If you notice bald patches on your ferret, it's likely more than just a bad hair day. Alopecia, or hair loss, is a sign of adrenal disease, one of the most common ailments affecting ferrets. Also known as hyperadrenocorticism, it means his adrenal glands go into overdrive. Take him to the vet for examination and treatment.
Your ferret's adrenal glands synthesize particular hormones in your pet. The two small glands are near your ferret's kidneys. When these glands go out of whack, various issues arise in your ferret. Overactive adrenal glands produce excess sex hormones, which can make even spayed and neutered animals exhibit sexual behaviors. The affected adrenal gland usually increases in size. Adrenal disease usually appears in ferrets between the ages of 3 and 4, although it can affect older animals.
Hair loss usually begins at the tail, eventually leaving large areas of your ferret bald. Besides hair loss, signs and symptoms of adrenal disease include itching so severe that your pet ends up with lesions from incessant scratching. Spayed female ferrets often experience swelling of the vulva because of all the extra hormones kicking in. In males, those hormones can cause prostrate problems, so your pet experiences difficulty urinating. That's a veterinary emergency. Either sex can become more aggressive, although it's more common in males. Increased water consumption and abdominal distention also occur. Females are more prone to anemia. If she appears lethargic, check her gums. Anemia produces pale, whitish gums.
Adenoma or Adenocarcinoma
Some ferrets develop tumors on the adrenal glands. Benign tumors, or adenomas, don't spread beyond the one gland on which they're located. Adenocarcinomas are malignant and eventually spread throughout the body. Although the treatment for these tumors is the same as other sorts of ferret adrenal disease, the prognosis for ferrets diagnosed with adenocarcinomas isn't good.
After diagnosing your pet's disease via hormonal blood testing, ultrasound and X-rays, your vet might recommend surgery to remove the adrenal glands, the treatment of choice. After the surgery, she might prescribe drugs for hormone suppression, the type of which depends on whether your ferret is male or female. If your vet doesn't think surgery is a good option for your ferret, she can administer monthly injections of a drug called Lupron, which stops signs of the disease. However, it's not a cure and your ferret must receive these injections for the rest of his life. While there's no definite way to prevent adrenal disease in ferrets, early spaying or neutering might prevent it in young animals, according to petMD.
- Veterinary Partner: What Ferret Owners Should Know About Adrenal Gland Disease
- Veterinary Partner: Ferret Adrenal Glands
- Ferret Central: Adrenal Disease in the Ferret
- The Center for Avian and Exotic Medicine: Does My Ferret Have Adrenal Disease?
- petMD: Adrenal Disease in Ferrets
- Ferret Central: Adrenal Adenoma or Adenocarcinoma
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Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.