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Ferret Skin Tumors And A White Sugar Glider

Dr. Murray discusses treatment of skin tumors in several ferrets, and a surprise with a sugar glider case.

By Jerry Murray, DVM
Posted: October 6, 2010, 5 a.m. EDT

Click image to enlarge
ferret with sebaceous epithelioma
This large growth near the ferret's shoulder is a sebaceous epithelioma, which is a benign tumor of an oil-producing gland of the skin.
Ferret with a mast cell tumor
Photos Courtesy of Jerry Murray, DVM
Mast cell tumors are common in ferrets.

Skin tumors are fairly common in pet ferrets. Recently I treated three ferrets with the two most common skin tumors, and one ferret with an unusual lump under its skin.

The first case involved a ferret with a large growth near its shoulder. This is called a sebaceous epithelioma. Despite its ugly appearance, it is a benign tumor of the sebaceous (oil producing) gland of the skin, so surgery to remove it is highly recommended. The owner did just that, and the ferret recovered very quickly.

The next two cases were ferrets owned by the same person. Both ferrets had mast cell tumors. Mast cell tumors are small, flat and itchy, and they are very common. A mast cell tumor often has a small scab covering the tumor. These tumors are also benign, and surgery is curative. Both of the ferrets are geriatric ferrets, so the owner was concerned about surgery and anesthesia. Most skin tumors can be removed relatively quickly, and most ferrets recover quickly from their surgery. That was the case with these two older ferrets.

The fourth case involved a ferret with a medium-sized nodule just behind her shoulder going down toward her armpit. A vaccine had been given close to this location, so a tentative diagnosis of a local vaccine reaction was made. The ferret was treated with cortisone to reduce the size of the nodule and to reduce the inflammation. To be on the safe side, surgery was performed to remove the fat pad and inflamed tissue. Some inflammation occurred at the surgery site right after the surgery, but the ferret did just fine after a few days.

Click image to enlarge
sugar glider
Photo Courtesy Jerry Murray, DVM
This was only the second almost all white sugar glider that Dr. Murray had seen after treating nearly 300 sugar gliders.

The last case was a routine neuter of a sugar glider. The owner drove a long distance (from east Texas on a rainy day) for this surgery. He was a very friendly sugar glider, but what really stood out was his color. Instead of being the normal grayish hue, he was predominately white in color (see fig 3). After neutering roughly 300 sugar gliders, this was only the second sugar glider I had seen that was almost all white. As is often the case with exotic pets, even a routine surgery can be exciting!

See all of Dr. Murray's columns>> 

Posted: October 6, 2010, 5 a.m. EDT

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Ferret Skin Tumors And A White Sugar Glider

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Reader Comments
I had a quick question if anyone can answer. I heard that these types of tumors were thought to be highly agressive until a year or so ago then it changed to benign. Why was this and how did people find this out? Are vets sure they are harmless as i was told the thinking before was that your animal could die in a month from a mast cell tumor and that some vets still consider them to be very dangerous?
I have a rat with scabs on his left and right shoulder and a bit of scab extending up his neck. He is two and has had them for a long time, he opens them up all the time (they seem to be itchy) but no antibiotics will get rid of them and no vets can find what they are. But this is unheard of in rats and I was told if they were a mast cell tumor he would have been dead a long time ago so I guess it will be a mystery.
Very good article, made me think and is great to be aware of all this stuff.
Hannah, Coppell, TX
Posted: 10/20/2010 8:04:53 PM
great artical i will start cheacking my pets skin more thourly when i play with them
Tommy, Pocatello, ID
Posted: 10/10/2010 5:16:17 AM
So can rabbits get skin tumors? And if so, what can you do to prevent them from getting it? i have actually seen a bunch of white sugar gliders so i don't see how they are unusual.
Aiyanna, Eugene, OR
Posted: 10/9/2010 10:13:34 AM
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