Q: I have a small, albino, Marshall’s ferret that is 4 years old. She lost all of her fur except on her face, and her vulva was distended. This fall and winter the distension went away, and she grew back all of her fur but on her tail. Now she has the distended vulva again. Could she have adrenal gland disease? How is it treated and how long will she need to be treated? She still eats, drinks, poops and pees normally. She is also very playful, like nothing bothers her.
A: You are describing some classic signs of adrenal gland disease in ferrets. It is one of the most common ferret diseases and estimates are that possibly up to 50 percent of pet ferrets may get this disease, if they live long enough.
In most female ferrets, the vulva enlarges. And in both males and females, fur loss is very common. What we see occur in some ferrets, not all, is that the disease seems to regress in late summer/early fall. The signs go away, meaning the hair grows back and the vulva shrinks back to almost-normal size. Then in late winter/early spring, the signs recur and continue to get worse as spring continues. The second time around in late summer, though, the signs usually do not usually go away, they continue to get worse.
If your ferret does have adrenal gland disease, a number of treatment choices are available for you to consider. Surgery to remove the adrenal gland can be curative. But surgery is not easy and must be performed by a veterinarian skilled in ferret surgery who knows how to treat ferrets before, during and after surgery.
Medications are also used to treat this disease. For many owners, this is an excellent choice. Some medications are given orally but the majority of owners chose long-term depot injections that can last from a few to many months.
The good news is that for most ferrets, this is a disease that is mostly cosmetic in appearance and does not cause pain or serious, life-threatening disorders if treated. And if you treat this disease early, your ferret should do well and remain playful and happy.