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What is Cysts in the Urethra?

A condition of cysts in the urethra of a ferret is referred to as urethral cysts or urogenital cystic disease in the world of veterinary medicine. A cyst is an accumulation of fluids or sometimes tissues that are pocketed in the wall of the urethra. This pocketed cyst often pushes into the vaginal tissue in females and towards the prostate in males. Due to the space the cyst occupies, the ferret can suffer from complete urethral obstruction, preventing urination and leading to chronic bladder infections. Cysts in the urethra in ferrets is more common in males than female ferrets and can be caused by a more serious underlying disease. 

Cysts in the urethra of ferrets are characterized by a localized accumulation of fluids or tissues inside the urethral wall. The urethra is the portion of the urinary system that takes urine from the bladder to the outside of the body. These cysts are often located in the distal portion of the urethra and result from an enlarged periurethral gland. Affecting both males and females, urethral cysts are a common result of an overproduction of sex hormones, androgen and estrogen. However, ferrets with urinary tract obstruction and adrenal disease are also commonly affected with adrenal cysts. Although difficult to diagnose, urethral cysts are treatable and the majority of ferrets will make a complete recovery. 

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Symptoms of Cysts in the Urethra in Ferrets

A cyst in the urethra of a ferret will block the urethra and prevent the passage of urine from the bladder to the outside of the body. It is for this reasons that the ferret will have abdominal distension due to a full bladder. The ferret will still feel the urge to urinate, resulting in frequent trips to the litter pan with little or no urination. The mammal will strain to urinate and may cry out in pain. The little urine that the ferret is able to pass may contain blood or pus, and may look abnormal in coloration. Additional symptoms a ferret owner should watch for if they suspect a cyst in the urethra of their ferret are listed below: 

  • Pollakiuria (frequent and abnormal passage of urine) 
  • Stranguria (slow, painful passage of urine with discharge) 
  • Swelling of the vulva in females 
  • Alopecia (hair loss)

As the cyst continues to block the passage of urine, the excessive levels of waste product elevate in the ferret’s blood. Normally, nitrogen and urea would be eliminated from the body in the form of waste products, but when the passage is blocked, the body absorbs it. Veterinarians refer to this condition as uremia or azotemia; it can be identified by a sluggish behavior and reduced appetite paired with vomiting. 

Causes of Cysts in the Urethra in Ferrets

Cysts in the urethra of ferrets affect both males and females, but males have a higher contraction rate than females. A cyst can develop in the urethra for a number of reasons, but the most common problem is a result of an overproduction of the sex hormones androgen and estrogen. Ferrets can also develop a cyst if they are experiencing a urinary tract obstruction such as a bladder stone located higher up in the urinary system. Adrenal disease is also commonly affected with adrenal cysts. Adrenal disease in ferrets is a potentially life-threatening disorder caused by an inadequate amount of hormones produced by two small glands that sit just in front of the kidneys. As the kidneys are part of the urinary process, separating waste products from the blood and diverting said waste product to the bladder, any complication with the kidneys can cause a problem further down in the urinary system. 

Diagnosis of Cysts in the Urethra in Ferrets

The veterinarian will begin the diagnosis process with a clinical examination. The enlarged bladder and swollen prostate may be palpable, indicating a problem in the urinary tract. The ferret’s blood will be drawn in order to conduct a complete blood count and blood analysis. If a cyst is present, the ferret’s white blood count will be higher than normal and the red blood cells will appear low. A urinalysis will also be conducted, but if the ferret cannot pass enough urine naturally for the examination, a needle aspirate may be required. A needle aspirate to collect urine is the process of locating the bladder from the outside of the body and inserting the needle through the abdominal wall, into the bladder organ. The urine will then be syphoned and collected for a urinalysis. The urine examination will often reveal a high level of white blood cells, bacteria, and red blood cells, which would indicate infection. Radiographs and/or ultrasounds will likely follow the clinical diagnosis to reveal the location of the cyst. 

Treatment of Cysts in the Urethra in Ferrets

Cysts in the urethra in ferrets are initially treated with antibacterial medications and hormone replacement therapy paired with electrolyte and fluid therapy. If the urethra is fully obstructed or if the adrenal glands are involved, surgery may be required. The treatment option your veterinarian decides is based on the severity of symptoms and the overall estimated prognosis.

Recovery of Cysts in the Urethra in Ferrets

If your ferret has undergone surgical treatment, the estimated recovery time is about two to three days. If therapeutic management was administered, the ferret may require several weeks to a month to recover from the effects of the urethral cyst.