For addition information on Lymphoma, see Dr. Bruce
Williams article on the topic
Graphic necropsy photos are included on this page.
WHAT IS LYMPHOMA
Lymphomas are cancers of white blood cells called
lymphocytes. These cells help fight infection and repair wounds. Most
of the lymphocytes are in the various organs of the lymph system,
but they can also be found in the blood, skin, and gastrointestinal
tract. Malignant lymphomas and lymphosarcomas [Lymphoma and
lymphosarcoma are different terms that describe the same condition]
are solid lymphocyte tumors that form in the lymph nodes of the body
and spleen. From there they can spread to many organs of the body.
Many different organs can be infiltrated with cancerous lymphocytes
and the disease can have any number of signs that can be confused
with many different diseases.
There are two basic clinical presentations of lymphoma
in ferrets. An aggressive form that is seen in ferrets under
approximately 2 years of age and often called "juvenile lymphoma."
Sadly, the prognosis is usually very poor in these cases. The
more "classic" form of lymphoma is seen in older ferrets and while
this disease is almost always terminal, chemotherapy can sometimes
result in a miraculous turn around; however, the period of time that
the ferret will remain in remission can vary from only a few weeks
to many months with continued treatment.
Lymphoma is classified by location and this has
been defined by the following stages:
- Stage I - Involvement of a single site or tumor
- Stage II - Involvement of multiple sites on the same side of
- Stage III - Involvement of spleen and lymph nodes on both sides
of the diaphragm
- Stage IV - Involvement of multiple sites on both sides of the
An uncommon presentation is cutaneous lymphoma.
Although uncommon, it has been seen in ferrets and of all the lymphomas,
if one has to have lymphoma, this would be the one to have. Progress
of the disease can be slow, often taking years and metastasis is uncommon.
The feet are often affected and the ferret may be euthanized due to
loss of function after time rather than because the disease has metastasized.
Diagnosis requires a needle aspirate or biopsy
of a lymph node or a biopsy of an organ, with the spleen probably
yielding the highest number of positives. If your vet has diagnosed
lymphoma simply through blood work and an elevated lymphocyte count,
you do not have a valid diagnosis. You need to ask your vet
for a more accurate diagnosis or seek a second opinion. Tissues should
always be examined by a pathologist with ferret experience whenever
Note that some ferrets can get large fat pads along
the sides of their neck that are sometimes diagnosed as enlarged lymph
glands when in fact it may be nothing but fat. The bottom
line is that a diagnosis that has been done without a tissue biopsy
is not complete and the diagnosis of a terminal disease should not
Treatment may consists of surgery, chemotherapy,
radiation, alternative medicine or a combination of treatments.
Lymphoma that involves the liver, stomach or intestine generally respond
poorly to chemotherapy. Ferrets that have received glucocorticoids
for an extended time period, for example prednisone for insulinoma
or IBD, may be resistant to the antitumoral effects of steroids.
With aggressive treatment started right away, your
ferret has the best chance at the longest survival time. Dr.
Katrina Ramsell of Southwest Animal Hospital, Beaverton, OR, has several
lymphoma protocols which have proven quite successful in the treatment
of lymphoma. Dr. Ramsell has graciously offered to supply her
protocol paper to anyone in need. Please contact Dr. Ramsell