Lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is responsible for filtering debris from the body. This debris may include bacteria and dead cells, from areas of infection or inflammation, that are carried to the lymph nodes where they are engulfed, digested and removed from the body. The lymphatic system also helps with the body’s normal immune system by producing antibodies (immune proteins made in response to a foreign substance). A tumor that affects the lymphatic system can prevent these normal functions and may affect multiple organs throughout the body. Lymphosarcoma is one of the most common cancers seen in the ferret.
When a pet is diagnosed with cancer, owners often ask where it came from, how the pet got it or how it started. Exactly what transforms an apparently healthy cell into a cancerous cell is not known. Many studies are being done in the field of cancer research to determine this and may include genetic makeup, environmental influences and exposure to certain drugs or toxins.
Clinical signs of the disease vary depending on what organs or body tissues are involved and how extensive the disease is. There are two general forms of lymphosarcoma in the ferret. The lymphoblastic form is a rapidly progressive form that affects primarily young ferrets under 2 years of age. The lymphocytic form is a chronic disease of slow onset that usually affects older ferrets.
The clinical signs of the lymphoblastic form of lymphosarcoma may be vague making diagnosis difficult. Signs of this rapidly progressive disease depend on which organs are involved. Usually the affected ferret is inactive and has lost its appetite resulting in weight loss. At times the liver or spleen may be infiltrated resulting in abdominal swelling or enlargement. With liver involvement marked elevations in liver enzymes may be seen on blood analysis. Another presentation is breathing difficulty due to enlargement of the thymus gland or lymph nodes in the chest that produces fluid and compresses the lungs. Lymphoblastic lymphosarcoma should always be ruled out in any young ferret with serious illness.
The lymphocytic form is usually seen in older ferrets, where it may cause visible enlargement of the peripheral lymph nodes (lymph nodes located just below the skin) that your veterinarian will assess upon physical exam. The early stage of this disease is often subtle in nature and the ferret may not appear sick. As the disease progresses, single or multiple lymph nodes may be affected and these ferrets may show firm swellings beneath the skin, most commonly at the neck, shoulders, rear legs or groin. Internal lymph nodes can also be affected. Late in the course of the disease, organs such as the liver, spleen, kidneys and lungs are infiltrated, resulting in organ failure and death if untreated.
Lymphosarcoma can be a difficult disease to diagnose. Definitive diagnosis requires interpretation of a biopsy or needle aspirate from an affected lymph node or body organ. This requires the expertise of a pathologist or experienced practitioner. Treatment should not be initiated until a definitive diagnosis is obtained.
Although the disease cannot be cured, there are varied treatment options. Treatment is aimed at prolonging and maintaining a good quality of life for the pet. The most effective treatments involve chemotherapy or radiation. Chemotherapy can involve the use of a single drug or a combination of several drugs.
Combination drug therapy is usually more effective than single drug therapy. Several protocols have been published for the treatment of ferret lymphosarcoma and your veterinarian will discuss the various options available. In some cases surgery or radiation treatment may also be recommended.
Thank you to everyone. I already thought Dr. Bean was an amazing vet when he sat on the floor with my kitties to do their exams, now I realize he cares about his patients on ALL levels, as well as their parents. I highly recommend this office.
They all were amazingly compassionate people, and truly were hurt from hearing the news. They also care for our Lesser Sulfur Crested Cockatoo that we still have and will for many years to come. They have helped with everything from checking her health after over 14 years of being at a vet clinic to getting her foods shifted over to a much more healthy diet.
Dr Hulls was very good with our 5 yr old Macaw. Explained to us very well everything he was doing or had to do. Will be bringing our Carl back when he's due...Thank You
My pet ate part of a rug and although I thought she had passed it, there was still someone her intestines. She had surgery and then we had some issues that made me nervous. The staff was wonderful when I was so stressed out and helpful when I came in (daily) with new issues.
Pet Care Veterinary Hospital has provided the BEST care for my dog. Since moving to Virginia Beach, 7 years ago, I went to 2 other veterinarian services before luckily finding Dr. Partlow and Dr. Hulls, who I credit for saving my dog's life and keeping him in perfect health. The care that the staff takes is just as if their animal patients are their very own pets. I couldn't love and trust Pet Care Veterinary Hospital more, and I highly recommend them!