Tumor of the Spine (or Tail) and Cancer of the Cartilage in Ferrets

By PetMD Editorial on Jan. 9, 2009

Chordomas and Chondrosarcomas in Ferrets

A chordoma is a slow-growing tumor on a ferret's spine or tail which arises from remnants of notochords -- flexible, rod-shaped bodies that are located directly beneath the animal's nerve cord.

Chordomas do not metastasize (spread throughout the body), although they are locally invasive in the spinal cord. This compression of the spinal cord can cause ferrets to become paralyzed or show loss of some pain perception. Surgery can relieve the compressed spinal cord and usually return the ferret to normal.

Chondrosarcomas, meanwhile, are a type of metastatic (spreads throughout the body) cancer of the cartilage. Surgery is not usually helpful with this type of cancer, as the cancer spreads quickly throughout the ferret's body, and often before it is ever diagnosed.

The prognosis for chondrosarcoma is much worse than the prognosis for a chordoma.


Symptoms and Types

Chordoma and chondrosarcoma tumors may be found on a ferret's spine, neck, upper back and the tip of the tail. Chondrosarcoma tumors, in addition, may be found on the ferret's breastbone or ribs. Both types of tumors are most often smooth, hairless, slow-growing, and painless to the touch. Some tumors are hard.


Unfortunately, there is no known cause to these two tumorous conditions.


Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical exam on the ferret. He/she will take a thorough history from the owner, and order a blood chemical profile, a complete blood count, an electrolyte panel, and a urinalysis to see if the ferret is suffering from systemic signs of disease.

A biopsy of the ferret's nodule should be taken. Slides of the tissue (histopathology) can be tested using immunohistochemistry techniques for cytokeratin. If cytokeratin is present, the nodule is a chordoma and the prognosis is very good. However, if the test for cytokeratin is negative, the ferret has chondrosarcoma.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) should be done when ferrets have chordoma, as this can show the extent of compression the spinal cord is undergoing and is more accurate than a myelogram.


Ferrets suffering from chordomas should be treated on an inpatient basis. This includes surgery, should the tumor be located on the neck or upper back region, or tail amputation, should the tumor be located on the tail.

If the condition has caused paralysis in the ferret, recovery may be dependent on the length of time the ferret had the tumor and the extent of spinal compression -- smaller chordomas compress the spine less than larger chordomas.


Living and Management

Bringing your ferret into the veterinarian at the first sign of a nodule is key to managing the condition(s) and the ferret's ability to recover quickly. Once your veterinarian has diagnosed the type of tumor, he/she may then remove the tumor, either through surgical means (chordoma) or by amputating the ferret's tail (chondrosarcoma).

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