Ferrets suffer from various hormonal disorders. And since ferrets mature sexually quickly -- as young as four months of age -- these disorders tend to show early in life.
In hyperadrenocorticism, the adrenal cortex overproduces the ferret's sex hormones -- progesterone, testosterone, and estrogen. This occurs in ferrets not yet spayed (or neutered) and at any age.
Symptoms and Types
The most common sight seen in ferrets affected by hyperadrenocorticism is hair loss, which begins on the tail and rump and progresses up the body, towards the head. In female ferrets, a swollen vulva and enlarged nipples may be seen. Male ferrets, on the other hand, develop an aggressive behavior and have difficulty urinating because of the enlarged prostate gland.
This disorder may sometimes severely elevate the level of estrogen in the blood, causing bone marrow suppression and a deficiency of blood cells, which can lead to several blood disorders.
Hyperplasia, adenoma, and adenocarcinoma are three grades of hyperadrenocorticism. The hormonal disorder begins as growth of cortical tissue, goes on to become a tumor and, if untreated, develops into cancer. The cancerous cells, however, do not usually spread outside the adrenal gland.
Blood tests (concentrating on the ferret's hormonal levels) are used to diagnose this Hyperadrenocorticism. An enlarged gland on an Ultrasound can also be a good indicator of the disorder.
The veterinarian may recommend removing the cortex in both adrenal glands. However, this is only done in extreme cases, as the adrenal glands produce other hormones which are vital to the ferret. If the glands are removed, the veterinarian may prescribe hormone supplements, such as melatonin, to treat hair loss and other symptoms which can arise.
Spaying (or neutering) your young ferret before it reaches sexual maturity will prevent this hormonal disorder.