Rely on clinical skills to diagnose ferret adrenal disease - DVM
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Rely on clinical skills to diagnose ferret adrenal disease


The questions about melatonin are the amount to give, time to administer the tablet, and the long-term effects on the adrenal hormones.

A suggestive dose is 1 mg/kg given around eight to nine hours after sunrise. Melatonin tablets are cheap and available without a prescription at various stores. Also, it is important to change the photoperiod to resemble winter (i.e. nine hours of light with 15 hours of darkness per day).

"In a recent study, 0.5 mg oral suspension of melatonin was administered once daily to 10 ferrets with confirmed adrenocortical disease. Ferrets were examined every four months for a year. In addition to clinical signs, ultrasonographic measurement of the adrenal glands, sex hormone concentrations and prolactin levels were measured. Nine of the 10 ferrets had moderate to dramatic improvement in clinical signs including hair growth, reduction of vulva swelling or reduction of prostatic size. There was no significant change in the size of the adrenal glands. Hormone concentrations varied greatly between each ferret, but all had one or more sex hormone with elevated plasma concentrations. Mean values of estradiol, 17-hydroxy-progesterone and DHEAS decreased after four months of treatment but the concentrations at eight and 12 months were higher than at initial levels. Androstenedione gradually increased in every ferret at each four-month interval. Prolactin concentrations steadily decreased throughout the 12-month period. Ferrets with adrenocortical disease may benefit from treatment with melatonin. This may involve melatonin's effect on gonadotropin or prolactin secretion from the pituitary gland.

Tumor growth is not affected by administration of melatonin. Even if tumor growth is not affected by the administration of melatonin, there is improvement in the coat and quality of life for ferrets with adrenocortical disease."

Lysodren mainly destroys the cortisol producing cells of the adrenal glands; however, in ferrets cortisol is not the problem. It is the sex steroids (estrogen, 17-hydroxy-progesterone and testosterone) and the androgens (DHEAS and androstenedione) that are being over-secreted. This is why Lysodren does not work well in ferrets. Furthermore, lowering cortisol levels can cause serious hypoglycemia problems if the ferret also has an insulinoma.

Information for this column contributed by Michael Janke at For more information go to


Source: DVM360 MAGAZINE,
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