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Alopecia

ISSN 2398-2985


Introduction

  • Cause: various; adrenal disease, hypothyroidism, seasonal changes, starvation/malnutrition.
  • Signs: hair loss.
  • Diagnosis: depends on cause.
  • Treatment: depends on cause.
  • Prognosis: good.

Alopecia caused by hypothyroidism

  • Lowered levels of thyroid hormone.
  • This has been deduced in cases where there appears to be skin and coat changes consistent with hypothyroidism in other species.
  • Validation of the disease has largely been anecdotal as there has not been a commercially validated test for ferrets.

Seasonal alopecia

  • Ferrets change hair coats twice yearly, with changes happening in the fall and spring.
  • The lay term for this is 'blowing their coats'.
  • It often starts with shedding of the tail hair which gives them a 'rat tail' look although new hair begins to grow in conjunction with the rest of the body growth unlike with adrenal disease.
  • The winter coat has a dense undercoating.
  • The spring molt is the most dramatic as the undercoat is shed.
  • The ferret may actually change coat patterns and colors from one season to the next.
  • Owners are encouraged to take photographs of their ferrets in each season to see the changes over time.
Print off the Owner Factsheet on Alopecia to give to your clients.

Presenting signs

Alopecia caused by adrenal disease

  • Loss of hair starting from tail and rump, following on body usually fairly symmetrically patterned.
  • Hair loss eventually spreads to entire body.
  • There may also be an eczema-like scabbiness in some areas.

Alopecia caused by starvation/malnutrition

  • Poor nutrition and/or emaciation presents with a poor hair coat.

Acute presentation

  • Apparent acute onset alopecia is usually associated with physicalhair loss rather than of an endocrine etiology.
  • Unusual molt patterns have been reported, which may present as a partial alopecia, and conspecific hewing of hair (barbering) may also be seen in groups of ferrets.

Geographic incidence

  • There is a reported increased incidence of alopecia relating to adrenal gland disease in the United States and the Netherlands.
  • In the USA the high incidence is reported to be related to a specific  breeding facility, and a genetic predisposition to the disease.

Age predisposition

  • The onset of clinical signs of alopecia post-neutering is a median of 3.5 years, so most ferrets are over 4 years old.

Public health considerations

Pathogenesis

Etiology

Alopecia caused by adrenal disease

  • Hyperestrogenism and alopecia are two of the major signs of adrenal disease.
  • There may also be an imbalance between the estrogens and androgens which also contributes to the pattern of hair loss and the time table for development of the disease.
  • The eczema-like rash may be in part due to altered sebaceous and skin metabolism due to the hormone imbalance. The rash does not seem to respond to topical therapies but does resolve with treatment for adrenal disease.

Seasonal alopecia

  • Ferrets are seasonal animals and undergo coat changes in conjunction with ancestral climate changes.
  • They are similar in this regard to other members of the Mustelid family in particular with mink.
  • Ferrets were used for their winter fur or 'fitch' coat.
  • Seasonal weight changes usually accompany the coat change: ferretsincrease their food intake and body fat reserves by up to 30% in the winter months and are typically in slimmer body condition during the spring and summer breeding season.

Alopecia caused by ectoparasites

  • Various ectoparasites may cause alopecia in the ferret.
  • Sarcoptes scabei, Lynxacarus mustelae and Demodex spp mites have all been reported.
  • Fleas, usually Ctenocephalides spp can infest ferrets.

Alopecia caused by dermatophytosis

  • Dermatophytosis (ringworm) is most common in young or immunosuppressed ferrets.
  • Microsporum canis is the most common cause but Trichopyton mentagrophytes is also seen.

Alopecia caused by estrogen toxicity

  • The ferret is an induced ovulator, and if the jill not mated, or hormonally or physically manipulated to bring her out of season, will develop persistently high levels of estradiol.

Alopecia caused by starvation/malnutrition

  • Ferrets require a high protein, high fat, low fiber diet; they are obligate carnivores.
  • A diet which does not meet their requirements, or lack of food results in a dry hair coat, sparse with areas of alopecia.
  • Concurrent with this is usually poor body condition.

Alopecia caused by hypothyroidism

  • Dysfunction of the thyroid gland.
  • Histopathology reports for this have been lacking.
  • The thyroid gland may exhibit imbalances in cases of adrenal disease.

Diagnosis

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Treatment

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Prevention

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Outcomes

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Further Reading

Publications

Refereed papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Palmeiro B S & Roberts H (2013) Clinical approach to dermatologic disease in exotic animals. Vet Clin North Am Exotic Pract 16 (3), 523-577 PubMed.
  • Hoppman E & Baron H W (2007) Ferret and rabbit dermatology. J Exotic Pet Med 16 (4), 225-237 JExoticPetMed.

Other sources of information

  • Orcutt C & Tater K (2012) Dermatologic Diseases. In: Ferrets, Rabbits and Rodents, Clinical Medicine and Surgery. Eds: Quesenberry K E & Carpenter J W. 3rd edn. Elsevier, USA. pp 122-131.
  • Paterson S (2006) Skin Diseases and Treatment of Ferrets. In: Skin Diseases of Exotic Pets. Blackwell Science Ltd, UK. pp 204-220.