Tumors of the Musculoskeletal and Nervous Systems in Ferrets


PetMD Editorial

Updated Aug. 11, 2022

Neoplasia in the Musculoskeletal and Nervous Systems in Ferrets

More commonly referred to as a tumor, a neoplasm is an abnormal cluster of cell growth. There is no known age or sex that is more susceptible to neoplasms in the musculoskeletal and nervous systems. In addition, due to the relatively uncommon nature of these types of neoplasia in ferrets, there is little known about them.

Symptoms and Types

The symptoms of neoplasia vary depending upon the exact location, size, and amount of tumor growth. The most common type of musculoskeletal tumor, chordoma, typically appears as smooth round masses on the tail, or forms in the spine or base of the skull. If it compresses the spinal cord, the ferret will exhibit such signs as weakness and ataxia (demonstrated by a lack of coordination). Another type of musculoskeletal neoplasia, osteoma, may appear as hard, smooth, round masses on the flat bones of the head.

Nervous system tumors, though rare, may also result in a variety of symptoms depending on their severity and location. Gliomas, for example, are tumorous growth that form in the brain or spine due to glial cells, while schwannomas form in the peripheral nervous system due to Schwann cells. These tumors may lead to head tilt, seizures, ataxia (uncoordinated movements), and even coma. This list of symptoms, however, is not all encompassing, and other signs may occur depending on the type of neoplasia present.


The causes and risk factors that lead to the development of tumors in the musculoskeletal or nervous systems in ferrets are unknown.


One definitive way to diagnose neoplasia of the musculoskeletal or nervous systems in ferrets is via a histopathologic examination, in which bodily tissues are examined using a microscope. Another means of diagnosing neoplasia is via exploratory laparotomy, a surgical procedure in which an incision is made into the abdominal wall in order to gain access to the abdominal cavity. This procedure allows for a biopsy sample of tissue cells to be obtained for examination.

Areas that may be evaluated during an exploratory laparotomy are the pancreas, the lymph nodes in the abdomen, and the adrenals (the endocrine glands located by the kidneys). An exploratory laparotomy may also be done in order to remove any tumors that are identified.

If neoplasia is not the cause of the ferret’s symptoms, alternate diagnoses may include hypoglycemia, viral infection such as rabies, metabolic disease, or fungal infection.


Treatment and care are dependent upon the diagnosis, and vary according to the type and size of tumors identified. Chordoma usually occurs on the tip of the tail and is generally cured with amputation of the tail. Treatment of osteoma, on the other hand, is only necessary if symptoms appear. For other types of neoplasia in the musculoskeletal or nervous system, surgical removal or amputation may be an option; this, however, depends on the diagnosis and patient’s status.

Chemotherapy may be an option; however, there is little information about this treatment method for ferrets and an oncologist should be consulted. The veterinarian may also look to similar cases of neoplasia in canine and feline patients in order to determine a possible treatment plan for ferrets.

Living and Management

Follow-up care and prognosis depend upon the diagnosis and the treatment performed. The patient should be monitored for symptoms and veterinary checkups will most likely be required to assess the success of treatment and progress of tumor growth.


Due to the fact that there are no known causes or risk factors that may lead to the development of musculoskeletal or nervous system tumors in ferrets, there is no known method of prevention when it comes to these conditions.

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