Why is My Ferret Losing Hair?
Is it Ferret Alopecia?
Alopecia is the complete or partial loss of hair in areas where it normally grows. This is a common disorder in ferrets. Ferrets between the ages of 3 and 7, and ferrets that are neutered or spayed are most prone to hair loss.
There are many possible causes and treatments of hair loss in ferrets. It is best to take your ferret to a vet experienced with ferrets when you first notice your ferret’s hair loss. The earlier the cause is diagnosed, the sooner the treatment can begin and help prevent the condition from getting worse.
Symptoms and Types of Hair Loss
The primary sign of alopecia is unusual hair loss. Symptoms may progress suddenly or slowly. But the exact pattern and degree of hair loss may help determine the cause of alopecia.
Some ferrets have hair loss over much of their bodies. Other ferrets have hair loss only on their tails–commonly referred to as Rat Tail. Still others may have patches of hair loss or hair loss that starts on the tail and progresses up thee body.
For example, large and diffuse areas of hair loss is a common sign of metabolic conditions. However, patchy sections of hair loss typically indicate parasites and may occur suddenly or progress slowly over time.
There are 6 primary causes for hair loss in ferrets:
- Poor Nutrition
- Dry Skin
- Seasonal Shedding
- Allergic Reactions
- Adrenal Disease
Poor nutrition could be the cause of your ferret losing hair. Are you feeding your ferret an appropriate, healthy diet? If you have more than one ferret, you may notice that they all suffer from hair loss. This may be a sign of poor nutrition. However, it could be a parasite infestation. If you are not sure you are giving your ferret the proper nutrition she needs, read What is The Best Ferret Food.
Parasites could be the cause of hair loss in your ferret. Fleas and ear mites are common parasites that may be infecting your ferret. See Flea Treatment For Ferrets for info on how to treat flea infestation and Ear Mites and Ferrets for how to treat ear mites.
Your ferret could be losing hair due to an allergic reaction. Your ferret could be allergic to anything from cleaning supplies to bedding to your hand lotion. Have you switched to another brand of something? Given your ferret new bedding? It could also be a food allergy. Have you just started feeding your fuzzy a new brand of food or introduced something new to her diet?
Dry skin is another possible cause of hair loss. If you give your ferret a bath too often for example, she can get dry and itchy skin. A daily dose of salmon oil may help to return her skin and fur back to normal. For information on bathing your ferret see How to Bathe a Ferret.
Ferrets go through 2 seasonal sheds, or hormonal hair loss, each year. In Spring, ferrets shed their winter coat and replace it with their thinner summer coat. In Fall, ferrets shed their summer coat and put on their thick winter coat. Some ferrets shed more than others. This normal shedding usually takes about 2 to 3 weeks to accomplish and is controlled by the photoperiod–the length of time your ferret is exposed to light–and the changing levels of the hormone melatonin.
Unfortunately, the most most common cause for ferrets losing their hair is adrenal disease, a disorder affecting the adrenal glands.
The adrenal glands are 2 small organs near the kidneys. This adrenal disease, called hyperadrenocorticism, is caused by the over-production of the sex hormones secreted by the adrenal glands. Other signs may include anemia, weight loss, muscle loss, enlargement of the vulva in spayed females and the prostate in neutered males. The enlarged prostate may cause frequent, painful urination and even urinary obstruction. Some ferrets with adrenal disease exhibit increased sexual behavior and aggression.
Why is My Ferret Losing Hair?
To diagnose why your ferret is losing hair, your veterinarian will conduct an examination. If the initial examination doesn’t provide a conclusive diagnosis, your vet may conduct additional tests. These tests may include an abdominal ultrasound and/or blood tests to look for elevated hormone levels.
Treatment is dependent on the underlying cause of the ferret’s hair loss. For example, a diagnosis of Ear Mites or Fleas require treatment of all pets and their surroundings, due to the contagiousness and infestive nature of these parasites.
If your little fuzzy is diagnosed with adrenal disease, treatment options include surgical removal of the affected adrenal gland or injections of a long-acting drug such as Lupron. Lupron is a once-a-month injectable medication that lowers the adrenal hormones and controls the clinical signs of the disease. It is not a cure.
The adrenal gland can also be surgically removed to lower the adrenal hormones and control the clinical signs. Unfortunately surgery is not always a cure, either. The remaining adrenal gland may start overproducing hormones in the future. It is usually not possible to remove both adrenal glands due to the location of the right gland. The left adrenal gland is embedded in fat in front of the kidney; the right one is located deeper in the abdomen and under one of the liver lobes. The left adrenal gland is the one affected in almost all cases. This is advantageous from a surgical standpoint because it is much easier to remove.
Many of my ferrets developed adrenal disease. A few died from from the disease because not enough vets were knowledgeable about ferrets when ferrets were just becoming popular pets. Several had one of their adrenal glands removed. One of them was on the Lupron monthly injection. Both treatments extended my ferrets’ lives for several years.
As you can see, there are many possible answers to the question: Why is my ferret losing hair?
Because there are many possible causes and treatments, it is recommended that you take your ferret to a vet experienced with ferrets when you first notice your ferret’s hair loss. The earlier the cause is diagnosed, the sooner the treatment can begin and help prevent the condition from getting worse.
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