The phone rang Friday morning 28/07/00 and it was people I know from horse riding, Joy and Steve. So Steve phoned and said he went riding with Joy that morning and they picked a ferret up that was on the road. He said the ferret was very weak and what to do with him so I asked him to bring him here so I could have a look. So half an hour later they arrived and I saw a dirty, skinny sandy hob. I picked him up and was shocked because he really was skin and bones. He had wounds on him as well so I put him straight into the bath to shower him because then it's easier to assess the damage. He has a bite wound on his back, I could see tooth marks that had already started healing but you could see puss there as well. His tail looks *really* bad, just one huge sore. Like something took most of the skin off it, most of the tail is one big scab, again with puss in it. I'm putting the Dermasol liquid and cream on it. He was/ is covered in ticks as well, I put Frontline on him and some ticks died and fell off but the next day there was one big tick left so we used a tick remover and got it off but there are still a lot of baby ticks on him although I think they're dying, too. All he did the first day was eat and sleep, Saturday he didn't eat as much as Friday and was a bit more active. He only weighs 900g which is approx. 2 pounds. Not much for him, he could easily be 3 pounds. He is very sweet, when I showered him he was so well behaved and just sat in my hand and when he's out he comes up to us and licks us but no biting at all. We're joking that he is our engagement ferret (Pete and I got engaged on 27/07/00), Pete has already called him Spike... You know how you're always making excuses for keeping ferrets, well, so far he's our engagement ferret and then the poor ferret that I'm nursing back to health and he may have hip problems, like there's *no* way I can give him away... Well, I guess we'll see what happens.


Spike is doing real good, eating well and he's slowly getting toilet trained. He goes potty in his toilet but also doesn't mind going besides or in front of it, sigh... But he is friendly except for his hormones, when we smell of jills, he will chase us and try and grab our feet or hands and drag us off... But that is not like biting. Hopefully I can have him castrated next week when he's put some weight on. All the ticks are gone, he still has some attached but they're dead and shrivelling up... I got him some wormer today, put it in cat milk and he loved it! I thought I better worm him in case he's been eating slugs or other horrible things and got infected. Because slugs can have some really nasty worms...


Spike is toilet trained now! Last night Spike just used his potty and today as well and when I let him out he goes to the potty in the hall most of the time so I can't believe how quickly he learned to go to the toilet. At first I thought he will *never* get toilet trained and then he decided from one moment to the next to use the potty... :-)



Spike is like a totally different ferret now.

But before he got better, he got worse at the Brecon show. Pete and I did the show with Sheila from Bolton Ferret Welfare and her friend Maggie on 5th August, we arrived in Brecon on 3rd August though. I don't know why but Spike didn't eat or drink much and looked weak and depressed. His jaw seemed stiff and when we bought some cat milk, he drank it but he seemed to have difficulties drinking it so I got real worried that he had some disease... But at least it got fluid into him. By Saturday he was eating a little again so I was relieved and as soon as we got home, he ate and drank properly again. Maybe he was just scared what was happening. I mean he had a bad life as a stray and then he gets a new home with lots of food and nice people to take care of him and a week later he gets put into a smaller cage and after a few hours in a van he ends up in a marquee with loads of other ferrets and it's not as nice as home and he was probably scared that his life was getting worse again and was upset about it. I don't think he's young, either, he looks like he's around 3-4 years old... I weighed all the ferrets as well when we got back from the show, Spike was 900g when we got him and just over a week later he was 1kg so hopefully he'll continue putting weight on. I was getting scared that he'd be like Hope and not put any weight on...

Spike's was neutered on 11th August, when we were at the vets, I took him out of his carrier while I was waiting and he clung onto me... But I think he knew I wouldn't leave him and that I'd be back for him. And he was all active when I fetched him, trying to get out of the carrier. And he was happy to be back home with his food and water bowls...

