play in the snow and didn't get to do that nearly enough. He slowly turned white as he got older, maybe because he loved the snow so much. He was only 2 ½ -- far too young....

We love you Badger. You will always be in our memories and in our hearts.

If you want to see pictures of Badger I have posted some here: http://picasaweb.google.com/lemke.ian/BadgerMemorial10302008#

Oct. 29th, 2008



(no subject)

This is my first time posting here. I've cross-posted from ferretattitude, so my apologies to anyone who has already seen this.

I'm posting because our little boy, Badger, has been very ill, and we are at a loss as to what has been ailing him. Even the vet is uncertain as to what the root of his problem is. I'm hoping that maybe someone here might be able to help us with figuring out what is wrong with him.

Last Wednesday afternoon we found him pretty much immobile. He simply would not move. We took him to the vet immediately, where they examined him and then suggested that we admit him for the night, which we did.

The following day we went back to the vet. They told us that he had gotten very ill during the night. Had had terrible bloody diarrhea and refused to eat, etc. He was still immobile. Apparently his blood work came back just fine. No sign of elevated white blood cells, no insolinoma (my biggest fear), nothing. They suggested a host of other tests but as the bill was already over $600, we really couldn't afford to do anything more and they admitted that it was likely that they might not learn anything even with additional tests. In the end, we couldn't let go of him yet and decided to take him home to make him as comfortable as possible. They sent us home with a broad spectrum anti-biotic, steroids and something to help ulcers and promote appetite. They also gave us Carnivore care to feed him and showed us how to inject him with fluids.

Of the following days he has showed marked improvement along with a few downturns. For the first two days he slept almost constantly, except when we woke him for feeding and meds, and seemed unable to move at all. Fortunately he was willing to eat, but only hand feeding. He's had several bowel movements, all of which have seemed to be perfectly normal, firm and no sign of blood (in fact better than normal since he often normally has runny movements).

Since Sunday he has had a remarkable return of strength, getting up and moving around on his own for extended periods of time, as well as fighting off taking his meds. Sunday and Monday he wandered the entire house for an extended period of time. He still has difficulty walking though. He seems to have serious balance problems and often lists off to one side, sometimes falling over completely. He is also still somewhat weak. He's not back on normal food yet, but he is accepting food and water that we give to him by hand.

So, does anyone out there have any thoughts or ideas on what is ailing our little Badger? Has anyone else experienced anything like this? It's been quite a roller-coaster ride for us, not knowing if he's going to make it or not. As of Monday it looked like he was getting better, but we still have no idea of the underlying cause and now he looks to have relapsed.

UPDATE: Yesterday he crashed again. He is sleeping all day and barely reacting to us, though he will eventually accept liquefied food and water. He doesn't move at all and does not seem to be capable of standing even to urinate or defecate (though he is still doing both). His stool and urine both look OK. No sign of blood or anything. When he has to go he will do his best to crawl out of his bedding to the floor, but that is all.

Aug. 15th, 2008


What is Duck ("Dook") Soup?

Quoting from the Ferret FAQ at Ferret Central, Ann Davis of ACME Ferrets has the following to say about Duck Soup:

For years, we have been trying to find a super formula to fatten up sick ferrets, oldsters and ferrets with ulcers. We have been looking for something high in calories and protein, with added vitamins. After trying just about everything on the market for pets, we had just about given up, and were making do with some things that were not quite perfect for the little guys, because everything made for cats that we could find had a condensed milk base. We have heard of many miraculous recoveries attributed to Duck Soup. It has helped old ferrets, ferrets with insulinoma, ferrets with hair loss, and ferrets who are just plain too sick to eat.

There are several variations on the original recipe; these are included below. However, there are ailment-specific recipes that attempt to address, through specific supplements and, frequently, herbal remedies, ailments such as lymphosarcoma and adrenal disease. Please see the special recipes page for more complex and involved recipes for ferrets with specific ailments.

However, plain ol' Duck Soup has many advantages, as stated by Ann above. Nursing sick ferrets back to health and putting weight on underweight ferrets is frequently necessary, and somewhere among the recipes listed below you should be able to find one that your ferrets fancy.


