The epidemiology of neoplastic disease was studied retrospectively in the captive population of black-footed ferrets (Mustela nigripes). Postmortem reports were reviewed and archived tissues examined from 184 of the 227 adult (>1 yr old) black-footed ferrets that died from the beginning of the current captive propagation program in late 1985 to the end of 1996. A total of 185 neoplasms, of 28 distinct phenotypes, were seen in 102 (55.4%) of these ferrets. There was more than one tumor type present in 51 ferrets. Tumors of the apocrine glands (28.3%), renal tubular neoplasms (20.7%), and biliary cystadenoma or carcinoma (20.1%) were the most common neoplasms. The probability of developing most types of neoplasms increased with age. Neoplasms of the apocrine glands were more common in males and may be hormonally influenced. The unusually high prevalence of biliary cystadenocarcinoma may be secondary to the common occurrence of intrahepatic biliary cysts in this population. Although neoplasia is an important cause of mortality in captive adult black-footed ferrets, its impact on captive propagation of the species, and on the wild population, is probably limited because clinically significant tumors are encountered almost exclusively in postreproductive ferrets (>3 yr old) and because ferrets released into their natural habitat rarely reach susceptible age.
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Vol. 33 • No. 3