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Adrenal disease- are tumors on the adrenal glands which are located in front of the kidneys and generally starts affecting ferrets over the age of 2. They will experience hair loss starting at the tail, moving upward on their body. They will become lethargic, they may gain a potbelly, and orangish skin. Males will get an enlarged prostrate, causing strain to urinate, while the female will have an enlarged vulva. (see below)
It will typically be on the head, or tail. Options are either surgery or medicine. Surgery can be successful in most cases where the ferrets normally bounce right back when they are younger. You can also give them melatonin or deslorilin implants to slow the process and potentially regrow the hair. Consult your vet. Hair loss on the tail can also be "blackheads" where the pores are plugged and cannot regrow hair.
Coughing is fairly common among ferrets, or at least as much as it is in other animals. A cough may be brought on by a variety of factors, either automatic or inspired.
• Scratchy and/or irritable esophagus
• Clearing of breathing passage (sometimes with mucous or blood, which may indicate a coexisting condition that requires immediate attention)
Causes: Often, upper respiratory tract disorders or viral infections such as the flu are to blame. Other causes may include:
• Inflammation of the tracheal pipe
• Infections of the ear, nose, and throat
• Pulmonary swelling, tumors, or pneumonia
• Environmental factors (i.e., unhygienic conditions that can contribute to nasal and oral irritation)
Diagnosis: Your veterinarian will first want to rule out other serious conditions to help prevent a resurgence of a more virulent strain of disease following minor treatment.
Diagnostic exams such as X-rays and ultrasounds can also help identify cardiovascular disease(s) or disorders of the nasal, sinus, and lower respiratory tract.
Treatment: Your veterinarian will typically only attempt to treat the underlying condition, especially when it is severe. Often he or she will recommend restricting the ferret's exercises, as it may aggravate the animal's condition.
Take care when administering drugs to your ferret, as any drug, including cough suppressants, can be dangerous when given in the wrong amount.
DIFFICULTY BREATHING/RAPID BREATHING
Dyspnea refers to the distress often associated with difficulty breathing or labored breathing; tachypnea, meanwhile, is rapid or fast breathing; and hyperpnea is deep breathing. Typically these breathing difficulties are associated with some ailment or stressful situation.
• Open mouth breathing
• Nostril flaring when breathing
• Upper airway obstruction
• Excessive sneezing with discharge, especially among ferrets with concurrent respiratory tract infections
• Insomnia or trouble sleeping, especially among ferrets with congestive heart failure or those with hernias in the diaphragm
Also, although it is rare in ferrets, coughing may occur in ferrets with dyspnea.
Causes: for labored breathing, rapid breathing, or deep breathing in ferrets may include central nervous system diseases, shock, anemia, congestive heart failure, respiratory diseases, lack of oxygen (hypoxia) and related causes.
Other common causes include:
• Heartworm infection
• Irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia)
• Trauma and inflammation
• Immunosuppression (suppressed immune system)
Diagnosis; Breathing difficulties can be a life threatening emergency. Therefore, you will need to bring the ferret to a veterinarian as soon as possible to listen to its chest for evidence of a heart murmur or fluid in the lungs.
Your ferret's gum color will be carefully evaluated as well, since the color of the gums can indicate whether oxygen is being delivered to the organs (hypoxemia) effectively, or if it there is a low red blood cell count (anemia).
Treatment: Most breathing problems require admittance into a hospital to employ oxygen therapy and to administer medication to resolve the underlying cause. Sometimes a procedure called a tracheostomy is needed, whereby a tube is inserted through an incision in the ferret's trachea.
What is insulinoma?
An insulinoma is a tumor that involves the beta cells of the pancreas. Beta cells are the cells that produce the hormone insulin. Insulinomas are surprisingly common in ferrets. An insulinoma may be an insulin-producing adenoma or an insulin-producing adenocarcinoma. By definition, an adenoma is benign, while an adenocarcinoma is malignant.
Insulin regulates blood sugar levels by reducing the amount of glucose in the blood. Glucose is an important energy source for the body. The excess insulin that is produced by an Insulinoma results in dangerously low levels of glucose in the blood.
The average age for a ferret to develop an insulinoma is 5 years old, but it may be seen as early as 2 years of age.
What are the signs of insulinoma?
Clinical signs may include pawing at the mouth, "stargazing", weakness (often seen in the hind end), weight loss, tremors, collapse, abnormal behavior, depression, lethargy, and confusion. The symptoms can progress to include seizures and hypoglycemic (low blood sugar) coma. The adrenal gland reacts to dramatic reductions in blood glucose by producing adrenaline; increased levels of adrenaline cause a rapid heart rate, tremors and irritability.
