Enlarged Lymph Nodes in Ferrets

By PetMD Editorial on Jun. 12, 2010

Lymphadenopathy in Ferrets

Lymphadenopathy is a medical term meaning “disease of the lymph nodes.” However, it most frequently associated with swollen or enlarged lymph nodes, which can occur due to infection or cancer. Small masses of tissue that are found throughout the body, lymph nodes play an integral part in the functioning of the ferrets' immune system, acting as filters for the blood, and as sentinels of disease in the issues they drain. Consequently, they are often the first indicators of disease in the tissues.

Symptoms and Types

Lymph nodes can usually be detected by touch, but sometimes there will be no clinical symptoms. Swelling can be felt in the area beneath the jaw (submandibular), or around the shoulder. Swelling in one of the legs is also possible as a result of swollen lymph nodes at the back of the leg (popliteal), or near the joint of the leg (axillary – correlating with the armpit). Swollen nodes in the area near the groin (inguinal) may make defecation difficult for your ferret. Your ferret may also lose its appetite due to nausea and have an urge to regurgitate when it does eat, or it may display a general malaise as its body fights off the infection. If your ferret has severely enlarged lymph nodes it may have trouble eating, or have difficulty with breathing.



  • Most common cause of enlarged lymph glands
  • May indicate metastatic cancer

Lymphoid Hyperplasia

  • Localized or systemic infection caused by agents of all categories (i.e., bacteria, viruses, and parasites) when infection does not directly involve the node
  • Viral infection—generalized hyperplasia.
  • Stimulation by factors other than infectious agents (e.g., inflammatory bowel disease)


  • Bacteria—capable of causing pustular lymphadenitis, which may progress to abscesses
  • Fungi
  • Eosinophilic—may be associated with allergic inflammation of the organ being drained by the affected lymph node


Your veterinarian will conduct a thorough physical examination, looking for physical signs that would explain the symptoms. He or she may also need to withdraw fluid from affected lymph nodes for examination and possible culture. Blood tests, urinalysis, and imaging studies (i.e., X-rays and ultrasound) are other diagnostic procedures used to confirm lymphadenopathy.


Because of the many disease processes and specific agents that can cause lymphadenopathy, treatment will depend on the underlying cause. Ferrets with lymphoma, for example, may be treated through a combination of chemotherapy and corticosteroids.

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