Q: My ferret Molly is losing her hair around the face area and under her jaw. The hair loss started on top of her head when we first took her to our vet last year. He wanted to take a biopsy and said he would have to put her to sleep to do this. I knew there was a chance of her not coming out of it. When she used to get her shots we almost lost her. She had very bad reactions to them. So we didn’t want to take a chance of losing her. Our vet does not suspect adrenal gland problems due to the way she is losing the hair. The hair loss is starting around her eye now. She does not scratch at it at all. Very small, cyst-type lumps are appearing where there is no hair. I clean her ears weekly. No mites, no fleas. What’s going on?
A: I agree with you and your veterinarian about your ferret. This is a very unusual pattern of hair loss. Even though it would be very, very odd, I would not completely rule out adrenal gland disease. With adrenal gland disease, the hair loss typically starts near the tail base and then includes the flanks and abdomen. The head is usually the last area of the body to experience any hair loss from adrenal gland disease. You may want to ask your veterinarian to rule this out with either a simple blood test or an abdominal ultrasound. Neither test should require your ferret being under anesthesia, so you may get an answer with little risk to your ferret.
It’s not a bad idea to consider other causes of hair loss in ferrets, but there are almost no other causes of hair loss in ferrets. Although very rare, ferrets can get ringworm, which is a topical fungal infection in the hair. There can be irritation on the skin and it can look red, but other times the skin is very “quiet” — it is not red, it is not flaky and it is not crusty.
Testing for ringworm is easy. Some hair is taken from the affected site and placed on a culture plate. In a few days to a week, if there is a topical fungus present, it causes a change in the culture plate and a diagnosis is made.
Because you say there are no ear mites, topical parasites are probably not causing this problem. If your ferret’s skin looks normal and the hair loss is not occurring with any discharge, crusting or blackness, then it seems that the hair is just falling out. If this is not adrenal gland disease or ringworm and the diet is adequate, I agree with your veterinarian that the best and only way to get a diagnosis is by doing a skin biopsy.
Your ferret needs to be sedated for this, but it is a light sedation with a local anesthetic and should be very safe. Trust your ferret’s veterinarian. Ask a lot of questions about the sedation and local anesthetic to make sure you are as comfortable as you can be about this situation, but the biopsy might be the only way to learn what is wrong with Molly.