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Adrenal Disease in Ferrets

What Are the Adrenal Glands?

Adrenal glands are the organs that produce and secret hormones and steroids. They are located near each kidney. Both males and females have adrenal glands.

What is Adrenal Disease?

This disease occurs when the adrenal glands overproduce sex hormones. This commonly affects ferrets and tends to appear between ages two and five. The cause is currently unknown but is thought to be a mixture of the following factors: genetics, early age of spay/neuter and housing animals in large groups.

What are the Symptoms of Adrenal Disease?

Hair loss is the most common symptom, affecting the tail, rump, flanks and chest. Itching is seen in over one-third of ferrets with adrenal disease. Their skin can begin to soften and become thin as well. Males can develop an oily coat, strong body odor, an enlarged prostate (which can lead to urinary tract infections or urinary obstructions) and even become aggressive. Females will experience vulvar enlargement.

How is Adrenal Disease Diagnosed?

Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical examination. If there is an index of suspicion of Adrenal Disease, your veterinarian will recommend a blood test to measure sex hormone levels. An abdominal ultrasound is a beneficial ancillary test. The ultrasound will allow us to determine which adrenal gland is involved.

How is Adrenal Disease Treated?

The two options available for treatment are surgical therapy and medical therapy. Medical treatment will not cure adrenal disease but has the potential to reduce clinical signs. Although most ferrets are good surgical candidates, surgical options often come with many risk factors. The choice of therapy will depend on individual cases, owners and their veterinarians.