Jenny Without Most of Her CoatI spent some time volunteering at a ferret shelter. I’ve owned ferrets for a number of years, and I had some time on my hands since I had just moved to the area. I volunteered to clean cages- as you can imagine with over 100 of the little guys it was quite a job, and had to be done three times a week. Anyway, during the course of changing the cages I got to handle quite a lot of the hobs and jills (male and female ferrets respectively), and it was certainly the high point of the experience. There was one ferret in particular who took a liking to me- her name was Jenny. Jenny was a special little girl in a number of ways, not the least of which was that she was a solitary ferret. Most ferrets prefer the company of other ferrets- a rare few prefer to be alone, or to be with humans. Four-year-old Jenny had been at the shelter for about six months since her previous owner had surrendered her because he found out she was sick- Jenny had Adrenal Disease.

Unfortunately this is far too common, many people adopt a ferret without knowing that many of our furry friends will at some point in their lives develop some serious medical conditions. One of these conditions, Adrenal Disease, is estimated to affect over 50% (some say up to 70%) of Americans Ferrets, with the majority of them being female (70% according to Dr. Williams, DVM). Adrenal disease is caused when lesions or tumors form on one or both of the adrenal glands. Typically the disease manifests itself between three and four years of age, but can happen at any time after the first year of life. The symptoms usually begin with hair loss (alopecia) on the tail, and then it works its way forward until there is just a little hair left on the neck, head, and feet. In females, the vulva will usually swell. Sometimes, you will see increased scratching, and a loss of energy. Some ferrets will drink and urinate much more than usual, develop a pot belly, anemia, or show marked weight loss. If you see these symptoms, it’s time for a visit to your vet.

The primary treatment for adrenal disease is removal of the afflicted adrenal gland. For some unknown reason the left gland accounts for the majority (over 60%) of problems. This is good news as the right adrenal is closer to several major blood vessels and is a more involved surgery. When both glands are affected, the veterinarian will usually leave a small portion of the right gland in place to continue to produce hormones and other necessary secretions. If your ferret is very old or sick, the veterinarian may prescribe medication to control (but not cure) Adrenal Disease. There’s an oral medication (Lysodren) which is given every three days for life, or monthly shots of Lupron.

Ferrets who undergo surgery may make a full recovery and live their normal lifespan (six to ten years). Ferrets without surgery or treatment may regrow their hair, but they will not get better. Untreated Adrenal Disease will continue to deteriorate your ferret’s quality of life, and they will become listless and loose muscle tone until they eventually die sooner than their natural lifespan- typically within two years. Part of being a responsible ferret owner is to make sure you get your ferret the medical care it needs.Jenny

I ended up adopting Jenny and getting her the needed surgery. Depending upon your vet this typically costs between $300 and $500- it’s a good idea to plan for this expense early with a ferret savings account. Jenny recovered from the surgery beautifully, and was a wonderful pet until she passed on three years later, she more than repaid me in love and laughter.

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"Ferret Adrenal Disease – What a Ferret Owner Should Know About a Bald Ferret" by was published on April 11th, 2008 and is listed in Ferret Care.

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Comments on "Ferret Adrenal Disease – What a Ferret Owner Should Know About a Bald Ferret": 26 Comments

  1. Ferox wrote,

    I haven’t yet been taught about Ferret Adrenal disease, but it sounds very similar to Cushings Disease in dogs.

  2. Carpet Shark wrote,

    Hiya Doc-

    Here’s a little more technical detail from a vet you may want to look over for more detail:
    Ferret Adrenal Disease

  3. Elyzium wrote,

    Many thanks for your information,
    My male(n) 4yr old ferret has shed dramatically in the last few days & with the information gleaned from your site I now know which blood tests will give me conclusive results.
    (I am very lucky to have worked in a vet lab and have a biochemistry machine at my disposal, plus an excellent team of vets underneath the lab.)
    Kindest regards from the U.K.

  4. Carpet Shark wrote,

    Hi Elyzium-

    Yes, sounds like it’s time for some tests. Know that hair loss doesn’t automatically mean it’s adrenal disease- there could be other conditions causing the hair loss and the vet visit and bloodwork is the only way to know for sure. Hope your furkid is feeling better soon, and worse case montly luprin shots aren’t that bad- they worked out fine for Jenny. Thanks for being a great pet parent and taking the time to take care of you ferret!