Some ferrets with tumors of the pancreas show no obvious clinical signs or may show only intermittent signs. If a ferret has intermittent episodes of hypoglycemia, the disease may go undetected for a prolonged time because the symptoms are not observed by the pet owner.
The severity of clinical signs depends on how low the blood glucose gets and will often be better if the ferret has just eaten.
How is it diagnosed?
A consultation with a veterinarian familiar with ferrets is necessary. During the consultation, the owner will be asked to report their observations of the pet and its behavior in its home environment, and the veterinarian will conduct a physical examination and collect blood samples for diagnostic testing. Your veterinarian will recommend a complete blood count and clinical chemistry tests. Your veterinarian may recommend insulin testing as an additional test.
A measurement of the blood insulin level would seem to be the obvious test, but all too often ferrets with insulinomas have normal insulin levels at the time of sampling, due to the episodic nature of this condition. Therefore, it is often necessary to take several separate samples to check and recheck the blood glucose level over time. A brief fast (4 hours) may precede blood glucose testing if the ferret is well enough.
The ratio of insulin to glucose is a more useful test. If there is a high level of insulin in the face of a low glucose level, the diagnosis is definitively made.
X-rays can be performed but the tumor is not usually big enough to be seen. The spleen however, may be incidentally enlarged. Often, a tentative diagnosis is made based upon clinical signs and absence of other abnormalities on the physical examination or blood testing.
How to treat?
Treatment of insulinomas may be medical or surgical. Surgery can be expensive, refer to your vet. Medicine is a common treatment that most people use. It still provides your ferret with a normal life when given medicine like prednisone to increase blood glucose levels. The prednisone is administered orally twice a day. These medicines do not stop the progression of the tumor, but will minimize the clinical signs. Diet must also be managed. Ferrets tend to be "grazers" or nibblers when they eat. Therefore, it is preferable to provide 4-6 small meals daily to provide a more consistent food intake, which helps level out the blood glucose levels.
If a ferret experiences a sudden collapse or a hypoglycemic coma, emergency treatment is critical for its survival. Immediately rub honey or karo syrup onto the gums (be careful if the ferret is seizuring, as there is a danger of being bitten.) If this occurs, DO NOT DELAY! Rush your ferret to the veterinarian for further supportive care and diagnostics.
CARDIOMYOPATHY: is the death of cardiac muscle fibers which gets replaced by scar tissue and can take on two forms: Dilated and Hypertrophic which share same symptoms but different causes. Signs of heart failure- include congestion, edema (fluid retention causing limbs to swell, build up in abdomen or around lungs, enlarged heart, low blood pressure, tiredness, and difficulty breathing). This disease is very hard to detect in the early stages, as it starts progressing, the respiratory rate and pulse increase, mucous membranes will appear purple or blue vs pink, and will have a slow capillary refill (press on the gums with your finger turning it white and release; will take 3+ seconds to return to pink color). There is no cure but there is treatments.
Dilated Cardiomyopathy - an enlarged heart and more common form of heart disease in ferrets. The heart muscles become stretched and lose the ability to contract with strength, resulting in only a small fraction of blood being pumped. The backing up of blood due to the decrease in pumping strength can back into the abdomen (swollen, fluid filled belly), lungs (initially soft cough which worsens, decrease in energy). At end stage (Chronic Heart Failure), it becomes very difficult to breath, often fluid in lungs and abdomen, which presses on the diaphragm.
Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy- is an overgrowth of heart fibers which decreases the effectiveness in pumping the blood. The muscle walls of the ventricles become extremely thickened, reducing the size of the chamber the blood flow through. This disease is often diagnosed in much younger ferrets than DCM, and is harder to diagnose as no heart enlargement will be visible on x-rays, necessitating the use of Echocardiograms, Sonograms and ECG.
HEART DISEASE: Left- and right-sided congestive heart failure (CHF) occurs when the heart fails to pump blood at the rate required to meet the basic needs of the body. Either disorder can lead to various heart or vascular problems, including lack of proper circulation of oxygen, blood clotting problems, stroke, pulmonary edema, or swelling of fluid in the body. In fact, all organ systems in the body can be affected negatively by congestive heart failure.
Symptoms: A few of the more typical symptoms include:
• High blood pressure
• Heart murmur and rhythm problems
• Hardening of the aorta
• Inflammation of the heart lining
Causes: Heart worms, hereditary, or a weak heart muscle.