Bob Church's Duck Soup Recipe

Bob Church's Chicken Gravy

Here is a great trick that can be used with a ferret with a very queasy stomach, or one just coming off a liquid diet and not wanting to eat solid food. Because most kibbles are about 60% grain, a lot of ferrets will accept bread because it smells like kibble. When I have a ferret that just won't eat much, I dip a *tiny* piece of bread into a gravy made from pureed chicken. The chicken goes in with the bread, which they recognize. Soon, they are licking chicken from my fingers, then sucking it out of the bowl on their own. Then I make the chicken puree "lumpier" until I get them on solid chicken (tuna also works). The only problem with chicken is if you don't puree an entire chicken with its skin and fat, it is too lean to be healthy, so you need to add an outside source of fat so the mixture is roughly 70% chicken, 30% animal fat. Here is my recipe:

  • 1 whole roasting chicken (cut into pieces to fit in the blender; do not remove skin, fat, bones or giblets - small pieces puree better)
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 Tablespoon Ferretone (or whatever vitamin supplement you use)
  • 1 Cup ferret, mink or high-grade cat kibble
  • 2 Tablespoons fine bran OR whole oats OR Metamucil
  • 1 Tube Nutrical
  • 3 or 4 Eggshells
  • 4 Tablespoons honey
  • 1 Cup fat trimmings (uncooked; I save trimmed fat for just this purpose)

Puree the chicken with the fat, kibble and eggshells; add water until you make a thin gravy. Pour the mix into a pot and cook for 30 minutes, or until it has the consistency of cream or thick gravy. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. Now, here's the hard part. Put one cup of chicken gravy into a Ziploc, push out the air, and set aside. Repeat this process until all the gravy has been portioned out, then dump the Ziplocs into a container to store in the freezer. Ha! Not hard at all, especially after all the grinding has been done.

Here's a link to an excellent page on how to prepare Bob's Chicken Gravy:

To serve, just allow a bag-o-chicken to thaw, mix water or Pedialyte to the desired consistency, and nuke it for 20-30 seconds. This is a high-calorie, high fat, high protein, low carbohydrate food that is extremely easy on a sick or injured gastrointestinal tract (well, compared to kibble), and provides for all the ferret's nutritional needs in excess of most requirements. Mine eat it as a treat every couple of days or so, and all my sick and dying eat it as a primary food.

BTW, it is very easy to digest, and it digests well, so not a lot comes out the back end when compared to kibble. However, if your ferret is not used to it (its on the rich side), it can come out the waste chute somewhat runny. That is not a problem with a hydrated ferret, so don't worry about it; there are plenty of electrolytes and the ferret will just drink more water. Once the digestive system figures out what is coming down the pike, it will adjust. If not, then cut the Metamucil in half. Also, this food has a lot of water in it compared to kibble, so your ferret will probably not drink as much at the bottle. Finally, it has a whole lot of really good nutritious stuff, so your ferret might not eat as much of this as when they eat kibble. It also has a lot of indigestible bulk (fiber, bone, shell, other connective tissue) which helps clean out the tubes, which I am personally convinced lessens the impact of ECE and other intestinal diseases.

Now, this is mostly chicken, and your ferret may not want it at first, especially if raised for a long time on a kibble diet. So load up a syringe and squirt it in their mouth. It might take one squirt, it might take 100, but eventually your ferret will sniff the stuff and dive in grinning. Once that happens, it is easy to get them to accept ANY poultry, from duck to turkey, which they will learn to eat off the stick, so to speak. ALL my ferrets eat chicken and turkey, even those that are shelter adoptee's raised for years on cat chow. Once they get used to it, omit the kibble and grind the chicken so it is "lumpier."

A really fun treat for ferrets that love this stuff is to put a tablespoon full in the bottom of an eggshell prior to serving. That's how I give it to mine; each ferret gets a half an eggshell containing a tablespoon full of chicken gravy. They don't fight at the dish, they all get an equal share, and they can carry their eggshell to their favorite eating establishment. Now, I use a thickened gravy rather than a thin one, so usually the only cleanup is vacuuming small pieces of eggshell. Don't worry if they happen to eat some shell; it won't hurt them and the minerals will actually do some good.

Now, this isn't a replacement of anything your vet might prescribe, duck soup or any other food; its just something I use and highly recommend. But its not etched in stone either; if it is too rich for your ferret, take out some of the fat or oil. If there is too much bulk, cut back on it. Make whatever adjustments you need for your individual ferret's needs.


ADV Testing/Blood Draw

ADV Testing / At Home Blood Draw

Drawing blood for ADV testing does not have to be a complete nightmare. ADV is a serious, fatal and contagious disease in ferrets and minks. For more information on ADV please see my friend Lisa's site at http://www.ferrethaven.org/advtest.html.

Updated Packaging Requirements and Shipping Address are below.

Get your supplies together. Here I have tape, a piece of cardboard or other sturdy material with all the testing ferrets names written on them (please DO NOT place labels directly on the capillary tubes), a pen, hematocrit tubes, a shallow bowl with parvocide (Nolvasan in my case), nail trimmers, and sealing clay. Not pictured in this shot is the dish with the styptic powder. You can purchase the hematocrit tubes your vet. Even some human doctors may have them. They are also known as Capillary Tubes.

