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My ferret is losing his/her hair in large quantities.  What is the problem?

If you ferret is over 3 years old, and the hair loss has continued for more than a month, go ahead and sit down if you aren't already.

Most likely, your ferret has adrenal cancer.

Adrenal cancer is what what gets the majority of ferrets, usually striking when they are 6+ years old.  A tumor begins to form on one or both of the adrenal glands.  This results in a loss of hair, and usually an increase of water consumption.  Eventually the cancer will overtake the gland and it will fail, causing the other gland to kick in to high gear, making up for its lost partner.  The ferret's hair will return, and all will appear OK until the tumor grows big enough that it spreads.  Having the tumor removed is a stop-gap measure, as the other gland will be eventually following with a tumor of its own.

You'll notice that no where in my past does it list the title of "DVM".  I'm not one.  However, my resume also doesn't list Scoot, Tamitha, Princess, Tramp, Lady, and Chica, all furry companions I've had starting since 1985.  Tramp acquired the disease earliest, at 3 years old.  Having watched the issue play out with Scoot, I suggested to my vet that Tramp had adrenal cancer.  She informed me I was mistaken, since he was only 3.  She did offer to run some blood tests. ($50).  The results returned some items of note, so she requested an ultrasound ($100), which proved there was indeed a tumor on his gland.  Then another $200 to remove it.  I had to pay $150 to prove I was correct. Never once did the vet apologize, say I was right, or offer to reduce my bill after I basically did her job for her.

The bottom line is, ferrets are not a widespread or popular pet..  Many veterinarians have limited experience with them, and assume cat issues (or other small pets) also equate to ferrets.  These are not safe assumptions (as witnessed if your vet were to ever give your ferret a rabies vaccination for felines.)  Ferrets also aren't that far down the list on domestication.  Vet's will tell you they are, but they really are new in the grand scheme to being house pets.    They still retain much of the resiliency they had as an animal in the wild.  In other words, they don't lose fur over stress, diet, or someone looking at them cross-eyed.  They lose fur when something is truly wrong.

Addendum: I can't say this as a 100% certainty, but it would appear that a great way to hold off adrenal cancer is to make sure your ferret has a LOT of room to play.  My current little girl is doing quite well so far (knock on wood), and she is the first one of my business to have a large, roomy, and rather physically demanding cage set up.  Just something to consider.

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