Common Cancers

Hyperadrenocorticism aka Adrenal Disease/Cancer  (adrenal gland tumor)
Hypoglycaemia aka Insulinoma  (cancer of the pancreas)
Lymphoma (cancer of the white blood cells)

Adrenal (Hyperadrenocorticism) Brief

Hyperadrenocorticism is one of the most common types of illness' a ferret owner deals with. Sometimes referred to as by Adrenal Disease, Hyperadrenocorticism is cancer caused by the over production of sex hormones.

Adrenal Indepth

Adrenal Cancer is understood to be caused by either excessive secretion of progesteronetestosterone or estrogen in otherwise healthy ferrets. It has been recorded in ferrets under two years old but is more common in "middle" aged ferrets (3-5)

The symptoms of Hyperadrenocorticism overlap with other illness and are often are a combination -not a singular- symptom.

  • Enlarged adrenal glands
  • Hair loss [colloquial referred to as rat tail] (beginning at the tail then progressing up the body) 
  • Bone marrow suppression
  • Blood panel results
  • Swollen vulva (females only)
  • Enlarged mammilla [nipple] (females only)
  • Aggression (typically males only)
  • Stranguria [slow, painful urination, caused by muscular spasms of the urethra and bladder] (males only)
  • Prostatic enlargement (males only)

Radiographs are not useful, because the masses do not calcify as commonly as in other species. Ultrasonography can demonstrate enlargement of the gland(s). Definitive diagnosis requires measurement of the three sex hormones, which can be performed in a panel


Adrenal Treatment

Removal of the adrenal glands (adrenalectomy) is possible and understood to be statistically the best way to prevent reoccurrence of the symptoms, but surgery holds its risks, and even with the effect gland removed the other may become cancerous and with both removed the symptoms are still possible because of underlying issues.

The common treatment method most owners choose is said "to suppress hormones" in the affected ferret and is sometimes used as a preventative treatment under that misrepresentation of what these drugs/implants do. Gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonist (GnRH agonist, GnRH–A) is the method most treatments follow (except melatonin) and is used to cause a biological response in the animal to desensitise the pituitary gland which causes the animal to enter a state similar to menopause. This method of treatment does not treat the cause for over production and as such without continued treatment, the animal will regress and will likely be worse. This is why the misunderstanding of how GnRH works may have caused ferrets with other illness' to go undiagnosed. 

If we think of adrenal cancer like a leaking roof, this treatment does not patch the ceiling but instead puts an absorbent mat on the floor and asks you to wear shoes. If you take your shoes off your feet will likely get wet, but as long as you keep them on (continuous treatment), you will experience no symptoms. This is why some owners choose GnRH as a "preventative treatment" and inject their ferrets to hide the visible symptoms. This is similar to wearing shoes all the time you may not get wet socks, and for some owners that is okay, but the roof is still leaking.

  • Leuprolide acetate is a GnRH agonist that does not treat the adrenal gland but helps regular hormone receptors
  • Deslorelin acetate is a GnRH agonist that does not treat the adrenal gland. It is, however, a is a higher dose -long release- implant.
  • Melatonin can be used to counteract baldness but is not effective in cases of adrenal cancer caused by an underlying imbalance of hormones.