All ferrets have a small gland that sits in front of the left and right kidney and their main function is to produce hormones. When a ferret suffers from adrenal disease, these glands become hyperactive and start producing an excess of hormones, especially sex hormones such as estrogen and testosterone. One or both adrenal glands can be affected and diseased glands are frequently increased in size and in some cases can become cancerous.
What are the signs of adrenal disease?
- Fur loss. Typically fur loss starts on the rump, then the tail, flanks and can finally progress to all other areas.
- Enlarged or swollen vulvas.
- Weakness in females due to anemia.
- Inability to urinate in male ferrets
- Increased sexual aggressiveness such as mounting
- Itchy skin especially between the shoulder blades.
- Other less specific signs include weight loss, muscle breakdown, potbelly appearance and stronger odor than usual.
Does adrenal disease need to be treated?
Yes. Adrenal disease is a chronic disease that will eventually lead to death. Male ferrets that are unable to urinate or have difficulty urinating are emergencies. An emergency procedure will need to be performed to enable blocked ferrets to urinate. Females can die from severe anemia if the disease progresses.
How do we diagnose adrenal disease?
At times, veterinarians can suspect adrenal disease based on the appearance of the ferret on a physical exam. To confirm this diagnosis, a hormone test to measure the sex hormones in the blood is performed. It takes about 7 to 10 days for us to receive the results for this test. In some high risk patients, your veterinarian may choose to treat the patient with medication before these results are complete. Imaging such as ultrasound can also be used to visualize the glands to assess if one appears abnormally enlarged. If a gland appears enlarged, this suggests that it may be cancerous and should be removed surgically.
What treatments are available for adrenal disease?
With medical management, clinical signs are temporarily stopped. The medication Lupron is given as an injection and lasts for one month.
The main disadvantages are that Lupron needs to be administered monthly throughout your pet’s life and in some cases it may stop working. Lupron does not cure adrenal disease; it only temporarily stops the clinical signs.
This is the preferred choice of treatment in otherwise healthy ferrets especially under the age of 6 years. The aim of surgery is to remove all or in some cases most of the abnormal gland. Unlike medical management (Lupron injections), surgery can cure ferrets with cancerous growths. However, later in life, some ferrets may develop new growths or develop disease in the other remaining adrenal gland. In that case, surgery can be performed again or medical management may be elected.
At the Center for Avian and Exotic Medicine, our surgical patients receive the highest standard of care.
- Experienced exotics only surgeon
- Advanced anesthetic monitoring equipment including oxygen saturation measurement and Doppler ultrasound to measure heart function
- Surgical suite equipment including delicate instrumentation specifically for exotic patients
- Intra-operative and post operative thermal support and intravenous fluids
- Multi-modal pain management
- 24- Hour nursing care and monitoring
There are surgical and anesthetic risks associated with adrenal gland surgery just like any surgery. Discuss your individual ferret’s risks with your veterinarian.