Prepare for the first sample by setting aside two hematocrit tubes, and your nail trimmers.

Wake up your first test subject, in my case, Underdog. I have better success doing this solo with sleepy ferrets.

Soak your nail trimmers in the parvocide. Also be sure to wash your hands.

I do my ADV tests by myself, so in order to clip the nail short, I scruff the ferret with my mouth, and use my hands to manipulate the ferret's paws, and to clip. Don't clip too far up into the quick or the bleeding is harder to stop. Just a little into the pink should get you plenty of blood.

After the nail has been trimmed too short, and is bleeding, hold one end of the hematocrit tube up the the flow of blood. Point the other end of the tube down, and gravity will fill the tube with blood from the nail. For each ferret you test, send in two (2) hematocrit tubes filled with blood. Once you have the tubes of blood, lay them down onto a flat surface until you have stopped the bleeding of the nail.

Once the tubes are filled, it is time to stop the bleeding. You can use quick-stop, a commercial brand of styptic powder, silver nitrate sticks, or corn starch to stop the bleeding. I have a dish of corn starch here.

Take a pinch of the styptic powder, place it on the bleeding nail, and apply pressure for about fifteen seconds. That should stop the bleeding. If it does not, repeat and hold for 30 seconds.

Once the bleeding is controlled, go back to the two tubes of blood you have lying on the flat surface. Hold your finger over one end and pick them up, sort of like when you were a kid and you'd put your finger over a straw full of soda. Stick one end of the tube into the sealing clay, and release your finger. This will hold the blood in the tube. Do not seal both ends, as it makes it harder for the technicians at Blue Cross to remove the blood from the tubes. If you stick the tube into the sealing clay about 1/4" or less, that will be plenty of clay to seal the tube.

When the tube is sealed, it should looks something like this.

Take both tubes, and associate them with the ferret's name. I use scotch tape to tape them under their names..

Time for sanitation. Place the nail snips into the parvocide, get up and go wash your hands. Get a fresh paper towel if you're using that to wipe at your ferrets feet to make sure the bleeding has stopped.

Get your next victim, and repeat as necessary until all the ferrets in your home have samples ready for testing. .

Now, for the non photo necessary stuff.

Take the cardboard or material with the samples and names on it, and pack in a box with packing materials so its shock, drop and hopefully kick resistant by the shipping agency. It is recommended that you use UPS or FedEx Next Day service from most areas, however other overnight services are acceptable. I mail the samples to Blue Cross Animal Hospital at:

Blue Cross Animal Hospital
401 N. Miller Avenue
Burley, ID 83318

Before sending the samples, I also call Blue Cross Animal Hospital at 1-208-678-5553 and alert them to the fact that the samples are on their way, and give them my credit card information for billing at that time. Blue Cross Animal Hospital charges $10.00 for each sample sent in. In the case of the five samples that I just collected for this photo essay, the total would be $50.00.

Results are normally available 5 business days after the samples are received. You may call in for results, receive them in the mail, or request at time of shipment that they be faxed to you.

Testing for ADV is so important. To paraphrase Danee Devore, "if you don't test, you don't know". Knowledge is power. Test your ferrets for ADV today, please.

We're Not Just For Ferrets!

Copyright 2003 - 2006, Kim Sikorski


Other Health Issues


Whenever your ferret undergoes an operation they will be administered an anesthetic to put them under. There are two forms Gas (isoflurane) and injectable. Most vets prefer the gas anesthetic as they have full control of how much is being given, and the ferret generally tolerates this form much better. Injectable anesthetics can not be controlled once administered, you have to wait it out, and ferrets generally have a harder time recovering. Vets who typically utilize this form do so for convenience sake and lower price. Isoflurane (gas) is the form of choice.


Dental Health

Gum disease in all animals including ferrets can lead into additional health problems such as heart disease and respiratory diseases like pneumonia. Ferrets 3 years of age or older should have their teeth cleaned annually by a professional to remove plaque and prevent periodontal disease and teeth loss. During the procedure your ferret is administered a general anesthetic and the vet will use a steel scraper or ultrasonic scaler to loosen/remove plaque.



Usually affects ferrets younger than a year old and carries a high mortality rate. The disease does not appear to be contagious or related to food or specific breeders. The onset of DIMS has been reported as a very quick (fine one day, sick the next). Initial signs are severe persistent fluctuating fever, lethargy, weakness, masses under the skin, abnormal stools and decreased appetite. Additional signs (especially as the disease progresses) includes increased breathing rate, clear discharge from nose/ eyes, pain/ discomfort, depression and skin changes. Increased heart rate and murmurs may also be detected.

