CZAAWE Resource Article

Characterization of reproductive cycles and adrenal activity in the black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) by fecal hormone analysis
Publication Type 
Journal Article
Year of publication 
Zoo Biology
Abstract 10.1002/zoo.10001.abs The reproductive cycle of the black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) was characterized by enzyme immunoassay (EIA) analysis of ovarian fecal steroids (estradiol, progestins) in 29 females over two consecutive breeding seasons. Estrous status was determined by measuring the vulva size and examining the percentage of superficial cells in vaginal lavages. Mean fecal estradiol concentrations were correlated with vulval area (r = 0.370, P < 0.0001) and the percentage of superficial cells (r = 0.380, P < 0.0001). Ovulation resulted in a rise in fecal progestin concentrations 5 days after breeding that differed (P < 0.05) between pregnant (n = 14) and pseudopregnant (n = 12) females during the late luteal phase (days 12–40), with concentrations remaining higher in pregnant animals. Gestation length was 41.3 ± 0.7 days with 3.6 ± 0.4 kits produced per female. Litter size correlated significantly (P < 0.05) with fecal estradiol, but not progestins during the 12 to 40 days after breeding. Females failing to breed (n = 3) remained in estrus for 31 ± 6.2 days before ovulation induction with human chorionic gonadotropin. Adrenal activity in male (n = 4) and female (n = 6) black-footed ferrets was monitored by quantifying fecal corticoid metabolites after a series of manipulations (physical restraint, intramuscular saline, intramuscular gel adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), intramuscular liquid ACTH). A significant (P < 0.0001) increase in fecal corticoids above the pre-treatment baseline occurred 20 to 44 hours after restraint (five of 10 animals), saline (six of nine), gel ACTH (seven of 10), and liquid ACTH (nine of 10) treatments. Immunoreactivity of high-performance liquid chromatography–separated fecal elutes was compared using antibodies against cortisol and corticosterone. The cortisol EIA demonstrated immunoreactivity that co-eluted with 3H-cortisol, whereas a corticosterone radioimmunoassay detected a metabolite peak that co-eluted with 3H-corticosterone in addition to a slightly less polar and one considerably more polar peak. Despite recognizing different metabolites, both assays produced similar temporal profiles of corticoid excretion after manipulation. This study provides new information on the black-footed ferret regarding differences in fecal steroid excretion patterns between pregnancy and pseudopregnancy and the potential application of fecal corticoid metabolite monitoring for evaluating responses to stressors associated with practices used in breeding management. Zoo Biol 20:517–536, 2001. © 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.