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Older Ferret And Concerns About Adrenal Gland Disease

How is adrenal gland disease diagnosed and what are the best treatment options for it in senior ferrets?

By Karen Rosenthal, DVM, MS
Posted: June 1, 2012, 8 a.m. EDT

Q: My two ferrets and I moved to British Columbia. They are not as familiar here with ferrets; my veterinarian is four hours away near Vancouver. My female, 6+ years old ferret is about as small and skinny (year-round) as they come. She recently developed a swollen vulva, but no other symptoms of adrenal gland disease. She is as active as can be. I take my ferrets out on leashes quite frequently. Tomorrow I have a veterinarian appointment to have her looked at. I rescued Meashe and her “brother” (not positive they are blood) just over three years ago. He died within three months of a large, inner tumor. The vet didn’t recommend surgery. I don’t want to put Meashe through surgery at her age (she went gray over a year ago, but I also moved around the time she turned silvery). My ferrets eat a mix of two pretty high-end ferret foods. Other than a bit of Ferretone vitamins (a treat when they come to their squeaky toy) they don’t get human food, other than a lick of fruit now and then. Can a medication be used to treat Meashe? As far as I know this is the first sign of adrenal gland disease in Meashe. Bandit is about 4 now; also a rescue with no background information. Can adrenal disease be spotted by a physical? My ferrets are a huge part of my life and in some ways my community. I often take them to the park and children come to pet them. They travel with me to and from family; my four grandchildren are delighted when we show up.

A: As you probably know, because you sound very ferret-knowledgeable, adrenal gland disease in ferrets is very common. Some people might say at least 50 percent of ferrets, if they live long enough, will develop this disease. Adrenal gland disease can be treated by two methods — medication or surgery. If you do not want to attempt surgery, a variety of medications are available for treatment.

Before starting medication treatment for adrenal gland disease in your ferret, you need to find a ferret-knowledgeable veterinarian in your area. If one is not available, then an alternative is to find a veterinarian who is interested in working with you and suggest to that veterinarian that they “consult” with ferret-knowledgeable veterinarians. This can be done via phone consults or through Internet consults on veterinarian-based websites.

Adrenal gland disease can usually be diagnosed during a physical examination of a ferret, but sometimes blood tests are also necessary to confirm the diagnosis. During phone or Internet consults, your veterinarian can learn which medications are available, how to administer them, what side effects to look for and how to best monitor your ferret.

Some of the choices for medication include pills, liquids and long-term injectable medications that act to counter the hormones produced by the abnormal adrenal glands. No medications will cure adrenal gland disease, but the medications act to decrease the signs of disease.

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