While signs come on quickly, duration can be days to weeks to months before death. Almost every suspected/ confirmed case has a very elevated WBC, neutrophils usually the predominate type. Often the ferret will become anemic, have increased glucose levels and blood protein. Albumin is usually decreased. Despite severe muscle damage and inflammation, the creatine kinase (CR) which is usually elevated in these conditions, is not. To date, the cause of disease cannot be identified, nor is it understood; there is no treatment and supportive care has not been effective.

Click here to download the AFA Medical alert on DIMS.

Currently research is underway to try and understand this new ferret disease. If you and your vet suspect DIMS, you can complete the case report form and send in with biopsy samples. Click here to download the order form in PDF.


Eosinophillic Enteritis (EE)

This disease generally seen in male ferrets. There is a large accumulation of eosinophils (type of white blood cells usually found with allergic reactions to parasites) found in the walls of the GI. The eosinophils contain granules in their cytoplasm which are released upon contact of parasites causing damage to the tissue. EE is usually determined by the rule out of other illnesses, and a CBC should show elevated eosinophils in the peripheral blood.

Treatment is usually life-long and consists of Prednisone (allergy treatment) and if parasites are confirmed, Ivermectin. Once Prednisone is stopped, the symptoms will once again return, so the goal is to find the lowest dosage to administer that will still be effective.


Flea Control

Frontline, Advantage and Revolution are all safe and effective flea control on ferrets and lasts about one month

  • Frontline kills fleas, ticks and works on ear mites as well. The spray form which should be used 1 spray per pound, is the most effective and most economical. You can also use the cat monthly top spot or cat size Frontline Plus. For ear mites, you should apply 1 spray into each ear and 1 spray on top of the neck.

  • Advantage kills fleas only. You can use the cat size tube (1/2 to 1 tube per ferret). This application can wash off in baths.
  • Revolution kills fleas, ticks, ear mites and skin mites and can be used for heartworm prevention. You can use the 5-15 lb cat size.


Ear mites: You can use either Frontline, Revolution (as mentioned above), Acarexx, Tresaderm or Ivomec.

  • Acarexx is actually diluted Ivermectin ear drops. You should use 1 tube per ear and repeat after 3 weeks.
  • Ivomec: This is an injectable or topical form of Ivermectin, and should be repeated in 3 weeks.
  • Tresaderm: Ear Drops. 3 drops per ear twice daily for 10 days, stop 10 days and repeat another 10 days.



Usually causes upper respiratory symptoms with possible fever that may diminish within 48 hours. They may exhibit bouts of sneezing, congestion, watery eyes, nasal discharge, lethargic, loss of appetite and rub their face often. While not common, it is possible for the flu to turn into pneumonia. Treatment consists of supportive care with nutrition and hydration being key. In severe cases, antihistamines and antibiotics might be prescribed.

Lower respiratory problems may also be present consisting of coughing, labored breathing, wheezing and respiratory crackles. Ferrets can NOT catch the human cold (Rhinovirus). often what we commonly call the cold, is not a true cold but rather a respiratory infection, sinus infection, etc.



Yes, ferrets do get hairballs and intestinal blockages, but unfortunately they do lack the natural reflux ability of coughing it up. You can cut down and/or eliminate any/all accumulations by providing your ferret Laxatone/Petromalt on a weekly basis. If an accumulation or blockage does accumulate it might be necessary to have the substance removed surgically.

If you notice your ferret cutting down on its food intake or not eating at all, different looking poops, hind leg motor weakness, coughing, etc you should take them to the vet immediately for testing, as this usually signifies a blockage either in their stomach or intestines. All of the above signs are not just indicative of blockages, but also can be signs of other illness, and a medical exam is certainly warranted as soon as possible. If a hairball accumulation/blockage is left untreated, in time it could result in serious complications including death.

Your ferret can also exhibit these signs due to other types of blockages caused by swallowing pieces of their toys, styrofoam peanuts, rubber objects (pencil erasers), foam, strings, fabrics, towels, cigarette butts, gum, etc. Depending on the size of the blockage surgical removal might be necessary. It is important to check all new and used toys and bedding items constantly to ensure no lose pieces, they are not chewed through, as well as nothing is around they can chew/swallow that can cause them any harm.

If you own multiple ferrets, which most owners do, and have other animals in the house, your best safeguard is to weekly provide them with a lubricant such as Laxatone/Petromalt. This becomes more important during the shedding season due the increased amount of fur, as well as the additional fur from other animals your ferret can ingest from grooming.



Composed of lymphocytes and affects the blood. The tumor cells circulate in the blood and can affect the bone marrow. Ferrets often develop anemia and prognosis is very poor.


