The Ferret Owners Manual

Typical Hair Loss Pattern in Adrenal Ferrets

(Note the hair loss at the base of the tail and the tops of the rear feet)

If you suspect an adrenal tumor in your ferret, male or female, it’s a good idea to get them to a vet as soon as possible. These tumors are not uncommon in ferrets and do require surgery for their removal. Unless there is another complication, such as a heart condition or other illness, the ferret should recover from the operation in short order and the hair begin to grow back in a couple of months, or after the next shedding period. Their energy level rebounds rapidly and you’d never know by watching them play that they had a 3 – 4 inch incision down their abdomen.

If your ferret is not a good surgical candidate, Lupron can eliminate many of the symptoms of the disease, such as the hair loss and itching. Usually the four month time-release form is used. The treatment is expensive, however, and does nothing to reduce or eliminate the tumor itself.

We’ve also found that Melatonin can also relieve the outward signs of an adrenal tumor in some cases. About 1/2 mg of Melatonin per pound of ferret weight, given in the early evening, will, in some cases, reverse the signs. The liquid Melatonin is the easiest to administer. We’ve found the liquid Melatonin in various concentrations at both GNC and Wal-Mart. The concentration of the liquid may vary depending on brand. Adjust the amount of the liquid to equal a 1/2 mg dose of the Melatonin for each pound that the ferret weighs. For example, if the liquid solution contains 2.5 mg/ml, you would give 0.4 ml of the liquid to a 2 pound ferret. If the concentration were 2.0 mg/ml, give 0.5 ml of the liquid. Again, I emphasis that both Lupron and Melatonin only reduce the outward signs of the tumors and do nothing to shrink the tumor. Surgery, on the other hand, can be curative.

Sometimes a young ferret will exhibit some the external symptoms of an adrenal tumor, but the swollen vulva in the female, and the sexual aggression in the male, will be due to an incomplete spay/neuter. A few cells may be missed during the spay/neuter process. These cells may migrate and attach themselves somewhere inside the ferret. There they will grow, and release hormones simulating the normal mating cycle. The male will become sexually aggressive toward any female ferrets; may proceed to “mark” his territory and generally exhibit all of the symptoms of a hob in rut. Blood tests can be done to test for excess hormones resulting from the adrenal tumor or the incomplete spay/neuter. If the outward signs are obvious enough, the vet may suggest exploratory surgery instead of the lab tests, to look at the adrenal glands and to look for reproductive tissue.

Signs of an incomplete spay or neuter will usually show up during the first year of life. A ferret much older than one year with these signs is usually suffering from an adrenal tumor.

If you have a hob, have the vet check that both testicles have descended. An undescended testicle will often become cancerous and needs to be removed as soon as possible.


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