Adrenal disease – 75% of ferrets will get adrenal disease. A tumor grows on the adrenal gland, causing it to change how hormones are used or released into the body.
The first symptom is often thinning fur, especially on the tail or at the shoulders. Other symptoms are weight loss, inability to gain weight, pot belly, muscle wasting, enlarged nipples, aggression toward other ferrets, itching more than normal, enlarged vulva, and difficulty urinating for males (swollen prostate-dribbling, straining, pain when urinating). The tumors are usually non-cancerous; but can become cancerous if not treated. If not taken care of, the ferret will get more and more uncomfortable over time and eventually have a painful death.
There are four forms of treatment – melatonin implants, Suprelorin (Des) implants, Lupron injections, and surgery.
A Melatonin implant is a small plastic piece injected under the skin like a microchip. This gives off medication every day that slows the progress of adrenal disease and treats the symptoms. It lasts up to four months. Some people, including me, believe it can help prevent adrenal disease. Most ferrets respond to this implant.
A Suprelorin implant is hardened medication that is injected under the skin like a microchip. It also gives off medication daily. The implant lasts seven months. (It may last longer, but there’s no way to know. So, best to do another implant at seven months.) It slows the progress of the adrenal disease and treats the symptoms. Many people, including me, believe it prevents adrenal disease if started at a very young age. About 70% of ferrets respond to this.
A Lupron injection lasts one to three months. It starts working faster than the implants and is good at stopping symptoms and slowing the progress of the disease. It works on most ferrets. It is not recommended to use the four month version, as it doesn’t actually last four months.
If the ferret is otherwise healthy, adrenal surgery can be done. It’s preferred to do surgery when they are closer to five years old. Surgery removes the left adrenal gland, so the problem is removed until the right adrenal gland becomes affected. It is still recommended to continue treatment for adrenal disease to keep the right adrenal gland from being affected or to slow down the progress of the disease on the right.
If the right adrenal gland is affected, most vets cannot remove it. The vena cava artery surrounds the right gland and it’s very hard to do the surgery. It is complicated and dangerous. There’s a 75% chance the left gland is affected. If surgery is done and the right adrenal gland is affected, the vet nearly always goes ahead and removes the left adrenal gland because it is just a matter of time before the left is affected.
Once the left adrenal gland is removed, the right adrenal gland has to work harder. This increases the chance of it getting adrenal disease. That’s one of the reasons for waiting to do adrenal surgery until they’re closer to five years old, unless the symptoms warrant doing surgery sooner.
This is a great link that explains about adrenal disease. https://us.virbac.com/home/health-topics/adrenal-disease.htmlZoey is a perfect example of the hair loss associated with Adrenal Disease