Why is my ferret losing his hair?

Q:  Our 4-year-old ferret has lost all his hair on his tail and back. He seems fine otherwise, though. I bought some ferret vitamins that I now squeeze onto his food. I have been giving him the vitamins for six weeks and, while he stopped losing the fur, it has yet to grow back. Is there some kind of allergy that may be causing this?

A:   It appears that your ferret may have adrenal gland disease.  This common condition often affects ferrets over 3 years of age and is seen in both males and females.  It is caused by an overproduction of hormones by the adrenal glands.  The adrenal glands are two small paired organs that lie adjacent to the kidneys in the ferret’s abdomen.  A portion of the gland called the adrenal cortex can develop either hyperplasia (excess numbers of cells) or a tumor resulting in the overproduction of sex steroid hormones.  Hyperplasia is a benign process but if a tumor is present, it can be benign or malignant.  The hormone excess leads to hair loss, most commonly on the tail and rump, but eventually, can lead to complete hair loss or alopecia.  More seriously, male ferrets with adrenal disease can develop prostatic enlargements or cysts, which can cause life-threatening urinary tract obstruction.

            Diagnosis of this condition is straightforward.  Your veterinarian will suspect this condition based on the ferret’s clinical appearance.  The presence of a tumor can often be confirmed by abdominal palpation.  Blood tests and ultrasound are further tools that can be used if necessary. 

Several treatment options exist for adrenal gland disease.  Sometimes a ferret will lose hair and it will resolve without any treatment at all.  The hair loss may occur seasonally, but then eventually fail to re-grow.  Have your veterinarian examine any ferret with hair loss to confirm the diagnosis and to also check for other conditions such as insulinoma and heart disease that are commonly seen with this condition.  You can then decide if treatment is necessary.  Many ferrets are successfully cured with surgery, although you can also elect to try to control the condition with medication.

Frank C. Boren, DVM

Dr. Boren graduated from the University Of Florida School Of Veterinary Medicine and has remained on the staff of Oradell Animal Hospital since completing an internship here in small animal medicine and surgery. Dr. Boren has a special interest in exotic and zoo animal medicine. He is the veterinarian for the Bergen County Zoo and is consultant for The James A. McFaul Environmental Center in Wyckoff, New Jersey. Dr. Boren sees appointments at Oradell Animal Hospital in Paramus and at our Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey office.

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