The Pet Tree House - Where Pets Are Family Too : Ferret Adrenal Disease The Pet Tree House - Where Pets Are Family Too : Ferret Adrenal Disease

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Ferret Adrenal Disease

Picture of ferret
Tumors of the adrenal gland in ferrets can cause excess secretion of sex hormones, thus affecting many organs in the body. Unfortunately, this is a relatively common problem in middle aged and older ferrets. Even though most of these tumors are not malignant, they can cause significant disease if left untreated.

Dogs and cats get a problem similar to this, although it acts and is treated differently. In dogs and cats it is due to an excess secretion of cortisone, not sex hormones. In these species it is called Cushing’s disease.

At the very end of this page is a QuickTime video of part of a surgery to remove cancerous adrenal glands and cancerous nodules on the pancreas. You will need QuickTime from to be able to view it.

This disease involves reproductive hormones. In a normal ferret, a hormone from the hypothalmus in the brain,  called gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) causes stimulation of luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) from the pituitary gland. These hormones stimulate the release of estrogen and testosterone from the gonads. A very sensitive negative feedback loop maintains just the right amount of estrogen and testosterone. This sensitive balance is upset in adrenal disease of ferrets.

The exact reason this tumor arises is not completely unknown. It is seen more often in the U.S. than in Great Britain, where different breeding and husbandry practices are utilized. It is speculated that diet, exposure to sunlight, and neutering are all factors, with neutering being the most important one.

Ferrets breed seasonally, causing variation in melatonin release with varying daylight. Less daylight means more melatonin and a thick haircoat. This higher level of melatonin eventually exerts a negative feedback on the release of the sex hormones estrogen and testosterone. When ferrets are spayed and neutered the negative feedback is disrupted, more of these sex hormones are secreted than is normal, and clinical signs develop.

The three main types of adrenal lesion encountered are:
Nodular hyperplasia that occurs 56% of the time
adrenocortical adenoma that occurs 16 % of the time
adrenocortical adenocarcinoma that occurs 26% of the time

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