There are many choices for treating adrenal disease in ferrets. Most will agree that surgery is the best choice; nevertheless, operation is not possible in all cases. The ferret could possibly be a high surgical or anesthetic risk, or the owner just may not possess the funds.
Fortunately, there are several non-surgical alternatives and this post will discuss one of those choices – the use of melatonin for both the treatment of adrenal disease and the chance of utilizing it as a preventative measure. Lupron Depot is another choice, and while it works wonderfully (in this author’s experience) it may be cost prohibitive if your veterinarian doesn’t use Lupron often and can distribute the cost over many customers. The use of Lupron Depot is discussed in detail in a number of places on this particular web site. Conversely, light inhibits the release of melatonin.
According to Dr. Jerry Murray, “Melatonin directly and indirectly activates the breeding season (spring/summer) during the ‘long day’ intervals, and it terminates the mating season (fall/winter) during the ‘short day’ intervals. In the autumn/winter there’s more melatonin released during the dark time, and less released in the spring/summer. In addition to the breeding season, the increased melatonin causes the winter fur to enter and the winter weight gain. Likewise the low levels cause the summer pelt to enter and also the summer weight loss.” It’s likely that the strange lighting to may be at least partly responsible for the high incidence of adrenal disease. Their in-home environment is naturally light during daytime hours and we add many hours of artificial light in addition to that during the evening hours. Just how does melatonin combat the effects of adrenal disease? The overproduction of sex hormones is what causes the typical symptoms we find with adrenal disease in ferrets. Hair loss, vulva swelling in females, prostate swelling in males and sexual or aggressive behavior; more or any one of these symptoms may be present. The effects can often be remarkable, if this continuous stimulus may be discontinued.
Except in some instances of carcinoma, the adrenal glands may get no bigger, and hair grows, the vulva or prostate swelling resolves and in certain cases may actually reduce in size. TREATMENT PROTOCOL A suggested dosage is 1 milligram of melatonin given orally around 7-9 hours after sunrise. In instances where there is no result to this degree of melatonin, up to 3 milligrams might be given daily. The single side effects seen in ferrets have been sleepiness for the first 3-5 days when beginning this treatment and weight gain.