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The prostate is a gland that sits near the urethra that is responsible for providing a fluid component of semen, within which sperm can move. Enlargement of the prostate can cause multiple unpleasant symptoms for the ferret and can even be indicative of a more serious health problem being present. Typically, prostate enlargement in ferrets is due to a disorder of the adrenal system.
Most of the symptoms of an enlarged prostate are relatively subtle, meaning that it will take some time before ferret owners begin to notice that there is a problem with their pet. Because of this, it is imperative that once the problem is identified, immediate medical assistance is sought, as the condition can often have progressed quite far.
A ferret with an enlarged prostate may appear to be quite depressed in their behavior. This is because if the enlargement is due to adrenal problems, the animal's body will often not be maintaining proper hormone levels. If this is the case, the owner may notice the ferret ignoring stimuli such as attempts to play or even food, preferring instead to remain stationary in one part of their enclosure.
Perhaps the most obvious sign of an enlarged prostate is the affected animal starting to lose control over its bladder. Oftentimes, a sufficiently enlarged prostate can put direct pressure on the ferret's urethra. When this happens, it can cause involuntary urination which will quickly produce a noticeable odor. On the other hand, the prostate can also cause an obstruction of the urethra, meaning that urination may become painful, difficult or even impossible. Needless to say, this will produce a large degree of discomfort for the ferret, which can often manifest as an unwillingness to be touched or even aggression. In some cases, damage to the urethra inflicted by the prostate can result in blood appearing in the animal's urine.
Adrenal problems can also result in an overproduction of hormones that will provoke dermatitis and the shedding of hair. The itching caused by dermatitis will cause the ferret to intensely scratch itself and thereby pull out oven more hair.
For ferrets, an enlarged prostate can usually be assumed to be due to one of the following three causes: adrenal dysfunction, cysts, or cancer. In the case of problems with the adrenal system, the enlargement will either be due to the development of cysts or the overproduction of fluid within the prostate itself. As the adrenal system becomes unable to regulate itself, it will also cause symptoms such as depression and hair loss depending on which glands are affected. Cysts will often occur as a result of an overproduction of substances known as 'androgens', which are the building blocks of sex hormones such as testosterone or estrogen. These cysts are typically hard in texture and are normally the cause of blockage of or damage to the urinary tract, as they grow and come into contact with the urethra. Cancers of the prostate, on the other hand tend to be somewhat rare in ferrets, due in large part to their relatively short lifespan. That said, they will produce many of the same symptoms as adrenal disease or cysts, and are often diagnosed in their later stages after they have already metastasized and spread through the body.
As soon as the ferret is brought in to the clinic, the vet will perform a physical examination to both identify the cat's symptoms and to check for the presence of additional conditions that might explain them. Ultrasound imaging of the prostate can also be performed in order to gauge the composition of the mass - fluids are usually indicative of cysts whilst solids typically signify the presence of a tumor. The next step is to take a tissue or fluid sample from the prostate, as this will allow the vet to analyze it in a laboratory and determine exactly what the problem is. Owners should be sure to attend appointments with information regarding the symptoms and the ferret's prior medical history readily available, as this can help the vet immensely when trying to reach a swift diagnosis.
Most often, the ferret's condition can be treated via a combination of both surgery and medication. If the issue stems from a problem with the adrenal glands, the vet can surgically remove one of them in order to allow the other to better regulate the adrenal system. This is typically accompanied by the prescription of drugs to help keep the ferret's hormone levels in check. Cysts, meanwhile, can simply be surgically excised, with no further treatment necessary unless they should re-appear (which is considered quite unlikely). A tumor however, whilst surgically removable, will often have spread throughout the body by the time it is identified. This means that any treatment following surgery will typically be geared towards end of life care, rather than trying to cure the condition.
Recovery from surgery can take several weeks, as the incision across the ferret's abdomen will be quite large. Owners should be ready to provide round the clock care as the animal recovers and administer painkillers and antibiotics as needed. The vet will most likely want to schedule a series of follow-up visits to ensure that the healing process is going as planned.
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