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Adrenal gland tumors are a common problem for ferrets over three years of age, though this condition can occur at almost any age.  Though rare, it has been reported that ferrets as young as one year of age have developed adrenal disease

On occasion, a ferret with adrenal associated hair loss will suddenly grow back most or all of its hair when no treatment has been provided. This does not mean the adrenal disease spontaneously disappeared.  Dr. Bruce Williams says: "Adrenal disease causes hormone imbalances which in turn cause the hair loss. The changing season also causes hormone changes, which can sometimes "balance out" the adrenal-associated ones and let the hair grow back for a while; but the underlying adrenal disorder is still there, and chances are good that the hair loss will come back again at the next coat change."

In our experience, if spontaneous remission of symptoms does occur, it will only happen one time. When the symptoms return, they will not clear up a second time.  Few ferrets experience this spontaneous remission of symptoms.  It may be that this phenomenon will only occur if a normal, seasonal hormonal change occurs during the very early stages of adrenal disease.   By the next seasonal change, the disease is advanced enough that it can no longer be offset.


  • Symmetrical hair loss or thinning on the body of the ferret.  In advanced cases, hair may only remain on the head and feet.  Some have been so bald as to have only their whiskers remaining.
  • Loss of muscle mass and a pot-bellied appearance.
  • Skin can appear 'thin' or almost translucent. Red spots or sores may be present
  • Itchiness
  • Excessive water consumption
  • Aggressive or mating behavior.  They may even exhibit mating behavior with inanimate objects, i.e. a blanket, stuffed toys, etc.
  • In females, an enlarged vulva is often exhibited.   In males, urination difficulties may be present due to enlarged prostate tissue and this can be life-threatening if not treated.


For vets experienced in the medical problems of ferrets, adrenal disease is usually diagnosed by clinical signs. There are no tests that can be run by your vet in-house that will reveal adrenal disease. Standard blood work will be normal assuming the ferret is healthy in every respect except for the adrenal problem. There is currently only one test that will confirm adrenal disease in your ferret and that is the Adrenal Panel which is run by the University of Tennessee, School of Veterinary Medicine. This test is often referred to as "The Tennessee Panel."

While X-rays and ultrasound may be useful at times in the diagnosis of adrenal disease, these tests can be unrevealing. Diseased adrenal glands can be normal in size and shape and therefore appear normal in an x-ray or ultrasound. If your ferret is exhibiting the clinical signs listed above then your money is better spent on going right into surgery rather than on expensive tests.

Veterinarians who are not familiar with this disease or ferrets in general will frequently misdiagnose this condition. Common incorrect diagnoses are skin problems or allergies, incomplete spay of a female ferret (because estrogen levels are often high), and seasonal baldness. Another common misdiagnosis is that of Cushing's disease which is a different adrenal problem that is not seen in ferrets.


Surgery is the most effective treatment for adrenal disease, and involves the removal of the affected gland. In the past, it was commonly reported that the left adrenal gland was most often involved. In recent years, with more vets becoming experienced with adrenal surgery in ferrets, it has become obvious that the right adrenal gland can be affected just as frequently as the left. The right gland is often attached to the vena cava, the largest vein in the ferret's body, and removal can be difficult and dangerous. If you do decide to go with surgical treatment, be sure to ask your vet what his or her experience level is with right adrenal gland surgery. You don't want to put your ferret through major surgery only to find out after the fact that your vet didn't remove a diseased right adrenal gland because of the difficulty of its surgical removal.


Medical treatment of adrenal disease is usually reserved for ferrets that are poor surgical candidates.  They may be older ferrets, or ferrets with other medical problems that would make surgery high risk.  Some people will opt for medical treatment because of the cost of surgery.  Keep in mind that drug treatment must be continued for the rest of the ferret's life and in the long run can cost more than surgery. 

The two drugs used most frequently and successfully for the treatment of adrenal disease are Lupron and Melatonin.  Neither will cure the disease, but may provide a relief of the symptoms.  You can find out more about these two methods of treatment under the Adrenal Disease category on the home page of this website.

Adrenal disease clinical signs

Delilah, as she was left at the door of a shelter. Delilah with no hair - Click to Enlarge
This photo shows the size of Delilah's vulva.
Delilah's swollen vulva - Click to Enlarge
Below is  Delilah (right) with her buddy Samson several weeks after her successful adrenal surgery.

Samson and Delilah - Click to Enlarge