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Malnourished Or Cancerous Ferret

Are loss of weight and weak hind legs in a ferret more likely from cancer or poor nutrition?

Karen Rosenthal, DVM, MS
Posted: June 27, 2014, 2:05 p.m. EDT

ferret by bowl of food
© Gina Cioli/I-5 Studio
Monitoring your ferret's eating habits can often give you the first clue that a medical condition is developing.

Q: I have a ferret that is 5 years old. Within the past two weeks, he has lost significant weight. I took him to the veterinarian, who physically felt a mass, did an X-ray and told us he has cancer. No blood work was done. We have had a ferret before that passed from an insulinoma, but I'm not totally convinced with this ferret. (His name is Rascal.) He was not eating his food at all. Since the vet visit, he has begun to eat again (with a different food to try) and seems to be gaining weight, mostly in his belly. My concern is the weakness in his rear legs. He has begun to drag his bottom like he is itching it, but he has never done that before. He does not have any hair loss (adrenal disease). I bought him a new bag of his usual ferret food about two weeks ago. It seems consistent with the timing of his weight loss. Could be coincidental, but I'm trying to figure it out. I don't really know a ferret-based vet in our area. I don't think the one I saw was used to seeing many ferrets. I know it's difficult to say without seeing him or examining him, but could severe malnutrition cause his rear leg weakness? We have been giving him a supplement since we realized he wasn't eating. Now he is eating a new ferret-specific food fine, but he still shows signs of incoordination. Thank you for any advice you can offer!

A: It sounds like there may be multiple issues with your ferret. There is the weight loss, a mass in the abdomen, and weakness in the rear legs. These may all be due to one disease but without more information, I cannot tell.

I agree that you did not get enough information from your first visit to the veterinarian. It is never wrong to try for another opinion but if you feel there is no one nearby that you can bring your ferret to, then there is nothing wrong with going back to the first veterinarian and asking for a further explanation.

It may well be that a mass in the belly is cancerous, which could cause weight loss and whole body weakness leading to rear leg weakness. Then again, the mass could be an enlarged spleen, which can cause the problems you mention. The spleen would be relatively easy to remove and once removed, the ferret can go on and live a normal life.

Most importantly, the weight gain you are seeing may be because the mass is enlarging and not because your ferret is doing better. An enlarging mass could lead to the signs of dragging the hind legs you are also seeing. Again, I would suggest either going back to the first veterinarian for another consultation or seeking out a second opinion on your ferret.

Like this article? Check out:
Help! My Ferret Can't Walk, click here>>
Ferret Nutriton And Malnutrition, click here>>

See all veterinary Q&A about ferrets, click here>>
See all ferret health articles, click here>>
See veterinary Q&A for all small animal pets, click here>>

Posted: June 27, 2014, 2:05 p.m. EDT


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