And now he is such a sweet thing, he does not bite, he only started playing with us after he had his op done and he gently puts his teeth on my hands when I play with him but is so careful not to hurt... He's been around my naked feet and he licked my toes and nibbled them gently but it only tickled and did not hurt. He's really so gentle and sweet. :-) And when he first came here, he wasn't interested in *anything*, didn't know what to do with us or other ferrets or toys or freedom. He never left his cage for long, didn't run or dook or play, didn't go downstairs... Now he's totally different, he loves us, follows us around like a puppy, licks our hands and feet and plays with us! He's learnt that plastic bags are good fun, and he plays with the toys and dooks non stop when he's out. He does like Rose and Jasmine but Barney bullied him a bit so Spike is frightened of him... :-( I hope that'll change in the future...

It's just so amazing to have seen the change in Spike, how he went from a withdrawn ferret into a happy and confident ferret! :-)


I almost forgot, at the beginning of September, Spike weighed 1.25kg! He is solid, all muscle, hardly any fat. He was only 900g when he arrived so in less than 1 1/2 months he put on 350g!


I'd tried to put Spike in with Rose, Jasmine and Barney back in September but Barney bullied Spike a bit, not bad, but Spike didn't like it and kept crying so after I had him in the group for a week or two, I had to separate Spike again. But then one day I tried letting Spike out with my 2 albino rescues Johnny and Dickens and he really beat one of the boys up. So I thought he can fight back if Barney bullies him. So I started letting Spike out with Rose, Jasmine and Barney. At night in the ferret room when the big group was out. Because I started letting the big group out of their room at night so they could have a run in the house. And when they are out I let Rose, Jasmine and Barney have a run in the ferret room. And then I started letting Spike out with them and he was sort of okay with Barney. So I started letting Spike out in the morning with the 3 as well and sprayed him with Bitter Apple. So Barney didn't bother him too much and Spike soon fought back. They still have squabbles now but Spike hasn't got any wounds on him but Barney has. So they'll sort it out and Spike even sleeps with Barney so they're together now. I think Spike likes being with other ferrets now, I used to let him out with Rose and Jasmine and he liked that and I think he's happy in the group, he war dances with the 3 when they're all out and he's learnt how to treat Barney and not let Barney scare him...



Spike isn't good at all at the moment... Since June or July his 3rd eyelid has been up. We have no idea why. A ferret vet told me that it happens when the ferret isn't feeling well but I don't know what's wrong and how bad he feels...

On the 17th of July he had a dental, he didn't have a bad tartar build-up on his teeth but his gums were constantly red, swollen and inflamed. I was hoping that a dental would fix his mouth- but it didn't. Towards the end of July/ beginning of August his whole mouth went red... The antibiotics cleared most of the redness but the gums remain swollen. He has a very healthy appetite though so his mouth is not interfering with his eating...

But another thing that is wrong is his rear end. He seems to have arthritis or rheumatism in his back legs, his legs are stiff and when I pick him up and put him down, he first falls onto his side, then picks himself up and starts walking but his walking and running looks weird, too, he's got a bouncy run... He doesn't run much when he's out, he has a little run and then goes to sleep somewhere and he has another little run after he's eaten but he doesn't move all that much.

So I don't know what's wrong, whether his 3rd eyelid is up because of the mouth or maybe because he's got pain in his back end (even though he doesn't really show signs of pain) or maybe it's something really different. His eyelids are really up and swollen and cover about 1/3 of his eyes and on the one side it looks red and it's definitely got worse during the last few weeks. He went to see Louise about 2 or 3 weeks ago but she wasn't sure and told me to give him some time while she tries to find out more. She said cats get it when they come down with a virus but I don't know why he would have it... I hope we find out what's wrong, he doesn't look like he's suffering but then again he also doesn't look well but I don't want him to suffer unnecessarily, maybe he's hiding it well and looks sort of okay on the outside while he's feeling really bad on the inside...


We've got problems with Spike still, at least we're now pretty sure that we know what's wrong, he very probably has a mass in front of his heart (seen on x -ray), that mass is putting pressure on the vein that brings the blood from the head to the heart so the blood has problems getting out of the head which is causing high blood pressure in his head which in turn has caused fluids to leak into surrounding tissue so that's why his head and neck are swollen. He's on pain relief and feels a lot better and that seems to be the only thing we can do for him now...

