Though they are typically seen as rough and tumble, ready for action little animals, ferrets unfortunately have quite a few health concerns that can pop up as they age. One of the most common elements for our weasley friends has to be adrenal disease. Though scary, there are things you can do to help ensure your pet recovers and measures you can take to lower the chances of them contracting the disorder, as well.
In a healthy ferret, the adrenal gland is a vital part of their hormonal release process. These hormones control a wide range of basic bodily functions and help keep your pet healthy and feeling their best.
Present mostly in middle age ferrets between three and seven years of age, adrenal disease presents itself when these glands produce a high level of sex hormones, resulting in an imbalance. Overgrowth of the glands may also be present, along with tumors.
There are a wide variety of different causes of adrenal disease in ferrets. When a ferret experiences any damage to the adrenal glands, adrenal disease can begin to form. This damage can be caused by anything ranging from tumors to poor diet and cortisol production.
When your veterinarian checks your ferret for adrenal disease, they will likely take some blood and check for low blood sugar and elevated levels of estradiol and androstenedione, steroids that are commonly associated with adrenal disease.
They may also perform checks for cysts in your pet’s genital tract and check to see if your pet’s spleen and liver are enlarged. They will also likely take a look at your pet’s general medical history, as overuse of sex hormones as a medical treatment to assist with breeding can contribute to adrenal disease, as well.
Generally, the symptoms of adrenal disease include:
- Female genital swelling
- Male prostate swelling and urination issues
- Hair loss on the tail and rump area (known as alopecia)
- Increased male sexual aggression
- Loss of appetite
- Muscle atrophy
- Skin thinning
- Drastic weight loss
Once your veterinarian confirms that your ferret has adrenal disease, the next step is usually to remove the adrenal glands to prevent the condition from worsening and becoming life threatening. In some cases, the ferret is not healthy enough to undergo the procedure; in these cases the veterinarian will usually give advice to keep the pet comfortable.
A secondary option for those not healthy enough to undergo the procedure or who’s owners decide against the invasive procedure is to have a medication administered regularly that suppresses certain hormonal production cycles to prevent the formation of further issues.
Other than that, you will need to follow up with your veterinarian regularly to ensure that the treatments were successful and that your pet’s adrenal issues have remained in remission.
Additionally, there may be some other procedures that must be performed like cyst removal and tumor remediation. Luckily, tumors on the adrenal gland do not typically metastasize, meaning they are not likely to spread and are not as urgent to remove as those in other parts of the body.
Some veterinarians will also offer treatments like melatonin supplementation, lupron acetate administration, and desolorin implantation to help treat the symptoms and prevent the worsening of adrenal disease. These options, aside from melatonin, are also effective measures in preventing the formation of the disease in the first place, as well.
It seems that there is a treatment that could potentially assist in lowering the risk factor of your pet developing adrenal disease in the first place. These regular injections can greatly decrease the risk by lowering the presence of the harmful hormone levels and balancing out the production.
Lupron acetate, also just called Lupron, can make a massive impact by mimicking a compound known as gonadotropin releasing hormone. This mimicry results in the body thinking there is an adequate amount of gonadotropin releasing hormone in the body, resulting in the adrenal gland being stimulated less frequently and reducing the risk of overproduction.
These injections must be administered regularly in a timely manner in order to be effective. For males, they should receive a dose of Lupron each January. Females should have one in mid-February or mid-March. The shot must be given every year for the rest of your ferret’s life aside from those that have received a deslorelin implant in the last eighteen months. These shots can be started at any time and can be administered as early as six months of age.
Are human adrenal medications effective in treating ferrets? Unfortunately, human medications that have been proven effective in other animals like dogs and cats have not been successful in treating ferret adrenal disease. Mitotane, Streptozcin, Ketoconzole, and other similar medications have little impact on the progression and development of adrenal disease and have caused some negative side effects in a moderate population of ferrets, resulting in their testing being discontinued.
This lack of impact is caused by the fact that these medications target a different area of the adrenal cortex than what is effected by ferret adrenal disease, rendering it useless in helping the disorder in any way.
Does diet play a role in the formation of adrenal disease? Absolutely! Feeding your pet a healthy diet will help keep it generally healthy and feeling better. It also increases its body’s function and lowers the risk of the hormonal issues happening in the first place. Furthermore, ensuring your pet is getting high quality, protein filled food will help keep their body ready to fight off infections and other issues.
Freeze dried meats and high quality, grain free kibble style foods are great, as are filler free cat foods. It is important to ensure that all food is grain free and filler free since your pet cannot digest carbohydrates.
Additionally, offer lots of water and broth to make sure they are staying hydrated. Always keep their water dish full and make sure they have access to food regularly since their digestive systems are short and they are hungry more frequently than humans and other animals.
Adrenal disease is a very common disorder in domestic ferrets that you must, unfortunately, prepare yourself to face or fight against with precautionary treatments. An adrenal disease is not the end of the world nor is it a sign you have to say goodbye to your pet. You have options and many ferrets make quite a wonderful recovery with the help of a veterinarian.