Message Number: YG722 | New FHL Archives Search
From: RRC
Date: 2001-03-05 11:22:00 UTC
Subject: Bob C: Question for *ALL* the Vets regarding Adrenal
Disease (And anyone else with the knowledge)

As some of you know, I a working on a morphometrics 'test' which will
separate populations of polecats from feral ferrets and pet ferrets. As
a result, I have taking hundreds of measurements from ferret skeletons,
which are duly donated for that purpose (they will be donated to the
Smithsonian when the research is finished). I am also creating a "photo
catalog" of various bone pathologies. One shelter (which I leave unnamed
to prevent the type of animal activist letters I get on occasion)
regularly donates between 20 and 40 ferrets a quarter, along with notes
to cause of death (when known).

The first thing I do is a quick gross necropsy (they have all been
frozen, so I am rather limited in what I can do), and measure things
like body fat percentage, presence of lesions or lumps, skeletal or
anatomic malformations, etc. The skeletal processing is as benign as
possible, but I won't detail it here for obvious reasons of taste. One
of the things I do is open the gastrointestinal tract to look for
hairballs or foreign objects, as well as try to see the volume and
location of contents. Which brings me to my questions.

I have notice a disproportionate number of ferrets suffering from
adrenal disease to have hairballs present in the stomach (or portions of
hairballs in the intestine). My limited research: N = 187 ferrets;
ferrets with adrenal disease = 79; ferrets with identifiable hairballs 5
mm or larger = 52; ferrets with adrenal disease AND hairballs = 36 (I
once might have made mention of these data to some who read this list;
if they look different from these, it is because I redefined what I
would call a hairball, causing some numeric changes). This makes sense
to me; ferrets losing hair from adrenal disease would have a high
probability of ingesting more of it while grooming. Usually the
hairballs are rather small, pea- or bean-sized or smaller (but still 5
mm or larger), but I have recovered nine monsters of the thumb-sized
variety. In one single case, I believe the cause of death was due to the
hairball. It was a thumb-sized monster, trailing through the pyloric
valve into the duodenum. A single 18 mm tear extended from the pyloric
region into the duodenum, and the abdomen was full of partially clotted,
reddish blood. Food contents also filled the abdomen. There was no
obvious signs of infection or inflammation. The ferret was reported to
have died quickly, without warning.

So, the first question is, has anyone noticed a higher incidence of
hairballs in ferrets with adrenal disease?

One other thing I have noticed in adrenal ferrets is some degree of
osteoporosis, the degree of which appears to correlate to the severity
and length of the disease. I notice it immediately when cataloging the
processed skeleton (which includes final cleaning, replacement of loose
teeth, numbering for identification, etc.). I haven't yet taken
density/volume measurements, but it appears that from gross weight
measurements the loss in density could be as much as 15-40% (weight is a
very rough estimate and one I feel is unreliable, so these results
could/should be in error). In terms of gross pathology, I have noticed
ferrets with extended adrenal disease (1.5 + years) to have
microfractures in the femoral and humeral heads, microfracturing,
crushing or distortion of the lumbar and thoracic vertebrae, extreme
thinning of the ribs (on sectioning, some appear hollow, with few
trabeculae), and thinning of the Os coxae, including the acetabular cup.
I have selected a number of these bones for viewing under the SEM, but
have yet found the financing to pay for the gold spattering and machine
time (which means I'll have to donate my services to paying customers to
earn free time when I can find the time to do it). Again, the loss of
bone density is not surprising; I have noticed it in several ferrets
(and other species) who suffered from various cancers, so I am making
the possibly erroneous assumption adrenal cancers act like calcium sinks.

So, the second question is, has anyone noticed a similar incidence of
decreased bone density in ferrets with adrenal disease?

If, by some quirk these data are true (my observations are a far cry
from a standardized research program), would it be appropriate to
recommend weekly doses of a hairball remedy, or add supplemental calcium
to the diet for ferrets suffering adrenal disease? Could skeletal
density be used as a cheap and rapid screening agent for adrenal disease
(x-rays or density photometers)?

Discussion? (Feel free to make me look silly; I learn best when making
mistakes. I guarantee criticism will not bother me!).

Bob C