Elvis the Ferret

by Dave Craton, DVM

The domestic ferret (Mustela putorius furo) is a companion animal found within the exotic pet trade. Which loosely means any animal that is not a Dog, Cat, Horse, Sheep, Goat, Cow, or Pig. They are small (females 2 to 3 pounds and males 4 to 5 pounds), slender, very inquisitive, very friendly, outgoing, with a musty smell. They originated from either the Siberian or European Polecat. In Europe they are used as companion animals and for hunting (illegal in the U.S.) while in the U.S. they are used just as a companion animal. The majority of Ferrets found in the pet trade come already de-scented, tattooed, and either spayed or neutered from Marshall farms. Usually they can live between 7 to 10 years of age, require yearly vaccinations (rabies and distemper), and make a great addition to any household.

For this weeks case I would like to discuss one I had last fall. Elvis is a 3 year old, male neutered sable ferret who presented with extreme lethargy. On physical exam Elvis was found to have a large amount of alopecia (hair loss) along his dorsum (back), very lethargic and with a swollen abdomen. Radiographs showed an extremely distended bladder and a large soft tissue opacity proximal to the bladder (prostate) contributing to his inability to urinate (stranguria). Due to financial concerns no further diagnostics where performed and Elvis was treated for the most likely differential Adrenal gland disease causing an enlarged prostate with subsequent inability to urinate. For a little bit of background information the adrenal glands are 2 small glandular organs that are found close to both kidneys. Each adrenal gland has three parts or three layers like an onion. The outer layer of the onion is the zona glomerulosa and produces mineralocorticoids that regulate your electrolytes (Na+, K+, Cl -), the middle layer is the zona fasciculata and produces glucocorticoids that help with glucose metabolism, and the inner layer is the zona reticularis and produces androgens (sex hormones). This inner layer is where ferrets, both boys and girls, have a problem. Since the most likely diagnosis was adrenal gland disease we opted to treat Elvis medically along with supportive care. Elvis was treated with Leuprolide acetate (LupronDepot, Abbott Labortories) which suppresses a hormone that stimulates the adrenal gland. The drug has been used to treat prostate issues in men and uterine issues in women. Lupron will last anywhere from four to six weeks and signs of adrenal disease will start to dissipate within 24 to 36 hours. For supportive care Elvis was given anti-inflammatory medication (Meloxicam) along with pain control (buprenorphine). He was also force fed a critical care diet (Ox Bow critical care diet for carnivores) To make sure the bladder did not rupture the urine was periodically removed from his bladder using ultrasound guided cytogenesis (using a needle to pull urine out directly from the bladder). After about a days time Elvis started to dribble small amounts of urine and within an additional four hours he was able to urinate normally. In the past the primary long term treatment for ferrets with adrenal gland disease was to surgically remove the affected organ. There where two major problems with that treatment. The first being that the surgery was risky and the second is that the adrenal gland is an important organ for life. Now in the exotic Veterinary community we have a drug that will control the symptoms for a year. Back in 2012 the drug Deslorelin acetate (Suprelorin F, Virbac Animal Health) became available in the U.S. The drug acts by decreasing the amount of stimulation the adrenal gland gets from other organs. On subsequent recheck appointment Elvis was found to have made a full recovery.