Mast Cell Tumors

This is the second most common tumor of the skin in ferrets. Mast cell tumors are almost always benign (non-cancerous) and pose no significant health risk. They appear as flat scaly areas on the skin with many associated with hair loss at the site. Usually appears as an itchy scab. Mast cells usually are near blood vessels and full of histamines. When stimulated, the histamines are released causing blood vessels nearby to dilate and leak fluid, which makes the ferret very itchy. They may cause hive like appearance, congestion, swelling, itching and general irritation. Frequency usually increases with age and several can be present at the same time. As they rarely invade below the skin surface, they can easily be surgically removed. If excision is complete, they won't return, it not, they will return.



This condition is characterized by the dilation of the esophagus due to lack of muscular motility. The ferret may have problems breathing or regurgitate its food as the food does not get passed into the stomach, but rather swells in the esophagus. Immediate vet care is essential as the ferret is not getting to the stomach, it can dehydrate and waste away in a few days time. This condition can be diagnosed by first giving a barium, then feeding the ferret and immediately taking an X-ray (food will show up in the esophagus).

Though prognosis is poor, you can certainly help the ferret live with this condition. Zantac, Pepcid or Tagament is usually prescribed to reduce reflux of the stomach acids, and should be given prior to eating. Proper feeding and hydration is key to survival, a bland diet should be given 3-5 times a day; the ferret should never go more than 8-10 hours without food. You should massage the ferrets throat to chest area to stimulate them to swallow. As the ferret is able to take in and hold down the food, slightly increase its thickness. Cisapride or Metaclopromide may increase motility.



It is extremely important to keep in mind that one or two irregular poops does not make for a sick ferret.....do not become a poop watcher. The following has been provided by Dr. Bruce Williams:

  • Green: Generally represents food moving through the system too quickly.
  • Black Tarry : Very suggestive of gastric bleeding and usually associated with gastric ulcers. The black color is the result of blood digestion taking place in the stomach.
  • Bloody: In small amounts, usually from the large bowel or rectum. If a lot of blood, could be from the entire length of the GI tract. Massive hemorrhage is from severe gastric fluids or shock.
  • Birdseed appearance: Represents maldigestion/malabsorption - undigested fat and starches (can be seen with any disease/illness). If continues, you should remove hard kibble for a few days and feed a bland diet (ie; Gerbers baby food-chicken or Duck Soup).
  • Pencil Thin: You should start thinking about a partial obstruction, usually a foreign body.


Proliferative Colitis

Proliferative Colitis is caused by a non-contagious bacteria. Visible signs include dark stools containing large amounts of clear or green mucous. ferrets often strain to defecate and may act as if it is painful to go, which can lead into a prolapse rectum.

The bacteria causes the intestinal lining to become very thick, which interferes with absorption of nutrients and water. While they might still continue to eat in smaller amounts, they are often inactive and lethargic.

Preliminary diagnosis is usually made by x-rays or Ultra Sound. A definitive diagnosis can only be done by performing a biopsy.

If not treated, ferrets can rapidly lose much of their body weight, which will result in death. Treatment is providing Chloramphenical 25mg/lb twice a day. Supportive care is also very key.


Renal Failure

Usually found in older ferrets when the kidneys lose the ability to perform their function due to the continual lose of renal tissue. As the disease progresses, it becomes chronic as the kidneys can no longer excrete substances, and therefore it builds up into the blood.

Renal failure can by measured by measuring certain blood and urine parameters. When 65% of the kidney function is lost, they will lose the ability to concentrate urine. When 90% of the kidney is lost, certain substances back up in the kidneys and can be found in increased levels in the blood which can be found on a chemistry panel (urea, creatinine, phosphorus). When the BUN level is severely increased, they may have an ammonia smell on their breath and have mouth ulcers. As the tissues never heal or replace, there is no cure, you can only provide supportive treatment to decrease levels of toxic substances in the blood, including providing a low protein diet. Regular administration of Sub-Q fluids are key to maintaining their health.



This is more commonly known as en enlarged spleen, and may be attributable to proliferative lesions, reactive processes or compensatory mechanisms. Common causes induce neoplasia (mostly lymphoma), Adrenal disease, anemia or pancytopenia, bacteria sepsis, generalized chronic debilitating illnesses or EMH (Extramedullary Hemotopoiesis). Use of certain anesthetics can cause enlargements dramatically, which is why important to evaluate by palpation, radiography or ultrasound "before" anesthesia.

Diagnostic tests include palpation and X-rays for size and aspirate or biopsy to determine cytology or histology. EMH is a common feature in spleens and is believed to be a common and benign cause. Causes are not yet fully known, and a tentative diagnosis can be made on an aspirate.



