Note: Though owning a ferret is illegal in California, it’s legal to own a ferret in several states. Ownership is regulated in a few of them. The Long Beach Post is an online publication, and we have a readership beyond Long Beach. Dr. Palazzo is not encouraging California residents to break the law, but is instead serving to inform ferret owners anywhere about veterinary care and responsibility for their pets.

Cancer is prevalent in ferrets. The adrenal disease and insulinoma are both forms of cancer, and this article discusses liver cancer in ferrets.


Symptoms can range from minor to major. Common ones include the following:

  • Poor appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Weakness
  • Distended abdomen
  • Blood discharge


Ultrasound is one of the best tools for diagnosis. An aspirate (small tissue sample) can be taken during ultrasound without having to perform a surgery.

This is an enlarged lymph node found by ultrasound from a ferret with liver cancer.

Blood samples can be helpful since there are several direct and indirect liver tests. A ferret can have liver cancer with a normal blood panel.

Radiographs (X-rays) can show an enlarged liver in some cases.

Abdominal fluid (ascites) can be analyzed for cancer cells.

Cytology is the analysis of the aspirate or a larger tissue sample (biopsy) to confirm the diagnosis. This is an important step to confirm the diagnosis.

Exploratory surgery might be necessary to visualize the liver and obtain a proper liver sample for biopsy.


If we catch it early enough, surgery might be helpful. Sadly, usually by the time a sick ferret is brought to us, medical therapy or surgical therapy is of no use.

Our ferret liver cancer web page has more details and graphic surgery photos.