Letters to Dr. Hannon: Ferret Hair Loss

Dear Dr. Hannon,

My pet ferret, I. M. Weasel, is starting to lose his hair on his back and tail.  His appetite and everything else seem normal, and he is not acting itchy.  Can ferrets go bald?  Could he have mange?

- Future MEMBER, Hair Club for Ferrets

Dear Hairless,

Unlike humans, ferrets don’t usually go bald when they get older (or grow more nose and ear hair for that matter).  They can get mange, and many other conditions that cause hair loss, such as allergies or fleas infestations, but by and far the most common cause of baldness (alopecia) in ferrets is a tumor of the adrenal gland.

Most ferrets in the pet trade are spayed or neutered at around six weeks of age, so that they don’t develop there lovely smell that all members of the Mustelid family are famous for (such as skunks).  Because of this, when the time is right, their brains send strong hormonal signals to (now absent) gonads to tell them breeding season is nigh.  When the brain gets no response, it keeps sending out more and more hormones, often stimulating the adrenal glands, the little glands located just in front of the kidneys, to make sexual hormones, like estrogen and testosterone.  And it’s these hormones that cause the hair loss.

However, that’s not the only thing that they do.  In males, they can make the prostate to enlarge and cause problems when urinating.  In females, the vulva can swell.  And left unchecked, the adrenal gland may keep getting larger and more productive, often turning into a cancerous tumor.  This condition is usually treated with surgery to remove the affected gland(s), and/or hormone injections.

Take I. M. to a veterinarian that normally treats ferrets, and have him examined.  There they can diagnose the cause of his fur loss, and prescribe the appropriate medical or surgical treatment to address it.

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