In the last column I talked about the spring breeding season. Spring is also the time of the year when a lot of ferret owners first notice the signs of adrenal gland disease in their pet.
The breeding season for ferrets starts near the end of winter and lasts through most of the summer. The same hormones that control the breeding season (GnRH and LH) can stimulate the adrenal glands in pet ferrets that have already been spayed or neutered. The adrenal glands can produce sex hormones and androgens. These hormones cause the hair loss, itchy skin, swollen vulva (females), enlarged prostate (males), increased musky body odor, and other signs of adrenal gland disease. Unfortunately adrenal gland disease is very common in pet ferrets.
I recently became part of a clinical trial to see if an “adrenal vaccine” can prevent adrenal disease. The lead investigator is Dr. Robert Wagner from the University of Pittsburgh. Dr Mark Finkler from Virginia Tech is also part of this clinical trial. The “adrenal vaccine” is actually a GnRH vaccine that causes the ferret to develop antibodies against GnRH. This will prevent GnRH from stimulating LH production. Without LH production, the adrenal glands are not stimulated, and hopefully the adrenal glands will not overproduce hormones or develop cancer. The preliminary data looks good so far, but it will take a few more years to have enough ferrets vaccinated and a long enough time to pass to see if they develop adrenal disease or not.
The other new product for adrenal disease is the Suprelorin implants. These implants contain a GnRH agonist (deslorelin) that lowers GnRH and LH production. Again without LH stimulating the adrenal glands, the adrenal glands should not overproduce the hormones. These implants last for roughly one year. In addition to using these implants for treatment of adrenal disease, they possibly might also be used to help prevent adrenal disease. The current suggestion is to implant a young kit when the kit is a just a few months old, and then repeat yearly for the rest of the ferret’s life. Now we have two options that might help prevent the most common disease of ferrets, which is exciting stuff for us ferret owners and ferret vets!
My next column will cover two recent cases with pet prairie dogs.