Adrenal gland disease, or adrenocortical disease (ACD), remains one of the most common — and devastating — clinical conditions diagnosed in pet ferrets in the United States, but there’s new hope for them and their owners. Researchers have identified a promising treatment that temporarily eliminates clinical signs of the disease, thereby improving the ferret’s quality of life.
Adrenal gland disease typically affects neutered, middle-aged to senior ferrets, said Robert Wagner, VMD, from the division of laboratory animal resources at the University of Pittsburgh, who authored several studies on the treatment of ferrets with adrenocortical disease. In these ferrets, Wagner said, the disease causes the abnormal growth of adrenocortical tissue or the adrenal glands, which release an oversupply of steroid hormones that lead to common ACD symptoms like hair loss in male and female ferrets, a swollen vulva in female ferrets, and an enlarged prostate and increased aggressiveness in male ferrets.
Treatment for ACD traditionally involves surgical removal of one or both of the ferret’s adrenal glands. But if surgery isn’t an option, veterinarians may recommend one of several drugs, including leuprolide, which is a GnRH analog that reduces the amount of circulating estrogen and androgens, and melatonin, which is believed to reduce GnRH secretion by the pituitary gland, reports Lauren Johnson, DVM, et al, of the department of small animal medicine and surgery, and the department of pathology, college of veterinary medicine, at the University of Georgia in Athens.
But a new treatment is on the horizon.
Suprelorin For Ferrets
Deslorelin acetate implants, made by Peptech Animal Health Pty Limited in New South Wales, Australia, and sold under the brand name Suprelorin, turns off the ferret’s system “such that the hormones which are causing the adrenal problems are also turned off while the implant is releasing the deslorelin,” said Peptech managing director Paul A. Schober, MBA, FRACI.
The clinical response to the deslorelin acetate implants is impressive. Wagner, et al, report in the Journal of Exotic Pet Medicine, Vol. 18, No 2 (April 2009), that “administration of a single 4.7 mg implant of deslorelin acetate resulted in significant decreases in the clinical signs and hormonal concentrations associated with ACD. Within 14 days post-implant, vulvar swelling, pruritus [itchiness], sexual behaviors and aggression decreased or disappeared. Hair re-growth was evident by 4 to 6 weeks post implant. Within two months post deslorelin implant, plasma concentrations of steroid hormones decreased.”
Wagner notes that deslorelin implants may not decrease adrenal tumor growth in some treated ferrets, but says that they may be useful in the long-term management of chronic hormone-induced conditions in ferrets with ACD and in treatment of animals that are considered at surgical or anesthetic risk.
Schober said that the implant and the drug cause no side effects.
Ferrets with ACD that have been treated with leuprolide or melatonin can be treated with deslorelin implants, Schober said. “There should be no health risk in changing treatment to Suprelorin if this is the best option that has been decided upon by the veterinarian and the owner.”
Peptech produces two dosages of its implant: Suprelorin, which contains 4.7 mg of deslorelin, and Suprelorin12, which contains 9.4 mg of deslorelin. Schober said the difference between the two is the length of action time, noting that the larger dose would provide a longer duration of effect. “Both implants have been used in a variety of different species — including ferrets — without significant harm.”
Suprelorin is currently approved for use in Europe and Australia, with case-by-case approval for veterinarians and their patients in the United States.
“It takes considerable time and effort to put any product through the regulatory processes of each country,” Schober said. “A company will always have to weigh up the cost benefits of going through the processes. At present, Peptech is considering applying to the US CVM [United States Food and Drug Administration’s Centers for Veterinary Medicine] for a Minor Use Minor Species indication.
“It may be possible that a veterinarian within the United States can apply to import the product through a ‘Personal Importation,’” Schober said, adding that it could take a few weeks to acquire the product, depending on availability and FDA and customs approval. “This is done on a case-by-case basis.”
Is Deslorelin Right For Your Ferret?
Whether the deslorelin implants are right for a person’s ferret must be considered.
“Each ferret owner should take advice from their veterinarian who is caring for their ferret,” Schober said. “They should know the history of the animal and [decide whether] it is appropriate to change the treatment or not. An owner is also entitled to get a second opinion if they are not happy with the current treatments that are being provided.”
Wendy Bedwell-Wilson has written about pets for nearly 10 years. Her pets include two cats, two dogs (one being a retired racing Greyhound), seven chickens and three goats.