The Ferret Owners Manual

Insulinoma – Insulinoma is a disease found more commonly in older ferrets; typically four years of age or older. It has been found, although more rarely, in younger ferrets. It is the result of tumors on the pancreas which causes over-production of insulin, which in turn lowers the blood glucose to dangerous levels. Since glucose is the “food” of the cells and nerves of the body, the body begins to shut down. Blindness is often results from insulinoma near the latter stages of the diseases.

Symptoms of insulinoma may include: lowered physical activity; bouts of “blank staring”, staggering; convulsions; excessive salivation; and hind end weakness. If your ferret exhibits these symptoms have your vet do a fasting glucose test immediately. If your ferret is suffering from the more extremes of these symptoms (convulsions, staggering, etc.) dip a cotton swab in some Karo corn syrup, then rub it on your ferret’s gums. If your ferret “returns to normal” within a few minutes it’s a sign that insulinoma is likely present. Prompt veterinary care is essential. Blindness and death are common.

Your vet will ask you to “fast” your ferret for about 3 hours (never more than 4 hours) before the visit, when a blood sample will be drawn. Generally, a blood glucose level below 70 is indicative of insulinoma; levels between 70 and 80 warrant a retest in a few months.

Surgery is sometimes the best, long term option. A portion of the pancreas (often about a third to a half of the organ) will be removed. After recovery, your ferret should have another blood test scheduled in about one month, then every 3 – 6 months.

Another option, if your ferret is not a good candidate for surgery, is medication such as prednisone or proglycem. These medications should only be given after a feeding. While these are not curative, they will relieve the symptoms for a time. High protein diets will also help stabilize the condition. A Duck Soup (minus the Ensure and Ferretvite) made with strained chicken (baby food) is a good source of protein.

Most vets recommend that you never give sugary treats to a ferret having linsulinoma. This includes raisins, fruit, honey, and treats containing sugar (including fructose, glucose, and other natural sugars.)


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