  5. Teresa wrote,

    Although this is an older article, coming across is gives me some information that I was looking for. I have 6 ferrets, 4 of which I adopted from a shelter. The smallest, is barely bigger than a baby ferret (she was left in her cage, without food, in 2 inches of feces before she was brought to the shelter). She had always had coarse, and thin hair, but never balding. Its finally soft, yet it’s thinning out in the shoulders to where I see her pink skin underneath. I noticed a week ago her vulva is swollen. I really had not noticed hair loss before I noticed the swelling and looked it up.

    I have owned several, several, several ferrets throughout the years and this could be my first adrenal. Hopefully everything goes well at the vet tomorrow.

    Thanks for the info 🙂

  6. Carpet Shark wrote,

    Glad we could help Teresa, keep us up to date on the vet and we’re crossing our fingers for you and your little one.

  7. Ferret Pet Insurance | Laughing Ferret wrote,

    […] they cover, particularly the most costly medical expenses I’ve seen with my ferrets over the years, Ferret Adrenal Disease and Insulinoma. Here’s what their customer service had to say: Thank you for contacting VPI Pet […]

  8. Kamila wrote,

    My vet told me the surgery was about $2000!

  9. Carpet Shark wrote,

    Kamila, find another vet, ideally one that specializes in exotics. Jenny’s surgery was about $400. Certainly not cheap, but $2000 is very high.

  10. MICHELE wrote,

    where can i find resonable and trustworthy vet care for any of theese serious surgergies in oceancounty nj or near ocean county?

  11. Carpet Shark wrote,

    Hi Michele-

    I’d do a search for local ferret shelters and see what vet they use. If you don’t have shelters in the area, you can call the Humane Society and see what they do with surrendered ferrets- those folks will usually have a good vet. Finally as a last resort you could call the vets in your area and ask about their experience. Usually if you find a vet that specializes in exotics, they are more likely to be ferret knowledgeable…

  12. Gina wrote,

    My ferret was diagnosed with adrenal disease today. After the surgery, ultrasound, xray , and all of the other “necessary” tests, my total would be $2300. I could not afford that so I told the vet I would come back. I am in NY. Can anyone recommend a place to go that I could have this surgery done for under $500. I will travel.

  13. Mary wrote,

    First off, thanks for the info!
    My 5 year old male recently lost all of the hair on his tail. I did some research and i came to the conclusion that hair loss in the tail is normal. And luckily, a few weeks later it all came back. Now, he has lost all the hair on his back, and his hind legs. He also has one dark spot near his neck, and scratches a lot. After reading your info i’ve also realized that he has been urinating an unusually large amount. Gathering all of this, i find that he has adrenal gland disease.

  14. Carpet Shark wrote,

    Hi Mary-

    Glad we could help, but of course this article is no substitute for a vet diagnosis. There are other things than can cause hair loss, be sure to have your doc confirm, and then they can help you with a course of treatment.

  15. Paul wrote,

    I am in NY also and my little guy was diaganosed with adrenal and they also said it would be 2000-2500 for the operation and there was still a small chance that it wouldn’t help because the if one gland is taken sometimes the other can’t keep up and he could die…I started him on lupron and 1 month later he stopped scratching and hair is regrowing on his tail and behind 😉 I wish I could give him the operation..just can’t afford that kind of money yet..but he is his normal sneaky self!!

  16. Carpet Shark wrote,

    Paul-

    Glad your little one is feeling better, spoil him rotten! Be sure to check out the shelters/humane society and see if you can find a better price on the surgery, also you may want to look at Pet Assure, which is a good alternative I found when we reviewed Ferret Pet Insurance (the article also includes a discount code).

  17. Anna Marie wrote,

    My story didnt have such a happy ending.. our baby has both glands affected and isnt responding to the lupron… so the vet said not worth putting any more money into it. Now I wonder how much time does that give us with her? Is there a food I can give her that might extend her time? Is it true darkness helps?

  18. Carpet Shark wrote,

    Anna Marie-

    I absolutely hate to say it, but when both glands are affected there isn’t much hope. There’s a big blood vessel in one of the glands, and you can’t remove it. When Lupron is effective we’ve seen it help extend life from 6 months to two years- of course each ferret is different and the vet is better qualified to say for sure. If both glands are affected and the Lupron isn’t helping- oh my that’s awful. Our best advice is to spoil her rotten. Darkness and quiet is comforting for them- as are lots on felt/blankets to bundle up. Keep her cool- with the option to burrow. As for food, Infant Pedialyte (check the baby aisle at the grocery store) to keep her hydrated (just not as a normal source of nutrition). Also 8in1 FerretVite can help when they won’t eat anything else, as well as Duk Soup. Also, Bob’s Gravy can be tasty to those little ones with a sour stomach. Baby food is very good too, just make sure to stick with the meat based ones, as ferrets need the high protein.

