Adrenal Disease in Ferrets

Adrenal Disease in Ferrets
By Emily Hoppmann, DVM
What is Adrenal Disease?
Adrenal disease or adrenal associated endocrinopathy is one of the most common diseases of middle aged to older ferrets. The disease syndrome is cause by a tumor of the adrenal gland which secretes excessive amounts of estrogen, testosterone, and/or other hormones. This excessive hormone production is the cause for clinical signs, and can lead to life threatening health problems if left unchecked.
What are the signs of adrenal disease?
The disease syndrome is characterized by hair loss beginning at the base of the tail and gradually spreading forward along the shoulders and back. Behavioral changes may also be seen which include aggression, along with increased mounting and marking behavior. Reproductive abnormalities include vaginal discharge and vulvar swelling in female ferrets along with straining to urinate in males. Chronic cases may show increased bruising, muscle wasting, lethargy, and hind end weakness.
How is adrenal disease diagnosed?
In most cases, diagnosis is made by clinical signs. In cases where clinical signs are not conclusive, a hormone panel measuring estrogen and estrogen precursors is available. Ultrasound of the abdomen may also help to diagnose this disease and see which adrenal gland, or if both, are affected.
How do you treat adrenal disease in ferrets?
Treatment of adrenal disease consists of both surgical and medical options. Surgical removal of the affected adrenal gland is the most permanent fix. Most cases have only one adrenal gland affected and necessitate removal of the affected gland. In some cases, both adrenal glands are affected and may need to be removed. Depending on which adrenal gland is affected, sometimes surgery is not an option due to the location of the right adrenal gland to the main vessels in the abdomen.
There are several different options for medical therapy. Treatment consists of drug therapy which blocks production of both estrogen and testosterone. Some injections must be administered every 30 days and there are also implants that can be placed and replaced when they are no longer helping control the clinical signs. In general, medical therapy helps with hair re-growth and decrease in lethargy, but does not limit tumor growth and the potential for metastasis to other organs.
What should I expect with surgical management?
In most cases, removal of the tumor usually results in hair re-growth and cessation of clinical signs within 2-6 weeks. Absence of clinical signs for 6 months to 1 year is the average due to tumor re-growth or the other adrenal gland becoming affected. Due to its proximity to major blood vessels, the right adrenal gland cannot be removed completely and the tumor may reoccur.