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Adrenal Gland Disease

Q - What is Adrenal gland disease? What are the symptoms and what can I do for my ferret?
A - Adrenal gland disease refers to a growth, tumor or cancer cells, of the adrenal gland. The most common sign of adrenal disease is hair loss. Female ferrets will often show signs of an enlarged labia, resulting from too much estrogen production by the adrenal gland. Male ferrets will have difficulty urinating due to an enlarged prostate gland, resulting from high hormone levels. If untreated, death will occur. Treatment may be either medical or surgical.


Q - I currently have an albino ferret; male, approx. 5 1/2 years old named Finn. Until recently, he had a companion, Darwin. We adopted both about 1 1/2 years ago, but not at the same time. Within the past 6 months, both started to have hair loss around their tail, so my vet did surgery to check their adrenal glands. Finn's were OK, however, Darwin had adrenal gland disease on his right side, so there was nothing the vet could do as it was not possible to remove the adrenal gland. We did order Lupron and had started him on it; however, he passed within the last 2 weeks.
We got Darwin, as we have a farm & other animals, and since ferrets are so social, thought it best Finn had a companion, as we're quite busy. I have the largest size cage that I could find and always tried to make sure that the boys had a couple of hours outside the cage each day. Darwin was always the more active. They played more when first introduced, however, Finn is more sedate and within that 6 month time frame has become more content to sleep.
Finn still has never re-grown the hair around his tail, so the vet & I are talking about putting him on Lupron.
Also, I'm concerned about his inactivity. With Darwin's passing, I let him out, but he usually just goes back to sleep, so in the evening, I put him on my lap while I watch TV as I thought the contact might be of some comfort to him. Anyway, I was wondering if you had any helpful thoughts on the matter, and if getting another companion for Finn might be helpful. If so, might you have any potential adoptees that would be a good fit, or would another active ferret be too overwhelming for Finn at this stage in his life?

A - I have ferrets here that have had both adrenal glands removed. It is called a bilateral, and the ferrets are doing well. You can remove the right adrenal gland successfully.
  Lupron works if the ferret does not have any other underlying medical issues. If they do, Lupron can (in my experience) accelerate their death. Finn's lack of hair growth most likely means he is adrenal.
  More than likely Finn is still grieving, he is in ferret years 66 yrs old. At this stage in his life I do not expect he would accept a friend without causing him much stress and possible ulcers. Has he had his Blood Glucose checked for insulinoma? He may have low blood sugar which could cause this as well. His age would indicate that be a possibility.
  I believe some of what you are seeing in Finn is low blood sugar (insulinoma). At this stage in Finns life I think we need to determine what his medical issues are before we look into stressing him more with a new friend.

Response - Finn's vet was going to try & remove the right adrenal, however, she said it was too risky due to it's location to the veins in that area (she was also in contact w/ Cornell's expert about it.)
  Since I have an upcoming appt, I will certainly take Finn in & get his blood work done.
  What would be your suggestion/recommendation concerning Lupron for him?

A - A right adrenal gland removal is more complicated than the left. However the ferret knowledgeable vet I use: Dr. Alan Edwards at Brockport Animal Hospital does right sided adrenal gland removal all the time. Like I have said, I have a few bilateral, meaning no adrenal glands, kids here. I have several vets I can recommend.
  A blood glucose (BG) test is all you really need. It is not necessary to do a complete blood count (CBC) to know if he has insulinoma. His numbers should be between 95 and 120. They may tell you to fast him. I would be careful doing that if you do not have a base line blood glucose (BG).
  In regards to the Lupron, you first need to ask what dose they are using so you know if it is every 30 days or every 3 months injection. Getting the name of the manufacture would be wise as well. There is also a new procedure: deslorelin acetate implants. Here is the full report in full PDF format of this study for you to look over. I am more inclined to go with this than the Lupron because this does not tend to accelerate any underlying medical issues.

Q - Six months ago I found out Vinnie has adrenal gland disease and chose not to have surgery or other treatment because of different reasons. Now Vinnie is very lethargic, thin and almost hairless. It's breaking my heart and I think I need to put him down. Vinnie and his buddy Cicero who is also five used to play and sleep together but haven't in months. Wondering if you could tell me what your experience with this disease has been. The vets around here (Skaneateles, NY, near Syracuse) don't treat it. Would have had to go to Cornell for surgery. Now I am regretting I didn't try. So hard to find other people who understand ferrets. Is there any place like yours near me? Thank you for your time and all your good work with these adorable animals.

A - There is no need to put Vinnie down if indeed it has only been 6 months. The lethargy is most likely due to insulinoma not the adrenal disease. We need to address this because he is going to end up with prostate issues and die a very painful death if we do not. Why is Vinnie not hanging out with Cicero any more? Adrenal disease is a when, not if, so this is not a glitch in his life or yours it is a given for ferrets. There are no ferret knowledgeable vets up in your neck of the woods, that is true. Shelter friends up your way go to Dr Edwards in Brockport, NY. There are no shelters up near you either - but I know you will be pleased with Dr Edwards if you give him a try. I have friends that come up from the Bronx to bring their fur kids to him.

Response - Brenda, Thank you so much for responding to my email so quickly. I have an appt. with Dr. Edward tomorrow afternoon. I will let you know how we make out.

Update -Hi Brenda, Dr. Edward says Vinnie definitely has adrenal gland disease and with a blood test of only 3 hours fasting, he thinks he does have insulinoma too. He will be performing surgery on him tomorrow afternoon. I had to leave him overnight and am worried he is scared, but hope he is too tired from the trip there to care. Thought Dr. Edward was great and hope he can help restore Vinnie to his sweet healthy self. Thank you again for helping me get help for Vinnie.

Further reading:
Ferret Adrenal Glands by the Veterinary Information Network, Inc.
Clinical and endocrine responses to treatment with deslorelin acetate implants in ferrets with adrenocortical disease. by Wagner RA, Piché CA, Jöchle W, Oliver JW., published in the American Journal of Veterinary Research, May 2005. Full PDF report of study here.
Ferret Adrenal Disease by Long Beach Animal Hospital. Please note this article contains pictures of active surgery procedures on ferrets.
Miami Ferret has multiple articles to view by clicking on the 'Adrenal Disease' link on the left of the page.


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