What is Enlarged Spleen?

The spleen is a large filter, removing impurities such as infection, parasites, and damaged red cells from the blood. This specialized filter contains a large blood supply, storing and, in this species of animal, manufacturing, the body’s blood cells. If the organ becomes enlarged, the way the spleen functions will be compromised, meaning less blood will be filtrated and produced. A ferret with an enlarged spleen will not only appear ill, but a great deal of discomfort will result from the swollen internal organ. An enlarged spleen can be an indication of a more severe, primary health condition and should always be treated as a serious condition. 

An enlarged spleen in ferrets is a condition veterinarians call splenomegaly. Splenomegaly simply means that the spleen has grown in size due to illness or other health issues found somewhere else in the body. 

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Symptoms of Enlarged Spleen in Ferrets

An enlarged spleen in ferrets may cause abdominal swelling, lethargy, and a poor appetite. If the ferret has acquired an infection that is causing the spleen to swell, a fever may also be noted. The pet may bite or vocalize when touched, as the swollen spleen can be painful and uncomfortable when handled.

Causes of Enlarged Spleen in Ferrets

A ferret’s spleen can enlarge as a result of cancer, most commonly lymphosarcoma and tumors of the adrenal glands. Reports have also indicated hemangiosarcomas and mast cell tumors may be be linked to ferret splenomegaly, but a very small group of ferrets were affected. The most common cause of an enlarged spleen in ferrets is due to an increase in blood cell development. However, veterinarians are still looking for the underlying cause of this sudden overdevelopment, which often makes selecting an effective treatment plan challenging. 

Possible causes of an enlarged spleen in ferrets include: 

  • Hypersplenism (enlarged spleen associated with low production of blood cells)
  • Idiopathic splenomegaly (enlarged spleen of unknown reasons)
  • Chronic illness
  • Insulinoma 
  • Infections (respiratory infections, dental disease) 
  • Gastrointestinal obstruction 
  • Eosinophilic gastroenteritis 

Diagnosis of Enlarged Spleen in Ferrets

An enlarged spleen in ferrets can be diagnosed through a physical examination, blood work, a urine examination, x-rays, and ultrasounds. Since the spleen is a filtration organ of the blood, a complete blood cell count may show signs of anemia and leukocytosis (high white blood cell count). A chemistry profile may also be taken, showing elevated signs of the liver enzyme bilirubin to diagnose the spleen has become compromised. If your ferret has been urinating blood or a dark colored substance, it is important to inform the veterinarian so he can perform a urinalysis. 

Ultrasounds and abdominal radiographs have proven to be most useful in the diagnosis of an enlarged spleen in ferrets. Through an x-ray, the veterinarian can visualize the abnormally large spleen and an ultrasound can help to assess which additional problems are present as the ferret moves. 

Treatment of Enlarged Spleen in Ferrets

An enlarged spleen is often treated with the surgical removal of the affected organ, but each case is different. Your veterinarian may choose to treat your ferret’s condition with an antibiotic to target infection and/or a blood transfusion. If the underlying condition is unknown, the only treatment option may be supportive care. Intravenous fluids, the use of a corticosteroid, paired with mineral and vitamin supplements, may be prescribed. 

Recovery of Enlarged Spleen in Ferrets

If your ferret has undergone surgery, your pet will need a couple days in the hospital to recover. Once he/she is allowed to return home your ferret will still need a couple of weeks of recovery time. Have a quiet, safe, comfortable place for your ferret to rest and recover in the home. Check his/her incision site twice a day to ensure it is clean, the stitches did not come loose, or to see if bleeding is present. The veterinarian is likely to send you home with an Elizabethan collar to prevent the ferret from manipulating and infecting the incision site. Pain medication and antibiotics may be sent home with you, so make sure your ferret is given medication as directed. Finally, the veterinarian will request check-ups to follow up on your pet’s recovery.