Diagnosis: To diagnose congestive heart failure in ferrets, veterinarians will often rule out other causes for tachycardia or arrhythmias such as hypoglycemia, cancer, neurological diseases, pneumonia, and abdominal infections or liver disorders. An echocardiogram will help identify cardiac masses such as tumors, heart worms, or other abnormalities of the heart, valves, and ventricles. Laboratory tests, meanwhile, may also confirm heart worm disease or identify fluid retention.
Treatment: the course of treatment will depend on the underlying cause of the heart failure. For example, heart medication such as beta blockers and calcium channel blockers may be employed.
Ferrets with respiratory complications, meanwhile, will require oxygen therapy and those with electrolyte imbalances will require medication to help decrease swelling or fluid retention. A stress-free environment and rest is also important to reduce symptoms and recover quickly.
Prognosis may vary from ferret to ferret depending on the nature and severity of the disease and the type of care the animal receives in the short- and long-term. It is also important that the ferret be monitored closely, as fatal arrhythmias may develop quickly.
In ferrets, the prostate is a spindle-shaped structure surrounding the back side of the urethra. Prostatomegaly is a medical condition in which the prostate gland is abnormally large. This is usually due to cystic structures found on the back portion of the urinary bladder and often cause partial or complete obstruction of the urethra. It also usually occurs in middle-aged ferrets, between the ages of three and seven.
Symptoms and Types; Ferrets with prostatomegaly often suffer from frequent, difficult, and painful discharge of urine. This can be accompanied by extreme abdominal pain and/or distension and may be confused with constipation. Other symptoms include:
• Loss of appetite (anorexia)
• Bilaterally symmetric hair loss or itching (due to adrenal disease)
• Kidney failure
Diagnosis; There are many other diseases that can account for these symptoms, so your veterinarian will need to rule them out in his search for a diagnosis. He or she will begin with a physical examination before conducting a blood test and urinalysis. If cysts are discovered, fluid will be extracted for microscopic evaluation and culturing. The cyst fluid may have a disgusting yellow or greenish color and emit an awful smell.
Your veterinarian may also recommend abdominal X-rays and/or an ultrasound to determine the size of the prostate and locate the cysts.
Treatment; Ferret adrenal disease may be treated with adrenalectomy (removal of one or both of the glands located above the kidney) or managed medically. Removal of the affected adrenal gland(s) and drainage of the cysts at the time of surgery is often curative in ferrets with mild enlarged prostate, sterile cysts, or small abscessed cyst.
Hospitalization for fluid therapy will depend on the state of hydration. Ferrets that are suffering from kidney failure require intravenous fluid therapy. Postoperative fluid therapy will probably continue for 24 to 48 hours. Following adrenalectomy, prostatic tissue should decrease in size within one to three days.
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 interferes with absorption of nutrients and water. If not treated, ferrets can rapidly lose much of their body weight, which will result in death. Treatment is providing meds twice a day.
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 it progresses, it becomes chronic as the kidneys can no longer excrete substances, and therefore it builds up into the blood. They may have an ammonia smell on their breath and mouth ulcers. There is no cure, only supportive treatment to decrease levels of toxic substances in the blood, including providing a low protein diet and Sub-Q fluids.
INFLAMMATORY BOWEL DISEASE (IBD 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.
COCCIDIA- is a gastrointestinal parasite affecting the lining of the ferrets intestinal track and can cause bloody diarrhea. This disease is usually due to poor sanitation but can be picked up from the environment or most commonly stress. While not transmittable to humans, it can be contagious to other animals. Symptoms can include: Stool has a very strong odor, Diarrhea (often accompanied with a prolapse rectum), Weight loss, Dehydration, Lethargy. Diagnosis is usually done by a fecal float. Ferrets usually respond very well to Albon which is usually administered orally once a day for 9 days. Sub-Q fluids might need to be administered as well to keep the ferret well hydrated. This disease can be transmitted to all other ferrets so it is best to treat all animals. Constant cleaning of the litter box, bedding, cage area and environment will also be key in eradicating the parasite. This is also caused by stress. You will notice their feces turning green and smelling. It is easily treated with a medication or additive to their water.
HELIOCOBACTOR-is a bacteria that 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. Gastritis will cause abdominal pain and often food intake is minimal. If ulcers are present, they will have very dark tarry stools, and can exhibit any of the following: Gastritis, enlarged lymph, Lethargy, Painful abdomen, Grinding teeth, Excess salivation, Vomiting, Loss of appétit, Soft Black stool. 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.
FLU-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. 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 but rather a respiratory infection, sinus infection, etc.
