Adrenal disease (AD) is a syndrome seen in ferrets who have been altered (neutered/spayed). To summarize the Adrenal Disease process: Removal of the gonads (testicles or ovaries) effectively removes the “off-switch” for the brain’s sex-hormone cycles. This results in the ferret’s brain sending excessive signals to the adrenal glands to produce sex hormones, forcing the adrenal glands to work in over-time.
The moment that a ferret is altered, the adrenal glands are forced into overdrive, putting significant strain on the adrenals. “Adrenal Disease,” as we call it in ferrets, is a syndrome – a collection of symptoms that we observe in altered ferrets as a result of their over-worked adrenal glands.
Eventually the stressed out adrenal glands become overtly diseased, and may even develop tumors. HOWEVER, symptoms of excess hormones can occur at any time in a ferret who has been altered (at ANY age), even before the glands become visibly diseased. Many vets are reluctant to acknowledge that ferrets can develop symptomatic Adrenal Disease at young ages – some even as young as a few months old. While symptomatic AD in ferrets under the age of 2 years old is far less common than in older ferrets, it does happen, and either by improvements in our knowledge and observation leading to earlier diagnosis, or by unknown changes environmental and genetic factors, we seem to be noticing more and more young ferrets developing symptoms of AD. It is always recommendable to do a thorough exam and lab work to rule out other causes of AD symptoms in a young ferret. However, you should not hesitate to consider either a 3-month trial of Lupron or (even better) a Deslorelin/Suprelorin implant if you have even a slight suspicion that your altered ferret has AD.
Note on Suprelorin F® (Deslorelin Acetate) as Prevention: While research is still in the works on just how effective the Suprelorin F® (Deslorelin Acetate) (commonly called “Des”) implant is at prevention, it is already being touted and used by many experienced ferret veterinarians and owners to help prevent symptomatic Adrenal Disease. As mentioned above, the moment that a ferret is altered, the adrenal glands are forced into overdrive, putting them under significant strain. Suprelorin F® (Deslorelin Acetate) is currently the most effective treatment option we have that actually targets the underlying hormonal process. Implantation shortly after altering is now becoming a common recommendation to help to prevent this adrenal strain. Preventive implants are done once per year. The implant is very safe, with almost no negative side effects, and may help to significantly improve your ferret’s quality of life for many years to come.
With the above information in mind, HFF strongly recommends discussing Suprelorin F® (Deslorelin Acetate) implants with your vet for all altered ferrets of any age, both as a preventive and even more so if you have even a faint suspicion of the possibility of AD symptoms developing. If you suspect that your ferret is developing early signs of Adrenal Disease, an implant will at the least help to prevent the disease if they do not yet have symptomatic AD, and at the best help to treat them and relieve their symptoms.
Because many vets (and even owners) are reluctant to acknowledge that ferrets can develop symptomatic Adrenal Disease at young ages, HFF has collected a small sample – just a few of the many cases we see – of Adrenal Disease in young ferrets to serve as an example of just how early symptoms may occur in altered ferrets. Please click on the links below to read their stories: