Dear Frank B. Ferret: Ferdinand, my 4-year-old ferret, is losing the hair on his tail. He doesn't have fleas, and he seems fine except for his hair loss. My other ferret's hair is normal. What is causing Ferdinand's hair loss?

Frank responds: Like Ferdinand, many ferrets over 3 years of age lose hair from the tail and back. Typically, the hair loss is symmetrical and the skin looks normal, without redness or bumps, though it may be itchy.

The condition, called hyperadrenocorticism, is caused by enlargement of the adrenal glands, two small organs near ("ad-") the kidneys ("-renal"). The result is over-production of the sex hormones secreted by the adrenals.

Additional clinical signs may include enlargement of the vulva in spayed females and the prostate in neutered males. The enlarged prostate may cause frequent, painful urination and even urinary obstruction. Some ferrets with adrenal disease exhibit increased sexual behavior and aggression.

If the diagnosis is unclear, adrenal disease can be confirmed by abdominal ultrasound or blood tests to look for elevated hormone levels.

Treatment options include surgical removal of the affected adrenal gland(s) or injection of a long-acting drug such as deslorelin or leuprolide.

To find out for sure what's causing Ferdinand's hair loss and learn about options for treating the problem, make an appointment with a veterinarian experienced with ferrets.

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Dear Daisy Dog: The backyard of our new home is littered with acorns, which our dog Murphy eats. Are acorns safe for dogs?

Daisy responds: Acorns contain tannins that taste bitter and dry out a dog's mouth, so most of us don't like them. But if Murphy is snacking on them, you need to know what to expect.

Acorns are not extremely toxic, but they can cause digestive disturbances and other problems if ingested.

Dogs that eat a few acorns may experience loss of appetite, mild vomiting and diarrhea. These problems usually subside on their own, without medical intervention.

However, a large quantity of acorns ingested at one time can block the intestines, causing Murphy to vomit repeatedly and lie around looking miserable. If this occurs, see your veterinarian or go to an emergency clinic immediately.

Another problem is mold. If your acorns have been lying on the ground since last fall, mold may have formed on them. Acorn mold can cause tremors and other neurologic problems that require immediate veterinary attention.

Given the risks, it would be best to blow or rake the acorns from your yard so Murphy doesn't eat them.

Ask the Vet's Pets appears Friday in the print edition of the Reading Eagle. The animal authors of the column live with Lee Pickett, V.M.D., who practices companion animal medicine. Contact them at www.askthevetspets.com.