ULCERS-Can be asymptomatic or accompanied by some signs of abdominal distress. Some may vomit and have bad breath. Most notably- grinding teeth (from abdominal pain), pawing at the mouth, and/or black tarry stools, loss of appetite, occasional vomiting, loose stools, etc. A response to Carafate is also a good indicator and 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 duck soup. Other medications you can try are Pepto-Bismol or Pepcid and ensure the ferret continues taking in food and water, and does not become dehydrated.
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What are Cutaneous Mast Cell Tumors? Cutaneous mast cell tumors are the second most common growths to affect ferrets. This type of tumor differs from other types of growths because a mast cell tumor contains the chemical known as histamine. Part of the immune system, histamine causes a reaction as if to an allergen, leading to itching and redness of the skin. The ferrets reacts to this histamine by scratching at the tumor, causing the area to crust, open, and ooze. Cutaneous mast cell tumors are usually benign in nature and do not pose a great health risk to ferrets, unless the area is manipulated. Secondary skin infections and discomfort are common reasons ferret owners seek treatment. If your ferret that has an irregularly shaped lump or bump on the skin, or a strange skin sore that takes several month to heal, it could be a clinical sign of a cutaneous mast cell tumor. The term, “cutaneous” is the medical word veterinarians use when referring to the skin. The skin is the body’s largest organ, therefore, a tumor can emerge from just about anywhere on the ferret’s body. The tail, eyelids and toes are common places a cutaneous mast cell tumor can emerge, but most pet owners have reported seeing these abnormally growths on the thicker body regions. A cutaneous mast cell tumor first appears as a small, button-shaped tumor that is flat and tan in color. Symptoms of Cutaneous Mast Cell Tumors in Ferrets The initial symptoms your ferret may display are the beginning stages of a cutaneous mast cell tumor; a small, button-shaped tumor that is flat and tan in color. These growths can be found anywhere on a ferret’s body, but the tail, eyelids and toes are commonly affected. Due to the histamine present in cutaneous mast cell tumors, the localized area may become reddened and crust over as the ferret scratches the area. The symptoms related to a cutaneous mast cell tumor in ferrets can include: Decreased grooming Pain Swelling Licking Localized bleeding Localized discharge Delayed healing time Skin discoloration Located alopecia Causes of Cutaneous Mast Cell Tumors in Ferrets The exact reason a ferret may develop a cutaneous mast cell tumor is not fully understood, but is often a result of culminate circumstances that affect one individual greater than another. Tumors are an overproduction of cells, an abnormality of the body’s response to cell production. The common link veterinarians find between skin tumors and this cell growth abnormality, is an overexposure to sunlight. Sunlight exposes ferrets to UVA and UVB radiation, resulting in cellular damage if high levels of exposure is present. This non-lethal mutation of the cells is unrepairable, as the DNA nucleic acid genome has been altered and the cells in that located area can no longer function properly. Experts believe that when the cells then rapidly replenish themselves, cutaneous mast cell tumor. Diagnosis of Cutaneous Mast Cell Tumors in Ferrets Cutaneous mast cell tumors are often found during a routine check-up at the veterinary clinic, as lumps and bumps are often felt on the skin during a physical examination. The clinical appearance of the tumor often clues the veterinarian that the lump is likely a tumor and will require a biopsy. A small sample of skin cells are often taken from the affected tissue to perform the biopsy, which will pinpoint the cancerous nature of said mass. Once the cutaneous mast cell tumor has been identified, the veterinarian will likely conduct a health screening to assess the ferret’s ability to handle treatment. Health screening exams usually include a urinalysis, blood work, and x-rays to determine if cancer has spread to other areas in the body. Treatment of Cutaneous Mast Cell Tumors in Ferrets The treatment of choice for the majority of ferrets with a cutaneous mast cell tumor is surgical removal. Surgery is often completed early in a ferret’s treatment plan to prevent the tumor from maturing or spreading to other areas of the body. Your veterinarian may choose to postpone surgical removal of the affected area if the tumor is in a difficult location, or is rather large. Following surgery, or if surgical removal is not possible, the veterinarian may choose a course of chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. Recovery of Cutaneous Mast Cell Tumors in Ferrets The prognosis of a cutaneous mast cell tumor following therapy is excellent for most ferrets. The biological behavior of the tumor and location of the growth often compromises the treatment option for some ferrets, resulting in a less optimistic outcome. In this case, supportive care can be given to the ferret to provide comfort and stability for the duration of the pet’s short-term prognosis. The key to a positive prognosis of a cutaneous mast cell tumor in ferrets is early detection and prompt treatment.
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