Can be asymptomatic or accompanied by some signs of abdominal distress. Some ferrets may vomit and have bad breath as well. Diagnosis is usually made on signs and symptoms, most notably grinding teeth (from abdominal pain), pawing at the mouth, and/or black tarry stools. Other vague signs include loss of appetite, occasional vomiting, loose stools, etc. A response to Carafate is also a good indicator.

Carafate (Sucralfate) is key in healing this condition which can last months. It acts as a patch during acid secretions by the stomach. It is important to give the medication 15-30 minutes "prior" to "each" feeding of a bland non-kibble diet (Duck Soup or Gerber's Chicken stage 2), or it will defeat its purpose.

Other medications you can try are Pepto-Bismol or Biaxin (which they hate the taste of), Tagament, Pepcid, or Cimitidine (inj Tagament). Attention must be given to ensure the ferret continues taking in food and water, and does not become dehydrated.


Lymphoma/ Lymphosarcoma

Lymphoma/ Lymphosarcoma


Malignant lymphoma is a solid tumor growth that commonly affects many tissues, lymph nodes, liver, lungs, bone marrow, spleen, intestines, kidneys, and to a lesser extent the nervous system, pancreas, eyes and stomach. As with other animals, there is a strong likelihood lymphoma is caused by genetics, environment, infectious diseases, etc.

There are two forms of Lymphosarcoma:

Juvenile (1-2 years old) – An acute onset characterized by large immature lymphocytes quickly invade the organs early on with little to no peripheral lymph node disease, which results in high rate of misdiagnosis. Splenomegaly (enlarged spleen, which is very common and should be removed if it takes up more than 50% of the cavity), enlarged liver and enlarged thymus may occur. Symptoms are often acute and can resemble gastric problems with vomiting, dehydration and wasting. If the thymus is involved, signs include coughing and/or difficulty in breathing. If the digestive tract is involved, signs include wasting, vomiting, and/or diarrhea with or without black tarry stools.


Adult (3 years old+) - Disease of peripheral nodes. Small mature lymphocytes expands peripheral and mesenteric nodes, which eventually wears away nodal structures. As the disease progresses, organ invasion occurs (liver, lungs, spleen), resulting in failure and death. Signs of disease will vary depending on the organ(s) involved, however most common signs include loss of appetite, lethargy, weight loss, paralysis, peripheral lymph nodes disease, splenomegaly (enlarged spleen, which is very common and should be removed if it takes up more than 50% of the cavity), severe vomiting, and diarrhea.



Diagnosis is generally made by a lymph node aspirate or biopsy of the suspected organs(s) and affected lymph nodes. Excess lymph cells in the blood is a common finding in Juvenile lymphoma, while lymphocyte deficiency is common in adult. Anemia, low blood sugar, liver involvement and high calcium levels are common findings. X-rays and ultrasounds can often reveal organ and lymph node enlargement, as well as fluid around the lungs and a mass that displaces the heart and lungs.

Staging of the disease is very helpful in evaluating your options and course of treatment.

  • Stage I – tumor involves only one site

  • Stage II – involves more than one site on the same side

  • Stage III – involves spleen and lymph nodes on both sides

  • Stage IV – involves more than one site on both sides



Treatment includes various chemotherapy agents, surgery, radiation or combo therapy. It's important to realize that these ferrets may become susceptible to other diseases because of immunosuppression which are enhanced by the use of chemo drugs. Ferrets with concurrent insulinoma and/or adrenal are poor candidates for chemo. It is important to evaluate your options taking into consideration, the ferrets age, other illnesses, type of lymphoma (Juvenile lymphoma is a more rapidly progressive high-grade, while Adult may be low or high-grade) and how advanced (liver, intestines, stomach or bone marrow involvement do not respond well to chemo). It is important to understand there is no cure for lymphoma; the goal of treatment is to attain remission and provide quality of life to your ferret.

For Adult lymphoma remission can last months to years, whereas in Juvenile lymphoma the prognosis is very poor.




What is Insulinoma?

Insulinoma involves the beta cells in the pancreas of the ferret that develop into tumor(s), and is unfortunately fairly common in ferrets aged 2-4 and up. It is this tumor(s) that causes the excess production of insulin (a hormone which allows cells in the body to use glucose in the blood), causing a dangerously low blood glucose level (due to the high absorption), also known as hypoglycemia (opposite of diabetes). The nodules (tumors) can typically range in size from 2mm - 1cm, may occur singularly or as a group of small nodules, and are a recurring problem. There are also many cases of diffuse hyper beta cell proliferation, where there are no visible nodules or tumors. In this case, treatment would be removal of part of the pancreas.


