What is Salivary Mucocele?

If you believe your ferret is exhibiting symptoms of a salivary mucocele or cyst, it’s important to take him to a veterinarian right away. The longer that you wait, the more severe the condition will become, which may make treatment more complicated. 

The saliva in a ferret’s mouth helps him digest food and moisten his mouth. Saliva is produced by the salivary gland, which sends saliva through a duct that runs underneath the skin and into the ferret’s mouth. If this duct is blocked or ruptured, fluid will begin to build up under the surface and may absorb into the surrounding tissue.  The result is a salivary mucocele or cyst, characterized by noticeable enlargement in the face, jaw, or neck of the ferret. The cyst may continue to grow if it is left untreated.

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Symptoms of Salivary Mucocele in Ferrets

Salivary cysts are fairly easy to spot as long as you know what to look for. Most ferrets that develop salivary cysts will exhibit some or all of these symptoms:

  • Swelling underneath the jaw, near the corners of the ferret’s mouth, or by the eyes
  • Swelling underneath the tongue, which could limit the tongue’s movement and interfere with the ferret’s ability to eat or drink.

Cysts will start off small and grow over time, so it’s important to take your ferret to a veterinarian the moment you spot a cyst instead of waiting for it to grow larger.

Causes of Salivary Mucocele in Ferrets

Ferrets have five pairs of salivary glands. Each of these glands has a duct that transports saliva from the gland to the mouth.  If saliva begins to build up inside the duct, or if it begins to leak out of the duct, a salivary mucocele, or cyst, will develop. This can be caused by trauma, inflammation, or the presence of a tumor or abscess.

Diagnosis of Salivary Mucocele in Ferrets

If you spot any of the symptoms of a salivary cyst, take your ferret to a veterinarian as soon as possible. Describe the symptoms in as much detail as you can. You should also let the vet know when you first began to notice the symptoms and if the symptoms have affected your ferret’s ability to eat, breathe, or drink normally.

The vet will be able to feel the swelling in your ferret’s salivary glands. However, the vet will not be able to diagnose your ferret with a salivary cyst until he knows that the swelling is a buildup of saliva and not pus from an infection. To determine if it’s saliva or pus, the vet can insert a very fine needle directly into the affected area to remove a small sample of the fluid. The sample will be placed underneath a microscope for closer examination. If the vet determines it is saliva, he will officially diagnose your ferret with a salivary cyst. 

Treatment of Salivary Mucocele in Ferrets

Treatment will begin once your vet has confirmed your ferret is suffering from a salivary cyst. Treatment will vary depending on the cause of the cyst. If your ferret has developed this condition because of inflammation, the vet may try prescribing anti-inflammatories to remedy the situation. 

However, if the salivary duct has been ruptured because of a tumor or trauma, it is very likely that your ferret will need surgical treatment. The vet will need to surgically remove the affected gland to stop fluid from leaking into the surrounding tissue. Excess tissue will also be removed during surgery and the fluid that is built up underneath the skin will also be carefully drained. Be sure to thoroughly discuss the risks associated with this surgery before your vet begins. There are a large number of nerves in the face and neck, so surgery may be complicated. 

If your ferret has a cyst underneath his tongue, he will also require surgery. However, cysts in this location are much easier to treat, and in most cases, the salivary gland will not need to be removed.

Recovery of Salivary Mucocele in Ferrets

It is very likely that your ferret will fully recover from this condition, but some ferrets may suffer complications during surgery.  Be sure to administer all medications as advised by the veterinarian and bring your ferret in for follow-up visits as requested.

You should speak to the vet about your ferret’s diet. Treatment, especially if your ferret has to undergo surgery, may impact your ferret’s ability to eat and drink. Your vet will recommend how you should ensure your ferret is eating and drinking enough while he recovers.

Carefully watch your ferret during recovery and let the vet know whether his symptoms are becoming worse or staying the same. Your ferret’s salivary production should not be impacted by treatment, so alert your vet if you believe your pet is no longer producing enough saliva.