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Is Adrenal Gland Disease in Ferrets Preventable?

Reducing exposure to light and monitoring blood levels for certain molecules are the primary ways to prevent the disease from developing in ferrets. Learn about these preventive measures and find out which treatments are most effective for treating the disease.

It is relatively easy to take care of ferrets. They live a long life, with most healthy ferrets reaching nine years of age. One problem that may shorten the life of the ferret is a disease that affects the adrenal gland. It can develop as early as two years of age in ferrets. There are several treatment options for adrenal disease, but the best way to prevent the progression of the disease is to screen for it at the early stages. Better yet, reduce the chances of your ferret developing the disease at all.

What is Adrenal Gland Disease?

In ferrets, the adrenal gland enlarges when the pituitary gland releases too much luteinizing hormone and follicle-stimulating hormone. This happens when the hypothalamus releases too much gonadotropin releasing hormone, which stimulates the pituitary gland to release these hormones. The disease isn’t contagious.

There are three stages of adrenal disease in ferrets. Hyperplasia is the first stage, and it is characterized by an abnormal growth on the adrenocortical tissue. The gland is functioning normally. As the gland enlarges, the tissue may develop a tumor that is benign. This is the second form of the disease. The third form is a malignant tumor, which prevents the gland from functioning normally.

Reduce Exposure to Light

One of the causes of increased concentration of the gonadotropin releasing hormone is exposure to light. Light stimulates the pineal gland, which is extremely sensitive in ferrets. The pineal gland prepares the reproductive system for reproduction in ferrets by stimulating the hypothalamus, which releases the gonadotropin releasing hormone. By reducing the amount of light the ferret is exposed to, pineal gland activity decreases. You can use dark shades on windows and turn off bright lights in the room with the ferret.

Test Blood for Adrenal Disease Frequently

Preventing adrenal gland disease in ferrets is not a realistic goal, but there are ways to prevent the disease from progressing to late stages. Early detection of the disease is key. To do this, regular blood tests for detecting adrenal disease is recommended before the age of two. The test should measure the levels of several chemicals including cortisol, 17 OH Progesterone, Estradiol, Androstenadione, and DHEAS. Abnormal levels may indicate a problem with the adrenal glands. Further testing involving x-rays is required to arrive at a diagnosis.

Symptoms

If preventative lab tests are done on a regular schedule, it should detect a disease affecting the adrenal gland before symptoms become noticeable. Hair loss on the tail that spreads to other parts of the ferret is a common sign. Muscle loss and orange skin are two more symptoms of the disease.

Treatment Options

Treatment is dependent on the type of disease affecting the adrenal gland. Surgery is used in most cases. Removal of the diseased gland usually cures the ferret. Pet ferrets that are too old, or have other medical conditions, may not be treated with surgery. These ferrets are usually treated with lupron therapy , which is a medication that reduces the activity of the pituitary gland. Another option is melatonin treatment. It is designed to prevent the release of gonadotropin releasing hormone from the hypothalamus.

Ferrets are susceptible to developing adrenal disease, but you can reduce the chances of your ferret getting sick by limiting its exposure to light. Catching the disease in its earliest form, and treating it appropriately, is the best way to prevent the disease from progressing. Several treatment options are available, so consult a vet to determine the best course of action.

Reference

1. “Adrenal Disease.” Ferret University. http://www.ferretuniverse.com/ health/adrenal.asp#lupron

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