Once your ferret reaches the age of 2, it is a good idea to get a "Fasting" Blood Glucose test to have as a baseline and repeat every 6 months - 1 year. Sometimes you can catch the disease before any symptoms even begin to appear.


Many veterinarian's feel that as a strict carnivore the pancreas are very sensitive to sugar, that giving sugar may even cause insulinoma's (perhaps for genetic reasons, some are more sensitive than others). It is important to NEVER provide any sugary treats or snacks which includes: raisins, Pedialyte, Ensure, fruit, honey, etc., whether or not your ferret has insulinoma, and limit the amount of Petromalt and Nutrical.

Sugars rapidly convert into glucose providing major energy sources for the bodies cells. High glucose levels in the bloodstream create high demand on the pancreas to produce insulin allowing the cells to use glucose. The chronic high levels of blood sugar and stimulation of the pancreas to produce and release insulin (caused by high carb diets) is strongly believed to contribute to the development of this disease. The islet cells tumors then produce excess amounts of insulin leading to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).

The best and most healthiest treats you can offer are those that are animal protein based. Unfortunately, there is no absolute cure for this disease, however with carefully supervised treatments consisting of surgery, diet control and medicines, a ferrets life span can be increased by 3 years or more.


Signs and Symptoms

The most common early sign of insulinoma is "staring into space", blank expressions, etc. Other signs and symptoms include: depression, weight loss, foaming and pawing at the mouth, lack of appetite, lethargy, salivation, difficulty in using hind legs, vocalization, and in severe cases seizures and/or coma. As the disease progresses, the signs and symptoms will also increase and become more and more severe.


If you ferret goes into a seizure, it can be a very frightening experience.

It is important for you to stay calm, focused, and see to it's medical needs immediately!


If your ferret goes into a seizure, it can be a very frightening experience, and it will be important that you do not panic. Your ferret can be stretched on its side, have excessive drooling to foaming at the mouth, twitching, shaking, and be unresponsive. During this time, you will need to apply a small amount of honey or karo syrup (should always have on hand) on their gums and inner lips with a Q-tip (to avoid accidental biting). You might have to repeat this every few minutes for up to 20-30 minutes, at which time your ferret should start becoming alert again. At this point you will need to provide a high protein snack (ie; meat based baby food, softened kibble, etc.), as the protein will act to stabilize the glucose levels. You should NOT provide honey or karo syrup to your ferret at any other time!

At one time, it had been suggested that supplementing their food with Brewers Yeast helps regulate their insulin and glucose levels; it has now been proven not useful and should be avoided. Brewer's Yeast contains chromium, which will actually lower (not raise as originally thought) the glucose level, which is the last thing you want to do for a ferret that is suffering from insulinoma. It is strongly recommended that you have routine blood glucose tests for your ferret. This will provide you with the needed information to stabilize (with drug), a ferret already diagnosed, as well as those in the early stages of the disease for monitoring and preventive measures. You can try performing the blood glucose tests at home after discussing it with your veterinarian.

For ferrets with hind-end weakness, you can help them get around by providing a ferret specific wheelchair, which will assist them while they can still use they back legs some as well as when they no longer can. I personally recommend the Ferret Flyer, which is individually made by very dedicated ferret lovers.


The most accurate test to diagnose confirm Insulinoma is to measure the "FASTING" blood glucose levels by a lab, which is accomplished by a blood test. The normal range for a ferret is 80-120 mg/dl, with anything under 70 (by lab test) strongly indicating the possible presence of one or more tumors, and surgery should be scheduled as quickly as possible providing your ferret has no other health concerns.

Your veterinarian might request several tests to obtain a mean average, as the the values can fluctuate. Prior to each test you will need to fast your ferret between 4 - 6 hours. Once Insulinoma has been confirmed, the "FASTING" blood glucose test should be repeated every 4-12 weeks. You can also test at home after consulting with your veterinarian.


Surgery as early as possible is the treatment of choice. A partial Pancreatectomy often provides increased survival and often no additional medicine is need for a time (can be years). A partial Pancreatectomy consists of the removal of the tumor(s) and part of the pancreas (no more than 50-70% can safely be removed). The earlier the procedure is performed, the better the results, so you should NOT put this off!

If you decide to wait on the surgery and go with the drug treatment until it's no longer beneficial, chances are it may not help your ferret that much, as during this time the tumors are continually growing. The drugs have no effect on the cause of the problem which are the growing tumors.

Drug Therapy

A large majority of vets, including Dr. Bruce Williams, DVM, feel it is important to consider that drug therapy is only a temporary remedy and rarely effective in controlling the hypoglycemia for a long period of time. It is important at this time, that you ensure your ferret is receiving a high quality/protein diet such as Duck Soup, Gerber's chicken stage 2 baby food or Prescription Diet AD.