    The comments section on the insulinoma article has a lot about making their last days comfortable, and some words of support for you as well (the Rainbow Bridge is beautiful). You can read it here: ferret insulinoma.

    Finally, you can upload some pictures if you like under the contact tab- I’d be happy to put up a few for you in your own gallery on the site. So sorry Anna Marie, the little ones are just not here long enough- no matter how long that is.

  19. Cheryl VanVlack wrote,

    My son just took in a ferret that was neglected. He has no hair from neck to tail, and is very scinny. He took Moe to the vet, they said he needs to see a specialist. He goes next week. I have a question, He was fed cat food before,we have been feeding him ferret food for two weeks, he has the runs all the time. He is VERY active, a friend brings their ferret over and Moe out runs, plays harder, and even sleeps less than the other ferret. Whats up with that? Is that typical of adrenal disease?

  20. Carpet Shark wrote,

    Hi Cheryl-

    It’s great you adopted a special needs ferret, the ferret shelters have a hard time adopting out fur kids that have medical problems. Many people forget they need love too, and just want the little ones. You’re good people!

    Cat food doesn’t have the protein and nutrients that ferrets need, and can make them sick. After two weeks on ferret chow he shouldn’t be runny, you may have something else going on, and going to the specialist vet is a good idea. While hair loss can certainly indicate adrenal disease, it’s not the only cause. All of the ferrets we had that had adrenal were lethargic, not energetic. Just like people you can have a laid back or spazzy ferrets. Combined with his previous diet and intestinal trouble, it sounds like you may have something different than adrenal, or a combination of adrenal and something else. I suspect what the vet will do it take some blood and come up with your final diagnosis. When you find out for sure please pop back and comment- the vet is the only one who can tell you with certainty.

  21. Tammy wrote,

    My ferret is about 6-7 years old and most likely has adrenal disease. What is the proper treatment for a ferret of this age? She is balding on her back and very itchy, but other than that is her normal happy self! Thank you for your help!

  22. Carpet Shark wrote,

    Hi Tammy-

    Not all alopecia (hair loss) is adrenal, it would certainly be worth taking him or her to the vet to be sure. If it is adrenal disease, the treatments are usually surgery and medication. Since your furkid is already at least six years old, I’d really take time to talk to vet and see if surgery isn’t worse than the disease at this point. Monthly Lupron shots really helped Jenny. It’s really all about quality of life, a little less fur and frisky is fine, but very sick and miserable isn’t. Best wishes for you and your little one.

  23. Tammy wrote,

    I took Lucy to a vet, but they weren’t very familiar with ferrets. His opinion was adrenal, but he said I could take her to an exotic vet for treatment. I just want to know what I’m getting myself into before or if I go. Like you said, I don’t want to put her through anything that’s worse!

  24. Carpet Shark wrote,

    Hi Tammy-

    Gotcha- if it was my little one, I’d see if I could hunt down a ferret vet, and look into the monthly shots (about $40 a month if I remember right), rather than surgery. It’s not a long term fix, but at that age more I’d be more worried about the quality of life they have left, rather putting her through the stress of anesthesia and surgery. You may want to check out Pet Assure, it’s not ferret pet insurance, but you do get a 25% discount on vet services (On the home page they have a list of their participating vets). Last time I checked VPI specifically excluded adrenal disease from coverage when I did my ferret pet insurance write up. I’m always surprised when a vet suggests an exotic vet- our kids are the third most popular pet in the US, everyone should be well versed in ferrets. 😛

  25. Elizabeth wrote,

    i have a 6 year old female . She started with adrenal at 3 years and has been with implants and monthly lupron shots since then .Everything was controlled but About 8 months ago her vulva started to swell and in the last 3 months has now gone completely bald . She still eats well but os not very active. . The doctor suggested surgery at this point but I dont know if she is too weak or old at this point. Any advise?

  26. Carpet Shark wrote,

    Hi Elizabeth-

    Boy, that’s a tough one, my heart goes out to you. I’m not a vet, but if it was my little kid, I’d really have to think long and hard about a surgery. First off, they’re pretty stressful for the ferret. Second, you have to think about how long your little one has left, and if you would rather spend the time spoiling them. Our little guys usually only make it to about 7, but there are some people who have commented here that have them as old as ten. I guess what I’m trying to say is, if she was mine, I’d would probably not do the surgery, and just make her comfortable. It sounds like you’ve already gone through the treatment protocol, and have spoken to the vet. I’d contact another couple of vets to be sure, but at the end of the day you have to follow your heart.

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