Adrenal gland disease is a common malady in older ferrets. However, the earlier the illness is caught and managed, the higher quality of life your ferret can have.
While there are multiple factors that influence the development of the disease, some are thought to be more prevalent. When ferrets are desexed too young, speculation would suggest adrenal gland disease is developed during the ferret’s attempt to compensate for low hormones. Current ideology is that exposure to artificial light is the most considerable factor to the illness. In nature, a ferret is exposed to changing amounts of light throughout the year with the changing seasons. Overexposure to light interferes with ferrets’ production of certain hormones, such as melatonin, from the constant stimulation of the adrenal glands. With continued overexposure, the adrenal glands can begin to become problematic and can start to develop tumors.
Like with any illness, knowing the symptoms to look out for is the key to early intervention. Common early signs of adrenal disease are hair loss, notably located on the base of tail, stomach, and paws, abnormal itching, and weight loss. These symptoms are typical of both genders, however, males and females can also have unique symptoms. Males are sometimes seen with enlarged testicles, which can cause sterilization, along with enlarged prostate that can cause problems urinating. Alternatively, females can present with a sudden enlarged or swollen vulva, even when not in heat. Other prevalent symptoms can be excessive fatigue, loss of appetite, thin skin, itching, skin sores, excessive grooming of self or others, hind leg weakness, increased thirst and urination, sexual aggression, and weight loss. If a ferret owner notices any symptoms, it is vital to have the ferret examined by a knowledgeable vet.
There are currently no specific tests to diagnose adrenal disease. Nonetheless, an experienced vet can perform different tests to pinpoint the cause of a ferrets symptoms. The first step is often to rule out other common illnesses such as urinary tract infections and lymphoma. Blood tests are used to check for elevated hormones and low blood sugar levels. Ultrasounds and x-rays are used to check the adrenal glands, spleen, and liver. After a diagnosis is made, prompt treatment is the next step in getting your ferret feeling better.
Surgery and medicines are both possible treatments for adrenal disease. Surgically removing the affected adrenal glands is the most effective treatment, but in some cases, it may not be the safest option. If deemed inoperable, there are many medications that can aid in managing the disease. There are both injections and oral medications used, depending on the unique scenario. Most medications used, such as Arimidex and Flutamide, lower different hormones in the ferret which can alleviate symptoms. Other medications such as melatonin are focused solely on easing symptoms to improve quality of life.
Luckily, the prognosis for treated ferrets is a positive one with a relatively normal life. However, untreated ferrets will experience many complications and daily difficulties. Some instances with the presence of malignant tumors, there is an increased chance of shorter life expectancy. In any case, the most important thing is to ensure your ferret has the best life possible.