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Adrenal Disease in Ferrets
by David Crum, DVM

What is adrenal disease?
Adrenal disease or adrenal associated endocrinopathy (AAE) is one of the most common diseases of middle aged to older ferrets. The disease syndrome is caused by a tumor of the adrenal gland which secretes excessive amounts of estrogen, testosterone and other hormones. This excessive hormone production is the cause for clinical signs and can lead to life threatening health problems if left unchecked.

What are the signs of adrenal disease?
The disease syndrome is characterized by hair loss beginning at the base of the tail and gradually spreading forward along the shoulders and back. Behavior changes may also be seen which include aggression along with increased mounting and marking behavior. Reproductive abnormalities include vaginal discharge and vulvar swelling in female ferrets along with straining to urinate in males. Chronic cases may show increased bruising, muscle wasting, lethargy and hind end weakness.

How is adrenal disease diagnosed?
In most cases, diagnosis is made by clinical signs. In cases where clinical signs are not conclusive, a hormone panel measuring estrogen and estrogen precursors is available.

How do you treat adrenal disease in ferrets?
Treatment of adrenal disease consists of both surgical and medical options. The most effective treatment option is surgical removal of the affected adrenal gland. Most cases have only one adrenal gland affected and necessitate removal of the affected gland. In some cases, both adrenal glands are affected and may need to be removed.

Medical therapy is generally reserved for when surgery can not be done or for those patients who are a poor surgical risk due to age or other medical conditions. Treatment consists of drug therapy (Lupronr) which blocks production of both estrogen and testosterone which must be administered every 30 days by an intramuscular injection. In general, medical therapy helps with hair re-growth and decrease in lethargy, but does not limit tumor growth and potential for metastasis to other organs.

What should I expect with surgical management?
In most cases, removal of the tumor usually results in hair re-growth and cessation of clinical signs within 2-6 weeks. Absence of clinical signs for 6 months to 1 year is the average due to tumor re-growth or the other adrenal gland becoming affected. Due to it's proximity to major blood vessels, the right adrenal gland can not removed completely and the tumor may reoccur.

Copyright 2007 - David Crum, DVM
Stahl Exotic Animal Veterinary Services

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