Hepatomegaly in Ferrets
Hepatomegaly is the medical term used to describe an abnormally enlarged liver. Often occurring due to certain diseases and conditions that can either directly or indirectly affect the liver's ability to function, the liver may increase in size, taking on a diseased condition of its own. Hepatomegaly usually occurs in middle-aged to older ferrets.
Symptoms and Types
Depending on the underlying cause, the enlargement may involve the whole liver or only part of it. For example, infections and/or inflammation may lead to generalized symmetrical enlargement of the liver, whereas tumors, hemorrhages, cysts, or rotation of liver lobe may lead to asymmetrical or focal enlargement. That is, only a part of the liver may be enlarged.
Symptoms can vary depending on the cause. Enlargement of the abdomen is the most commonly observed symptom. On examination your veterinarian will find an enlarged liver or a palpable mass in the abdominal area. The mass is usually observed behind the rib cage and may even be visible with naked eye. However, it may be difficult to detect an enlarged liver in obese ferrets via physical examination.
Cancer and tumors are the most common cause for hepatomegaly. Other potential causes include:
- Foreign body
- Infectious hepatitis
- High blood pressure
- Severe arrhythmia
- Cardiac disease (e.g., right-sided congestive heart failure)
- Heartworm disease
- Metabolic abnormalities
- Biliary obstruction
- Inflammation of the duodenum
- Chronic gastrointestinal tract disease
- Obesity (complicated by refusal to eat)
- Acute damage to the kidneys from toxins, drugs (e.g., phenobarbital), or obstruction
Your veterinarian will probably use X-ray and ultrasound to try to identify the cause for the enlargement. If anemia is suspected, he or she may recommend a urinalysis and blood tests, which will also detect antibodies in the bloodstream, an indication of infection. To further confirm the diagnosis, a liver biopsy may be needed.
Treatment is highly variable and will depend on the underlying cause. Ultimately, the aim is to treat the cause, optimize conditions for liver regeneration, prevent further complications, and reverse the damage caused by liver failure. Because dehydration is commonly associated with hepatomegaly, intravenous fluids are often required for normalizing the ferret's fluid levels. Multivitamins are also given to maintain the healthy levels of vitamins. In case of a tumor, abscess, or cyst, your veterinarian may also require surgical interventions to remove these growths.
Living and Management
You will need to restrict the activity of your pet and allow it to rest and recover comfortably in a cage. If your ferret refuses to eat, it may be more accepting of high-calorie dietary supplements. Warming the food to body temperature or offering via syringe may also increase acceptance. Lastly, restrict you ferret's sodium intake if it suffered from cardiac failure or liver disease, as it may cause fluid buildup in the abdominal cavity.
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