Q: I have two ferrets, a female and a male, and both have adrenal gland disease. The male receives Lupron injections due to not being able to void. The female, Molly, has gotten very skinny even though she eats well. She is also pawing at her face. It breaks my heart to see her this way. Should I have Molly put to sleep? She still plays a little each day, but I can’t tell if she’s suffering.
A: You are really looking at two separate issues. First, Molly may be suffering from more than adrenal gland disease. If that is true, Lupron will only help with the signs of adrenal gland disease, it will do nothing for any other potential disease conditions. Almost all ferrets with adrenal gland disease eat normally and remain normal size. They also do not paw at their face.
When you describe Molly as eating well but losing weight, I worry about a couple of conditions. First, is she really ingesting the food? If she has a dental problem, such as a tooth root abscess, she might look like she is trying to eat but, in reality, she could be spitting out her food. It is not unlike a person that needs a root canal. You want to eat because you are hungry, but it hurts to bite down so you don’t really ingest any food. It is possible that your ferret paws at her mouth because her tooth hurts.
Another explanation may be that your ferret has a gastrointestinal disease that is causing her weight loss. She may have an infection or even cancer in her gastrointestinal system, which means she is not absorbing the nutrients from the food she is eating. Therefore, she eats but still loses weight. Sometimes, ferrets with such an ailment can feel nauseous, which can make them paw at their face.
Finally, if your ferret has an insulinoma, she could be so hypoglycemic that she is nauseous and cannot eat well and is losing weight.
But to get back to your original question, when is it time to let go? This is a question that confronts all of us who care for animals. At times the decision is clear, but at other times it is horribly complex. It is impossible to remove the emotions from this decision.
I try to make it as straightforward as possible to the people I see with their pets by asking them these questions.
1. Can your ferret eat and keep food down?
2. Can your ferret urinate and defecate on its own?
3. If your ferret cannot urinate and defecate on its own, can you easily clean it daily without much discomfort on your ferret’s part?
4. Does your ferret’s illness cause pain that you can easily control with medication?
5. Is your ferret awake for at least a few hours each day?
If most of your answers to these questions are no, then it may not be fair to keep going with your ferret.