If surgery is not an option, or until it is viable, the drugs of choice are Prednisone, which raises the blood glucose levels by mobilizing carbohydrates and/or Proglycem, which is an antihypertensive drug which decreases the secretion of insulin.

Prednisone is usually the first drug used (and is relatively inexpensive), with a typical dosage range of 0.5 - 2.5 mg/kg twice a day. Prednisone can produce what is known as Pred Belly (weight is gained) and over time of usage can cause liver damage. It is important when using this drug to give with food as ulcers can develop.


When using liquid Prednisone, it is extremely important that you don't use a generic substitution, as some contain alcohol and a large majority are compounded with sugar.

Proglycem is usually prescribed when Prednisone is no longer working and usually added to the treatment regimen, lowering the Prednisone dosage. Dosages range from 5 - 10 mg/kg twice a day. Side effects can include anorexia and vomiting. The drawback to this regimen is the costly price of Proglycem, with a one month supply costing approximately $130 per ferret.


Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Inflammatory Bowel Disease


Simply stated IBD is an inflammation of the GI tract. Often this disease goes unrecognized until signs and symptoms appear which is often at an advanced stage. The signs and symptoms demonstrated could represent a host of illnesses, which makes diagnosis much more difficult. The most common signs are bird-seed like poops, diarrhea, soft poops, and a change in appetite. There is only one way to diagnosis this disease and that is by a biopsy which includes the mesenteric lymph nodes. Often treatment is begun without a biopsy, on symptoms alone to see if a response is obtained from the treatment drugs. Care should be given to this however, as the drugs to treat IBD could worsen other illness like Proliferative Colitis, Heliocobactor or Coccidiosis, which generally present the same. It is also very common for the ferret to have ulcers at the same time.

IBD is a result of the body fighting a foreign substance in the GI tract. The fight causes damage to the intestinal lining and the villi. The damage reduces the absorptive power of the intestine, resulting in the nutrients that would otherwise be absorbed by the body to pass undigested and unabsorbed. There is no cure for IBD, as the body continues to fight, but it can be put into remission with drug interaction, most notably Prednisone, which suppresses the inflammatory response. Care should be given when using Prednisone as it not only suppress the intestinal inflammation, but also the entire body, weakening their immune response to fight of diseases.

A diet change is most likely in order, especially at times of flair ups. It is believed that a chicken allergy is the cause for a large number of cases. You can try switching to a turkey based food or Prescription Diet ZD (while it is chicken flavor, it is hydrolyzed differently so their body doesn't recognize it as chicken). During flair ups a bland diet is necessary which can be Duck Soup, Gerber's chicken stage 2 baby food or Prescription Diet AD.

The treatment protocol for IBD, is Amoxy, Flagyl and Prednisone. Other options for Flagyl can be Biaxin, Pepto-Bismol, Tagament, Pepcid or Carafate. The Flagyl does the job 95% of the time.

IBD can be a debilitating disease for the ferret. Special attention needs to be given to food and water intake, as well as any signs of wasting. If your ferret becomes dehydrated, they will most likely need sub-q fluids administered.

It is important for you to stay in close contact with your veterinarian if your ferret is not responding to the treatment and does not appear to be getting any better. As mentioned previously, the signs of IBD cover a host of other illnesses, and is an end result. The underlying cause needs to be researched and diagnosed, this is a debilitating illness for the ferret. Careful monitoring and attention is extremely important.


Heliocobactor (ulcers)



 Heliocobactor is caused by a bacteria similar to those that cause gastritis and ulcers in humans, and often mimics Proliferative Colitis. It results in chronic infection of the stomach which eventually destroys the stomach lining impairing the ability to secrete acid and digest food and causes two stomach syndromes: Chronic atrophic gastritis and Peptic ulcers. Chronic atrophic gastritis can be a common finding in ferrets over the age of 3, where the bacteria causes an inflammatory response resulting in loss of the pylorus glandular epithelium, and increases the pH of the stomach.

Gastritis will cause abdominal pain and often food in take is minimal. If ulcers are present, they will have very dark tarry stools.

A ferret with Heliocobactor can exhibit any of the following:

  • Gastritis

  • Lymph node enlargement

  • Lethargy

  • Painful abdomen

  • Grinding teeth

  • Excess salivation

  • Vomiting

  • Loss of appetite

  • Wasting

  • Soft Black stool

Diagnosis is usually based on clinical signs, CBC and/or response to treatment.

Ferrets can very quickly lose weight which can lead to death. Treatment usually consists of a combo of Amoxy, Flagyl and an antacid (Pepto-Bismol) for about 4-8 weeks. Steriods can be used to suppress severe inflammation.

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October 2008



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