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The What-The-Heck-Is-That Ferret Case

Surgery on a ferret reveals a surprise cause for a firm mass in the ferret’s abdomen.

By Jerry Murray, DVM
Posted: February 23, 2011, 5:30 a.m. EST

ferret
© Isabelle Francais/ BowTie Inc.
Sometimes exploratory surgery is needed to determine the exact cause of a ferret's ailment. 

At the beginning of the month, a ferret with adrenal gland disease came in for surgery. This big male had a firm mass in the left side of his abdomen. The location made me suspect it was his left adrenal gland that had enlarged to the size of a handball. He had also slowed down a little in his activity level, and his appetite was slightly decreased too.

I recommended surgery for him even though he was geriatric ferret. I planned to remove his enlarged left adrenal gland, check his pancreas for any insulinoma nodules and check his stomach to make sure he did not have anything in there that should not be there, such as a foreign body.

This exploratory surgery was anything but routine. The ferret did indeed have a small foreign body in his stomach. The small piece of fabric was removed from the stomach, and it was sutured closed. So far so good.

necrotic ferret spleen
© Courtesy Dr. Jerry Murray
The brown oval was the cause of the firm mass in the ferret's abdomen; and it turned out to be a necrotic spleen.
normal ferret spleen
© Courtesy Dr. Jerry Murray
The black arrow points to a normal ferret spleen. The color is the most obvious difference between a normal ferret spleen and the necrotic ferret spleen above.

His respiration and heart rate were both fine as the big mass was found. Surprisingly the mass was not I expected. It was definitely not the left adrenal gland, but what the heck was it? It looked like a large kidney, but it was not the left kidney either. I continued checking the other organs, and by the process of elimination it was actually the weirdest spleen I had ever seen! Fortunately his pancreas, GI tract, and abdominal lymph nodes all appeared normal. His vital signs remained good as I closed his abdomen. He recovered just fine from the surgery, and his appetite improved quickly after the surgery.

The spleen was sent out to a veterinary pathologist to find out what was wrong with it. The pathologist was not sure what it was upon first examination either. After further review, under the microscope, a diagnosis of necrosis of the spleen was made. Necrosis of the spleen is sometimes seen with trauma or twisting of the spleen that results in a loss of the blood supply to the spleen.

No trauma or abnormal event had happened to this ferret, so what caused the necrosis of his spleen is still unknown. I am just glad he is doing better after the surgery.

See all of Dr. Murray's columns>>

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