Exotis ISSN 2398-2985


Lymphoma overview

Synonym(s): Lymphosarcoma

Contributor(s): Cathy Johnson-Delaney, David Perpinan


  • Lymphoma is a group of cancers arising from lymphoreticular cells.
  • In lymphoma, the malignant transformation occurs in the lymphatic system, in comparison with leukemia, where the neoplastic transformation occurs in the bone marrow. 
  • There are a number of subclassifications based on the cell type (T vs B cell), organ system(s) affected, and degree of malignancy. 
  • Lymphoma is the third most common neoplasm in ferrets and accounts for 10-15% of all neoplasms reported in ferrets.
  • Cause: most cases of lymphoma appear to develop spontaneously; in some cases infectious agents or chronic inflammatory disease may play a role.
  • Signs: clinical presentation varies dramatically, depending on the organ system affected.
  • Diagnosis: hematology, bone marrow biopsy, serum chemistry, radiography, ultrasonography, FNA/biopsy of lesions.
  • Treatment: in most cases, lymphoma is considered a systemic disease that is most appropriately managed with chemotherapy. 
  • Prognosis: guarded to poor.
Print off the Owner Factsheet on Lymphosarcoma/lymphoma to give to your clients.



  • While most cases of lymphoma in ferrets appear to develop spontaneously, in some cases infectious or chronic inflammatory disease may play a role.
  • In humans, an association has been demonstrated between chronic Helicobacter gastritis Helicobacter mustelae gastritis and development of gastric mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT) lymphoma. 
  • The high rate of inflammatory gastrointestinal disease Inflammatory bowel disease in ferrets may also predispose them to the development of gastrointestinal lymphoma, but this potential association has not yet been investigated. 
  • There have been several reports of clusters of lymphoma in high density ferret populations, suggesting a potential infectious etiology for some cases. One study documented development of lymphoma in ferrets inoculated with cells or cell-free medium from a ferret diagnosed with lymphoma, and retrovirus-like particles were isolated from the inoculum. 
  • Potential association with feline leukemia virus and/or Aleutian disease virus Aleutian disease have been investigated and determined to be unlikely. 


  • There are reports of a retrovirus-like particle or a type-C oncovirus likely involved in lymphoma cases in multiple ferrets in a household, but although work has been done on this in laboratory ferrets, in pet ferrets lymphoma seems to be an individual ferret problem.
  • It is therefore unknown if all lymphomas have a viral origin.


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Further Reading


Refereed papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Suran J N & Wyre N R (2013) Imaging findings in 14 domestic ferrets (Mustela putorius furo) with lymphoma. Vet Radiol Ultrasound 54 (5), 522-531 PubMed.
  • Mayer J & Burgess K (2012) An update on ferret lymphoma: a proposal for a standardized classification of ferret lymphoma. J Exotic Pet Med 21 (4), 343-346 VetMedResource.
  • Ammersbach M, Delay J, Caswell J L et al (2008) Laboratory findings, histopathology, and immunophenotype of lymphoma in domestic ferrets. Vet Pathol 45 (5), 663-673 PubMed.
  • Antinoff N & Hahn K (2004) Ferret oncology: diseases, diagnostics and therapeutics. Vet Clin North Am Exotic Anim 7 (3), 579-625 PubMed.
  • Erdman S E et al (1997) Helicobacter mustelae-associated gastric MALT lymphoma in ferrets. Am J Pathol 151 (1), 274-280 PubMed.
  • Erdman S E et al (1995) Transmission of chronic lymphoproliferative syndrome in ferrets. Lab Invest 72 (5), 539-546 PubMed.

Other sources of information

  • Swisher S & Lennox A M (2017) Disorders of the hemic, immunological and lymphatic systems. In: Ferret Medicine and Surgery. Eds: Johnson-Delaney C A. CRC Press, USA. pp 237-258
  • Mayer J, Erdman S E & Fox J G (2014) Diseases of the Haematopoietic System. In: Biology and Diseases of the Ferret. 3rd edn. Eds: Fox J G & Marini R P. Wiley-Blackwell, NY, USA. pp 311-334.
  • Antinoff N & Williams B (2012) Neoplasia. In: Ferrets, Rabbits and Rodents: Clinical Medicine and Surgery. 3rd edn. Eds: Quesenberry K & Carpenter J. Saunders, Philadelphia, USA. pp 103-121.