Ferret Lymphoma

sleeping ferret

One of the problems in owning a ferret is the knowledge that, after 6-9 years, their lifespan is nearly used up.  Ferrets that generally reach six years of age are considered “elderly”.  Tumors and adrenal problems are common, unfortunately.  Our little ferret, now at six years of age, has developed lymphoma.

Ferret Xray left side view

One of the most common treatment protocols is to use prednisone.  Hopefully, we will see a difference in his behavior (i.e., more energy and awake more often) after about two weeks.  Initial dosage for our little guy is 2.0-2.5mg prednisone twice per day for two weeks; if symptoms start to reduce, then decrease to 2.0-2.5 mg one time per day for life.

It was helpful to have ferret lab results to compare to.  By having lab work done a year ago before he started having problems, we can identify the changes to his baseline levels.  The same thing goes for x-rays.

ferret X-ray top view

Ferret Lifespan

sleeping ferret

Our poor little ferret is now 6 years old. Ferrets generally live anywhere from 5-7 years.  Last year we did a Deslorelin (Suprelorin) implant, which may have helped and is generally good for 9 months to a year.  The implant can be felt at the base of the back of the neck, even after a year.  So going in to the vet, we wanted to know if the old implant would be removed or not when adding the replacement implant. We also were curious about Melatonin implant options.

As it turns out, the old implant crumbled as it was being removed. The vet was able to get most of it out, and then added both implants.  Given our ferret’s age, we wanted to do what may help extend his life; from our point of view, we just got him!  He hasn’t handled anesthesia well in the past, so we had them do a local with minimal gassing along with a pre-treatment of injectable Benadryl (it’s helped offset issues in the past).  While the procedure is quick, it took several hours for him to return from being groggy before it was considered “safe” to discharge him.

shaved ferret implant

You can see where the implants were done on his back. The first 24 hours, the vet reminded us, are important as his body temperature may be slightly lower and he would need to be kept warm.  We’ll see how he does over the next few weeks as far as behavior and energy level. Had we anticipated better, we’d have a little ferret sweater ready for him, although there’s always the risk of overheating these little fellows. So, moot.

FWIW, Most of the time, the things ferrets die from are glandular tumors.  Theories abound, but apparently the main contender is that ferrets are spayed/neutered too young, so they aren’t able to go through the necessary biological changes that help to enhance their lifespan (One way you can tell that a baby ferret has had this done is by the tattoo marks on the ear; Marshall’s ferrets make one mark for de-scenting, and another for spay/neutering).


An Aging Ferret

ferret in a box

It’s really hard to believe that our ferret is now almost six years old.  Apparently, this is almost elderly (depending on who you ask).  We’ve noticed his energy level starting to decline in the past few months.  Previously, he could be out for hours at a time; now, it’s only 15 minutes at most.

Several years ago, a vet wanted us to be proactive and help offset any ferret-related illnesses.  We were prescribed Prednisolone Syrup (3 msg/ml per ml; 0.33 mL per day) which we dutifully gave every day for a year.  Did it help? We’re not certain, but we discontinued it as he started to have hair loss at the base of the tail.  Apparently long-term Prednisolone use in ferrets can mimmic Cushing’s Disease.  About 45 days later, his hair started to grow back.

Another thing we tried was a Deslorelin (Suprelorin) implant to offset the effects of adrenal disease.  It seemed to help with his energy level and his ability to maintain his weight, although at the time we weren’t certain.  We’ll come back to this in a bit.

When his first period of exhaustion after 15 minutes began, we did the standard labwork panel which, surprise, is quite expensive in ferrets.  Nothing showed up; even the xrays were clean.

ferret x-ray

Finally, we did what we should have asked for in the first place:  Antibiotics.  The reason it wasn’t the course of first treatment is that there was nothing indicating a need for this.  However, the difference was profound!  His energy level returned after 10 days of treatment and he was up and about for hours at a time.

A few months ago, his energy level began to decline again.  We tried the antibiotic bit again, but there was no difference this time.  We started to assume it was his age, and then it hit us that his implant (see above) was likely out.  As it had been a little under a year, we hadn’t yet thought about this.  So, we’ll try this and see if it helps.  Some good reading on ferret implants is at the Ferret Association of Connecticut.  Anyhow, stay tuned!