One of the most common diseases of ferrets is adrenal gland disease. It is usually seen in middle aged and older ferrets (3-7 years of age). The cause is unknown but there is likely a genetic predisposition in domestic ferrets. The most common sign of adrenal disease in ferrets is hair loss. Females may have an enlarged vulva, and males may develop problems urinating due to prostate enlargement. Sometimes ferrets will be itchy with adrenal disease. Weight loss and a "pot bellied" appearance may be noticed. Some ferrets may have behavioral changes like aggression. All these symptoms are due to hormonal changes.
The physical changes associated with adrenal gland disease are fairly specific to the disease. Tests to confirm it may include abdominal ultrasound and measuring blood levels of adrenal gland hormones. Treatments include a special dissolvable implant under the skin (administered yearly by a veterinarian), melatonin, and occasionally surgical removal of adrenal glands if other treatments fail.
If you own ferrets, it is important to watch for early signs of adrenal disease (symmetrical hair loss, "rat tail", itching) so it can be managed before the disease becomes severe. For more information, or if you suspect that your ferret may be showing symptoms, please see your ferret veterinarian.