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Adrenal Season For Ferrets

Finding new ways to fight adrenal gland disease in pet ferrets.

By Jerry Murray, DVM
Posted: May 5, 2010, 5 a.m. EDT

ferret without fur
Photo Courtesy Jerry Murray, DVM
Hair loss is one of the signs of adrenal gland disease in ferrets.

In the last column I talked about the spring breeding season. Spring is also the time of the year when a lot of ferret owners first notice the signs of adrenal gland disease in their pet.

The breeding season for ferrets starts near the end of winter and lasts through most of the summer. The same hormones that control the breeding season (GnRH and LH) can stimulate the adrenal glands in pet ferrets that have already been spayed or neutered. The adrenal glands can produce sex hormones and androgens. These hormones cause the hair loss, itchy skin, swollen vulva (females), enlarged prostate (males), increased musky body odor, and other signs of adrenal gland disease. Unfortunately adrenal gland disease is very common in pet ferrets.

I recently became part of a clinical trial to see if an “adrenal vaccine” can prevent adrenal disease. The lead investigator is Dr. Robert Wagner from the University of Pittsburgh. Dr Mark Finkler from Virginia Tech is also part of this clinical trial. The “adrenal vaccine” is actually a GnRH vaccine that causes the ferret to develop antibodies against GnRH. This will prevent GnRH from stimulating LH production. Without LH production, the adrenal glands are not stimulated, and hopefully the adrenal glands will not overproduce hormones or develop cancer. The preliminary data looks good so far, but it will take a few more years to have enough ferrets vaccinated and a long enough time to pass to see if they develop adrenal disease or not.

The other new product for adrenal disease is the Suprelorin implants. These implants contain a GnRH agonist (deslorelin) that lowers GnRH and LH production. Again without LH stimulating the adrenal glands, the adrenal glands should not overproduce the hormones. These implants last for roughly one year. In addition to using these implants for treatment of adrenal disease, they possibly might also be used to help prevent adrenal disease. The current suggestion is to implant a young kit when the kit is a just a few months old, and then repeat yearly for the rest of the ferret’s life. Now we have two options that might help prevent the most common disease of ferrets, which is exciting stuff for us ferret owners and ferret vets!

My next column will cover two recent cases with pet prairie dogs.

See all of Dr. Murray's columns>>

Posted: May 5, 2010, 5 a.m. EDT

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Adrenal Season For Ferrets

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Reader Comments
What if their scent glands are removed
Joey, Dayton, OH
Posted: 6/1/2013 10:27:44 AM
I maxed out a credit card saving my kiddo when he simultaneously got the greenies and severe adrenal disease symptoms last year at 6 (he'd had the greenies as a baby many years earlier).

We were on a cross-country trip late last year and I don't see how he could have been exposed to the greenies. Best guess is that virus can incubate for years? It pops up when the immune system is down from another disease?
The same thing happened with his cage mate in 2009. My other (late) ferret had adrenal disease and when it went cancerous, he got the greenies out of nowhere, right about the time the adrenal cancer was hitting hard.
Neither of my ferrets were ever exposed to any other animals or pet stores, except when we bought them.

Fortunately, Tufts and Angell Memorial saved my kiddo's life a few months ago. He got lupron and numerous other medications that saved him and got him through the effects of the greenies. The powdered food they gave him did wonders for his appetite and weight gain.

Back at home in Texas, he is fine. He started showing the adrenal symptoms again so I took him to the vet, who does not use Lupron. He says they get better results with melatonin in the years they've worked on ferrets.

He got a melatonin implant that has worked wonders. I noticed a little change in the second week. After two months, his fur coat is healthier looking, practically, than when he was a baby. Even with a heart murmur (vet hospitals diagnosed), he is very spry.

I've been a little jumpy since his (late) cage mate died from adrenal cancer when he was not even 4 years old.
My current one is starting to show changes in the size of his belly and ribs (even though it's difficult to tell under the ton of fur he now has, thanks to the melatonin implant).

He may just be getting fat (I've cut back his food a lot and he exercises more) but my concern here is that even though the adrenal problems have been corrected, I'm scared the old cells could already have already gone cancerous before he started adrenal treatment.

This happened to my other ferret in '09, he got a strange shape to his ribs and belly and when the vet stuck a syringe in it, it came back blood.
He did surgery and sent the sample off, which showed the greenies but apparently, there was cancer in there somewhere, he died a few months later.
I hope I don't ever lose this little guy to cancer.
thief of hearts, East TX, TX
Posted: 3/5/2012 3:24:56 PM
I like that theres people who do this kind of stuff and actually care.
jill, wpg, MB
Posted: 6/13/2010 10:47:59 AM
I can't wait to hear what happens with this new method for helping ferrets. I wish we new more about small animal medical treatments.
Hannah, Coppell, TX
Posted: 5/13/2010 1:35:52 PM
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