"B.J." and the Lump
by Dick Nutt
"B.J." is an albino jill, now in her fifth year, who came to me to be re-homed from Kim Lathaen. An average rather than exceptional little lady, with a pleasant gentle nature, she is a keen and tenacious worker who gets on well with the rest of the gang.
Why "B.J."? Named after herself by a very special friend, Barbara Jean! Last year several of my jills seemed to have a more severe summer moult than usual, as did some belonging to various friends, but among mine "B.J." was certainly the worst affected and by September was almost totally bald along her back, flanks and tail. All my others had by then started those lovely, short, sleek coats that quickly become a heavy winter covering in stock that live outside. An examination of her skin under a strong eyeglass showed no sign of any skin problem whatever, she was eating well and leaping about with her cage partners in the usual enthusiastic games.
As September wore on, I noticed she was becoming more and more pear shaped in a way that was not consistent with over feeding, and in any case she was not putting away more than her share. I separated her and fed her on her own for a few days but she was only eating the usual amount, was as energetic as usual and showed no signs of pain or distress whatever, despite and obvious increase in weight and abdominal size. By now I was beginning to think about an internal tumour, even though I was sure it was nothing affecting her stomach or digestive tract.
A read through the relevant parts of Fox's "Biology and Diseases of the Ferret", was, I must admit extremely depressing but pointed me in the direction of the trouble being either an ovarian or uterine tumour. She did not object at all or show any sign of pain when I felt her abdomen and poked about, but there, sure enough I could feel a hard lump that certainly shouldn't have been part of her feminine plumbing.
STOP PRESS! Looking out of the window as I was writing this, there were a couple of cock pheasants and various songbirds including, oddly enough, a tree creeper, pecking at some corn I'd put out on the hard frozen ground by the bank of the stream this morning.
Another movement caught my eye and from behind an outbuilding came a large brown rat intent on whatever the birds were eating.
I banged on the window and he disappeared, as did most of the birds, so I hurtled upstairs, unlocked the gun cabinet, grabbed and loaded the .410", carefully opened an upstairs window and waited. The birds had gone up into one of the larches and the pheasants into the field, and sure enough in a couple of minutes back came the rat to the corn. One shot did the job cleanly and instantly and I've just come back in having chucked him over into the field for the crows! Shades of my last article on ratting and I swear I heard Wilf saying "Reet good lad, one cartridge, one rat!"
Sorry about the break in the narrative - to continue . . .
I now made an appointment for "B.J." to see my vet the next evening, making sure I was to see Alison who, over the last few years, has proved as absolutely brilliant with ferrets as she is with horses.
She felt all around "B.J.'s" abdomen after I'd explained what had been happening and then told me she also thought it was an ovarian tumour, and that the severe hair loss was consistent with her hormone production being out of balance because of where the tumour was.
I hadn't thought of the two things being related, but then one lives and learns!
We agreed I would bring her back early the following morning, October 22nd, for surgery, and I told Alison that if she thought the tumour was malignant or had spread to other organs, she was not to allow her to come out of the anaesthetic.
The next morning I took her in, and handed her over after giving her what I really felt might be a farewell cuddle, arranged that I would phone at two o'clock and came away fearing the worst. When I phoned that afternoon, fully expecting to be hearing bad news, it was to be told that she had come through it well, was still sleeping but could be collected at half past six by which time she should be fully conscious and "with it".
I'm sure you can all appreciate how I felt, but if you had seen me rush outside and tell a dozen assorted ferrets that "B.J." had come through it and was fine you might well have thought me a trifle eccentric to say the least!
When I arrived to pick her up I was told by Alison to come and see just what she had taken out, and there in a dish was "B.J.'s" fallopian tubes with one normal looking ovary still attached. Where the other ovary would usually be seen was this absolutely enormous benign, granular tumour which weighed in at 65 grams or 2.3 ounces and was bigger than a table tennis ball!
Size for size and with "B.J." normally weighing 1.5 lbs, it was equivalent to a ten stone person carrying a 14lb tumour inside them. (My apologies if you're eating while reading this!) With her very severe moult and her pear shaped figure she had looked a most peculiar ferret when I had taken her in, but now, as she was handed back to me she appeared even more so. Her entire belly, on which there had been at least some hair, had been shaved to accommodate an incision nearly three inches long, now held together with a neat row of soluble stitches.
With the huge tumour now out of her, the skin on her belly and flanks hung in wrinkled pink folds as it was too big for the normal, sleek figure she had now got back.
"B.J.", I said, "You look like an accident going somewhere to happen, but it's lovely to have you back!" I went off with the ferret box over my shoulder, and the tumour, which I wanted to photograph, in a plastic bag in my pocket. For the next two days I kept her in a recovery cage, with plenty of warm bedding, in a shed, as the nights were getting chilly and I was concerned about her lack of fur. She also had a good wander about indoors at various times, was her usual lively self and was indulged with some "convalescent treats" in her food dish.
To help the re-growth of her coat she was given daily "Ferretone" which I find very good for skin health and to stimulate a good coat, but once she was back outside with her cage mates for company and to keep her warm I knew she would be OK. By mid November a new coat was showing well, the stitches had dissolved and her skin was fitting more or less as it should once more. In December her coat could only be described as magnificent, really thick and a lovely white with no trace of yellow, and that month she went working again, never giving any hint that there had ever been a problem.
The tumour had been photographed alongside a ruler and a 50p piece for size comparison and those of you who were at the Christmas Show will have seen the photos making a "what is it, where was it from and what does it weigh?" competition, which, I'm happy to say raised a few pounds for the Society.
Time of writing this, 4.30pm Jan 2nd, I've just been out to feed the gang and to unfreeze, for the second time today, their water bottles. It's a biting cold evening and freezing hard, but as I called them and rattled the dishes I got the usual wonderful, bouncing, chattering welcome that makes it all so worthwhile. Special thanks, yet again, are due to Alison Cooke B.Vet. Med., who, much as I like her, I hope I will not see in her official capacity until it's jill jab time once again in March.
Last year she did ten jills for me, with me helping, all in about ten minutes. I was charged £7 for the one consultation and 70p for each of the 0.5ml doses of Delvosteron. £1.40 for each jill! Tell that to any overcharging vet but please don't mention her name.
In closing, it occurs to me that the more ungodly among you might be wondering why I'm shooting rats from the bathroom window when I've got pheasants feeding on my patch. The said pheasants belong to a neighbour on whose ground I have ferreting permission, and I would never dream of taking birds that I've no right to, unless, of course they are off the ground, at least fifty feet up and preferably a crossing shot!!
I wish all of you, yours and all your stock, a happy and healthful 1997, with full nets if you work them, and lots of enjoyment if you don't.
(First published 1997)