This is what I wrote to the Ferret Health List and Dr Williams' answer:

Date: Thu, 4 Oct 2001 00:08:37 +0100
From: "Ulrike"
Subject: Swollen third eyelid and swollen head


I wrote about my Spike a while ago, about his third eyelid being swollen and red. It has gradually become worse and his whole head and neck are swollen. The vets did a blood test but all results were normal. Now my vet suggested that there may be a mass growing in his head and somehow (I forgot her exact words) stopping blood or fluid from flowing out of his head, causing a build-up of fluid in his tissue. Or high blood pressure in his head. All the tissue in his head/ mouth is soft and swollen, we were hoping for an infection but that would have shown in his blood results so it's now likely to be fluid build-up in the tissue. They want to x-ray his head tomorrow and asked me to bring a healthy ferret along so they can see whether anything is different in Spike. I just wanted to ask whether anybody has ever had this problem or what it is likely to be. One of my vets is really excited, he gets this way when I come with rare and weird problems, he thinks that there is something in his head that is pushing his eyes outwards... It does look that way... Spike must have been in a lot of pain, the vets put him on Rimadyl before the blood test result came back, just in case it was an infection. It hasn't reduced any swelling but Spike is a lot happier and plays again, not all that much but at least more than before and he stays up a lot longer when he's out. So I guess the Rimadyl is taking the pain away and makes him feel more comfortable...

I'll attach a picture of Spike, I have added 2 more pictures to the folder "Images- medically oriented photos" so if anybody wants to have a look they can, I just didn't want to attach 3 big pictures... Sorry to upload 2 pics but I couldn't decide which one to use, I'll delete them again.

Thanks for any help.


Date: Thu, 04 Oct 2001 02:18:21 -0000
From: "Bruce Williams, DVM"
Subject: Re: Swollen third eyelid and swollen head

Dear Ulrike:

I must admit, that I can understand your vet's excitement - I get the same rush when a really interesting case comes along.

And this is an unusual case. I've never seen anything like it in a ferret. But I have seen cases like it in other species. It is likely not a solitary mass in the head - while this could possibly cause one eye to bulge, or extremely rarely, two - they usually don't account for swelling of all tissues.

I like your vet's theory on interrupted outflow from the head and neck. The rare cases that I have seen generally involved some occlusion of the anterior vena cava - the large single vein which drains the head and neck. Both carotid veins dump into this large vein, which if occluded, will cause edema of the head and neck. This vein can be occluded by a thrombus, a neoplasm (usually outside the vein, compressing it), or by similar processes in the right atrium of the heart, where it dumps into. You can rarely see clots in the atria in ferrets with heart disease, but I have not seen one of this size (at least yet.)

In such cases, contrast radiography of the vessels of the head, neck, and chest is the best way to identify the vascular problem short of at autopsy, but this is usually only available through large referral hospitals or universities. In a typical pracice, this is a very difficult diagnosis to make antemortem, and probably more difficult to treat. I hope that I am out to lunch on this one.

On another note, your pictures are terrific - what great quality!

With kindest regards,

Bruce Williams, DVM

Date: Thu, 4 Oct 2001 23:54:20 +0100
From: "Ulrike"
Subject: Re: Swollen third eyelid and swollen head

Hello again

Well, we've been to the vets and Spike had his x-ray, my vet is quite sure that there is a mass in front of his heart, it's quite large. We've left Spike on Rimadyl for the time being as it makes him feel better. He gets an eighth of a 20 mg tablet twice a day, my vet suggested cutting it back to an eighth once a day after he's been on it for a week. I was wondering whether there is a safer alternative to Rimadyl, a well working pain killer that is safe long term? Because Spike seems to need the painkiller every 12 hours...

Best wishes

Date: Fri, 05 Oct 2001 02:06:50 -0000
From: "Bruce Williams, DVM"
Subject: Re: Swollen third eyelid and swollen head

Dear Ulrike:

That is unforatunate news, but would explain the swelling of the head, if the tumor is impinging on the anterior vena cava - the large vein though which all venous blood return from the head passes on the way to the heart. I am hopeful that when the time comes, you will be willing to confirm this with an autopsy, and some pictures of this very unique necropsy would be quite valuable. Your pictures are excellent, and something like this probably should go into the literature - I would be happy to consult on this and collaborate with your vet in a publication (it is a great cae for Exotic DVM journal, which likes interesting case reports such as these.

