Q: Our 4-year-old ferret has lost all his hair on his tail and back. He seems fine otherwise, though. I bought some ferret vitamins that I now squeeze onto his food. I have been giving him the vitamins for six weeks and, while he stopped losing the fur, it has yet to grow back. Is there some kind of allergy that may be causing this?
A: It appears that your ferret may have adrenal gland disease. This common condition often affects ferrets over 3 years of age and is seen in both males and females. It is caused by an overproduction of hormones by the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands are two small paired organs that lie adjacent to the kidneys in the ferret’s abdomen. A portion of the gland called the adrenal cortex can develop either hyperplasia (excess numbers of cells) or a tumor resulting in the overproduction of sex steroid hormones. Hyperplasia is a benign process but if a tumor is present, it can be benign or malignant. The hormone excess leads to hair loss, most commonly on the tail and rump, but eventually, can lead to complete hair loss or alopecia. More seriously, male ferrets with adrenal disease can develop prostatic enlargements or cysts, which can cause life-threatening urinary tract obstruction.
Diagnosis of this condition is straightforward. Your veterinarian will suspect this condition based on the ferret’s clinical appearance. The presence of a tumor can often be confirmed by abdominal palpation. Blood tests and ultrasound are further tools that can be used if necessary.
Several treatment options exist for adrenal gland disease. Sometimes a ferret will lose hair and it will resolve without any treatment at all. The hair loss may occur seasonally, but then eventually fail to re-grow. Have your veterinarian examine any ferret with hair loss to confirm the diagnosis and to also check for other conditions such as insulinoma and heart disease that are commonly seen with this condition. You can then decide if treatment is necessary. Many ferrets are successfully cured with surgery, although you can also elect to try to control the condition with medication.
[doctor name=”Frank Boren”]
Q: My daughter has been clamoring to get a ferret as a pet. What do you think of ferrets as pets? If we should get a pet ferret is there any special care involved in taking care of it? Any tips you can provide would be helpful. Thank you for your time.
A: Ferrets are playful, lively animals that make great pets. The scientific name of this small carnivore is Mustela purorious furo. They have been domesticated for over 2000 years, mainly to hunt rabbits and control rodents. The majority of ferrets in the United States are kept as house pets.
Ferrets are usually housed in cages but should be allowed out for exercise periods. Because of their inquisitive nature, ferrets will explore any small opening and can disappear into furniture and behind walls, so make sure to block any escape routes in their exercise area. Although they love to play, ferrets are attracted to latex and foam rubber and will often chew toys made of these materials resulting in a fatal intestinal obstruction. Make sure to provide toys that they cannot chew up.
Feeding guidelines for ferrets are somewhat controversial. Ferrets are obligate carnivores and require a high fat, meat-based diet. The food should be high in protein and easily digestible. Although numerous commercial diets are available, many veterinarians are concerned that the carbohydrate content in some of these diets can contribute to pancreatic problems, including the development of beta cell cancer or insulinoma. Look for a food that is at least 30% crude protein and 15% to 20% fat with minimal or no grain or vegetable matter. Avoid treats that contain corn syrup and molasses.
The current recommendation is to have your ferret vaccinated against canine distemper virus (CDV) and rabies. CDV is a deadly contagious disease that can be transmitted directly from dogs to ferrets or by clothing or shoes that have contacted infectious material. A young ferret can be protected by administering a series of vaccines with annual booster as an adult. It is important to use the ferret vaccine rather than one of the vaccines developed for dogs. A rabies vaccine approved for use in ferrets should also be administered annually. This is also a good time to have a physical exam performed on your ferret to detect any problems. If you choose a ferret as a pet, I would recommend reading one of the many good books available that discuss ferret care in greater detail.
[doctor name=”Frank Boren”]