By Greg Bennett
As a ferret owner for five years now I have read with interest about medical issues that could occur with my kids. Based on those articles I have a ferret first aid kit ready and keep an eye out for any changes in their appearance or behavior just like a good parent should.
Reading about medical problems and actually observing or diagnosing them however, are two different things. Case in point, my ferret Oscar.
Oscar is a five-year-old albino ferret with a very friendly disposition and quite a range of facial expressions that tend to get his point across to me! I have two other ferrets as well, Rachel and Amanda.
Not too long ago I had noticed that Oscar appeared to be straining to urinate and that there wasn’t a lot of volume coming out. I also noticed that he had suddenly become amorous with Rachel (all my kids are fixed). He would clamp down on her neck and try to have his way with her. She would scream and I’d have to go break up the encounter. This was happening so often that a large patch of the hair on the back of Rachel’s neck had become discolored. I also noticed that he was sleeping a lot more than he usually does. Oscar appeared fine in every other way. He ate and drank well, his coat looked great and his weight was okay.
I took Oscar to the vet hoping he just had a urinary tract infection. The vet gave me antibiotics to give Oscar and scheduled an ultrasound just to be on the safe side. He is 5 years old and it’s a good idea to check his adrenal glands and kidneys out anyway. The antibiotics didn’t work and the ultrasound looked normal. The ultrasound was not a waste of time or money though; it actually provided a clue as to what might be ailing him.
To get ready for the ultrasound they shaved Oscar’s belly bare. Well, a month went by and the hair had still not grown back. Again, he appeared quite healthy other than having the urination issue, sleeping more, and his continued encounters with Rachel. This made my vet concerned about an adrenal gland problem but the ultrasound was normal and he wasn’t experiencing any real signs of a problem. That quickly changed just a couple of weeks later however.
I noticed that Oscar started losing hair in the area around his hind quarters. I wasn’t sure if he was just going through seasonal shedding or not. Neither Rachel nor Amanda were shedding so now I was getting very concerned. One afternoon while Oscar and I were playing he stopped to urinate. What came out was blood. That was it in my mind; it was time for action!
We were at the vet’s within the hour. My vet referred me to another vet, one who specializes more in ferrets. I give my vet kudos for doing this rather than try and fumble around for an answer. It probably saved Oscar’s life. Based on the information I have mentioned thus far, the new vet quickly diagnosed Oscar’s problem as Adrenal Disease and recommended surgery as the best way to correct the problem.
Oscar had the surgery the following day. It turned out that he had a right adrenal problem, which the vet took care of. The surgery worked wonders! His urination returned to normal color and volume right away. He stopped attempting his encounters with Rachel (for which I am sure, she is grateful!) and about two weeks after the surgery his belly hairs started to grow back.
I learned a lot from this experience. The urination problem is a sign of adrenal disease but it certainly could have been just an infection. I had assumed that the extra naps Oscar was taking was a result of just getting older which it could have been. In this case it was another symptom. Oscar’s encounters with Rachel were due to an increase in hormone production as a result of Adrenal Disease. The hair not growing back and then finally starting to fall out were hormone related as well and is the classic sign of Adrenal Disease. Even though the ultrasound appeared normal that is not unusual. The adrenal gland itself isn’t much larger that the head of a pin so it can be hard to see. It was the culmination of all the symptoms that finally told the story.
It has now been two months since Oscar’s surgery. His belly hair has completely grown back and he has started to re-grow hair around his hind quarters. I am told that all of the hair will return upon the next shedding season.
Oscar appears to be very healthy and has certainly regained his energy as he is even now playing with the other ferrets, darting and dancing and having a ball! Hey, come back here with my socks!