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Liquid Melatonin Versus Other Adrenal Treatments

Is liquid melatonin an effective treatment for adrenal gland disease in ferrets?

By Karen Rosenthal, DVM, MS
Posted: November 1, 2011, 5 a.m. EDT

Q: I have a 3-year-old, female ferret (Paige). I took her to my vet that my wife and I have been going to for the past 11 years. Our first visit was due to Paige having an enlarged vulva and weight loss. Our vet gave her the Ferretonin implant and it worked great; she gained her weight back and her swollen vulva disappeared. This lasted for approximately six months. I took her back for another implant. This time I had to leave her overnight. When I picked her up the next morning I looked for the site. The first site had to be glued and was very noticeable, but I could not find this one. I asked the tech if she was sure Paige got the implant instead of the distemper. I only asked because there was some confusion at check out. She stated that Paige indeed got the implant. Long story short, Paige never got any better and is now losing her hair on her head, shoulders and belly. She also has swollen nipples (for lack of a better word). She looks like she is pregnant without the weight gain. I have looked into Lupron, which is very expensive. I love my ferrets, but it is now starting to become a financial matter. I was told to try liquid melatonin. Do you have any suggestions?

A: Adrenal gland disease is so common in ferrets that ferret owners almost need to start an “adrenal gland disease treatment fund” when their ferret is young. OK, maybe that is a slight exaggeration, but current treatment protocols for adrenal gland disease can strain the pocket book if you are not prepared for it.

When implanted melatonin is effective against adrenal gland disease signs, it is a convenient way to treat this disease. But it is extremely important to remember that only surgery has a chance of curing this disease, medical treatment only “hides” the signs of disease.

Studies have shown that oral melatonin does not have the same effect as the long-acting depot injection. It is unlikely oral melatonin will help your ferret. I would also not recommend using that without the supervision of a veterinarian.

The other depot injection you mentioned, Lupron, has a different mechanism of action than melatonin and, for that reason, it may help mask the signs of disease even though melatonin no longer appears effective for your ferret. In some ferrets, the effect of the depot injections of Lupron only lasts for a couple of months, in other ferrets, it can last up to a year. If the Lupron depot lasts that long in your ferret, then the cost is much less than you might anticipate.

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