Today’s blog is about an animal that truly is the clown of the exotic mammal world. They are noble, smart, fearless, loving, and ever so slinky…The ferret.
Ferrets can be great pets and make wonderful, furry additions to our families. Our job at AMC is to make sure they are healthy companions for as many years as possible. To make sure they are protected from certain illnesses ferrets need vaccinations, just like dogs and cats. Also ferrets, just like cats and dogs, can be affected by certain diseases that are more common than others. In this blog we wanted to discuss a common, and sometimes under-diagnosed, disease called “Adrenal Disease”.
Adrenal disease is thought to happen when normal mechanisms in the body malfunction, resulting in overactive adrenal glands or adrenal tumors. Adrenal disease develops due to the body attempting to regulate hormones. The brain is monitoring the levels of hormones in the body at all times and is unaware that the organs responsible for making sex hormones (testosterone/estrogen) are no longer present after the ferret has been spayed or neutered. When the brain senses a lack of these sex hormones it sends a signal to the body to make more of these hormones, which it is physically unable to make—but the adrenal glands, being the most helpful of all the abdominal organs, spring into action! They respond by increasing production of their hormones and can grow uncontrollably. The brain never gets an increase in sex hormones, so it continues to signal the need for more! The adrenal glands continue to offer their (unwanted) support, and the vicious cycle continues, resulting in adrenal disease.
The reason this disease is sometimes under-diagnosed is because it can have some very subtle signs. These signs are so easy to overlook because they don’t raise much alarm for an owner that isn’t familiar with what to look for. There are many symptoms of adrenal disease, but by far the most common are hair loss and itchiness. Symptoms can range from just the slightest thinning of hair on the tail and being only slightly itchy, to progressive alopecia (hair loss) over the entire body with scratching to the point of bleeding. Other symptoms include straining to urinate in males and vulva swelling/mammary gland enlargement in females.
There are specific blood tests that can be performed to confirm adrenal disease. Furthermore an abdominal ultrasound can be performed to confirm adrenal enlargement. In some instances, when adrenal disease is strongly suspected we may decide to treat without confirmatory tests and assess the results—resolution of symptoms confirms the diagnosis of adrenal disease.
There are different types of treatments for adrenal disease: surgery to remove the enlarged adrenal gland(s), supplements designed to decrease the size of the adrenal glands, and hormone implants. In many situations, we may opt to use the hormonal implants because they are usually very effective and placement is minimally invasive. These are slow release implants (about the size of a grain of rice) that can last more than a year, and result in complete resolution of signs and a much more comfortable ferret friend.
So, don’t just comb-over that thinning ferret coat, make sure your furry, slinky family members make it in for yearly checkups to ensure they are healthy and happy. We are here to help and answer any questions that you might have!