Desexing ferrets? What are the options?

Ferrets need to be neutered. This is a well-established and important fact. In male ferrets neutering reduced aggressiveness and odour from the glands in the skin. In female ferrets neutering will reduce odour but is even more important as it prevents the poor little girl from being stuck ‘in season’.  This means that they stay ‘in season’ until mated. Staying in season isn’t good for them. The sustained high levels of female hormones can lead to bone marrow suppression, anaemia, blood clotting disorders and even death! So it is an absolute must to neuter a female ferret unless she is going to breed.

Traditionally ferrets have been surgically neutered. In males this means removing the testicles and in females the ovaries and the uterus are removed.

Ferrets are also at risk of adrenal disease.

In this condition the adrenal glands release excessive sex hormones. This can cause a range of signs including:

  • Hair loss, either in a symmetrical pattern or patchy with no apparent pattern
  • Thinning hair
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Papery thin or translucent looking skin, sometimes with sores from scratching
  • Excessive scratching and itchiness
  • Increase in musky body odor
  • Excessive grooming of self or other ferrets, including ear sucking
  • Sexual aggression and mating behavior in neutered males – with other ferrets, inanimate objects, etc.
  • Swollen vulva in spayed females
  • Difficulty urinating for males – this is a sign of an enlarged prostate, a condition usually associated with adrenal disease
  • Weakness in back legs – usually seen in advanced or extreme cases
  • Increased thirst, increased urination
  • Weight loss due to a decrease in muscle mass, but with a pot bellied appearance

For some time it’s been speculated that there may be a link between neutering ferrets and adrenal disease.

Finally, research done overseas gives vets enough information to say that yes, there is a link.

The problem is in the brain…

A surgically neutered ferret’s brain does not know that the sex organs are gone! So the brain keeps sending signals to those missing testicles or ovaries. In a non-neutered ferret the testicles or ovaries would then signal back to the brain and it in turn would reduce its output of hormones. This little cycle is called ‘negative feedback’. However, without feedback from the sex organs, the poor old brain keeps pumping out hormonal signals. The adrenal glands are the innocent bystanders that mistake these signals as meant for them and pump out their own hormones to excess, causing adrenal (Cushings) disease.

In summary, we need to neuter ferrets and we need to prevent adrenal disease. Now we can do both in one simple step!

Suprelorin® is a chemical castration implant registered for use in dogs. It has now been used in many other species and extensively in ferrets. It shuts down the whole reproductive system from the level of the brain! This results in a neutered ferret that is not at risk of developing adrenal disease! Fantastic. The implant lasts a variable time in ferrets but can be effective for up to three years. This means that most ferrets will require re-implantation once or twice in their life. Implantation is quick and easy. Done under light anaesthesia (because it’s a big needle) it takes about 5 minutes in total!

If you have a ferret that is due for neutering or even an older, already neutered ferret come in and discuss your options with us. Now we can neuter and protect against adrenal disease. The Inner South Veterinary Centre team is very excited to right on the cutting edge of ferret health care and to be able to offer something so significant. Come in and have a chat and let’s look after your little ferret!