Regarding painkillers, butorphanol may be an option here - it is quite safe - the only question I have is wheterh it may be available in Wales - European and American drugs, even the standard ones may have restricted availabilities.

With kindest regards,

Bruce Williams, DVM

Those are pictures I sent to the Ferret Health List:

sick Spike

sick Spike

sick Spike

It is so unfair, we don't really know just how much Spike is suffering and he just doesn't deserve it (well, really *no* ferret deserves it...) because he's such a loving and sweet and gentle ferret and he's been through a lot already... He doesn't bite any part of your body, he licks toes, so many ferrets bite toes and noses and yet he is so gentle and just kisses you. And now he's got such a horrible illness...


Spike was put to sleep tonight. It was evening and we were about to have dinner- when Spike came out of his bed, sneezing and spluttering blood everywhere. His cage had been in the lounge for a few weeks or a month so we could keep an eye on him. Of course we panicked, I thought his eye had come out of it's socket or something. So I immediately phoned the emergency vets while Pete raced upstairs to get the carrier. I made him get Spike and put him in the carrier, I was too scared to look at him. It turned out that a blood vessel in his third eyelid had burst, it was on the right eye, his "good" one, by now two thirds of it were covered by the third eyelid... With the high blood pressure, the blood just dripped down...

Catherine was on call, apart from Louise and Mr Jones, she is the only one I really trust. We talked about Spike for a while, the bleeding even stopped but he was in pain and if we'd kept him alive and maybe even tried steroids, it would have only prolonged his suffering and the inevitable. So we had him put to sleep... Catherine did the post mortem straight away, Pete stayed there and watched it and took pictures while I (being squeamish) went into the waiting room. But I heard Pete and Catherine talking and curiosity got the better of me, I wanted to know whether Spike had this tumour above his heart. So I went back and carefully glanced at Spike, I'd seen pictures of opened up ferrets on the Ferret Health List pages so I knew what it would look like. In the end I had a good look, seems I'm not that squeamish anymore... It was interesting, the lungs didn't look anything like I had imagined...

Anyway, there wasn't one lump in his chest, there was a bundle of them above his heart... 3 were about the size of a pea and the other 2 the size of 3 peas and one or more were by the anterior vena cava and would have restricted the blood flow. The tumours were between the artery that goes to the head and the vena cava and there was a nerve running through the tumours. So the tumours were attached to both the artery and the vein. There wasn't much room left for the lungs according to Catherine...

This is what Spike looked like before he was put to sleep:

Spike :-(

Spike :-(


This is Spike's histopathology report:

Head oedema several months, chest radiographs - anterior thoracic mass.

Lymphoma (Lymphosarcoma)


The submission consists of heart, lung and samples from a mass in the anterior thorax from a male ferret (age not stated).

HEART: the myocardium is largely unremarkable apart from a couple of very small foci of myocyte vacuolar degeneration, with early replacement fibrosis. The cause or significance of this is uncertain - it could be within "normal" limits in an older animal. Alternatively it could be a reflection of increased workload on the myocardium as a result of the mass (see below). In any case, it is unlikely to have been pathologically significant at this degree.
LUNG: the sample is congested, otherwise histologically unremarkable.
MASS: the sections reveal a mass composed of solid sheets of uniform, intermediately differentiated lymphocytes. These have rather small (ca 1x rbc diameter), hyperchromatic nuclei without prominent nucleoli. The mitotic rate is moderate (5 or 6 per 40x field). The diagnosis is lymphoma. It is not certain whether this has originated in the thymus or in the mediastinal lymph nodes, but there is a small piece of histologically normal thymus present in one of the sections, so I suspect the tumour originated in lymph nodes.

Lymphosarcoma is the commonest malignancy of the domestic ferret. It generally arises spontaneously, although there is increasing evidence of a transmissible form. Several variants of the disease exist: a small-cell type is more commonly encountered in older animals while the lymphoblastic form is seen more frequently in younger (less than 2 years old) ferrets. The prognosis is always poor.

To show just how much he changed and the full extend of this horrible illness:

healthy Spike sick Spike Spike :-(

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