Insulinomas in Ferrets

Older ferrets often develop a condition where they collapse suddenly and act very weak or disoriented.  Many times they may start to grind their teeth or chatter and may develop full blown seizures.  These signs are most commonly caused by low blood sugar (hypoglycemia).  Hypoglycemia if ferrets is typically caused by a tumor called an insulinoma that overproduces the hormone insulin.  Insulinomas are diagnosed in ferrets by blood tests that are performed within a few hours of eating.  In some cases, the ferret has to stay at the hospital a few hours so we can obtain a accurate results to make the diagnosis.

Insulinomas may often be surgically removed.  In some ferrets, surgery is not practical and they have to be managed medically.  We can talk to you about the benefits and risks of surgery versus medical management.

If your ferret is showing any of the warning signs above, you should apply corn syrup (e.g., Karo syrup) or pancake syrup to its gums and get to a veterinarian as soon as possible.  If your ferret is seizuring, it is a critical emergency and you need to get to an emergency animal clinic as soon as possible if Arizona Exotic Animal Hospital is not open.



If your ferret has been diagnosed with an insulinoma...

1) Feed him or her 4 to 6 small meals a day and always have food available throughout the day. We recommend feeding grain-free diets, such as Wysong Epigen 90 Digestive Support, which will help regulate your ferret's blood sugar throughout the day. Do not use semi-moist foods as they are high in simple sugars.  You may need to transition to a different diet slowly since ferrets can be stubborn about changing diets and you do not want your ferret to miss a meal as that can make things worse.   
2) Administer any prescription medications as prescribed. Typically most ferrets will be started on prednisolone, a steroid that will increase sugar production from the liver to help prevent low blood sugar levels. Your ferret may need to go on a second medication, diazoxide, when changes in the diet and the prednisone are no longer working as well.
3) If your ferret is drooling, seems nonresponsive or slow to wake up, or has trembling or twitching, immediately give 1 ml of a high sugar syrup (such as Karo corn syrup or honey) followed by a small high protein meal (such as given 5 to 6 ml of chicken baby food by mouth or other cooked meat).  If your ferret does not improve or if they goes on to seizure, this is a medical emergency and your ferret needs to be seen by a veterinarian immediately.  If we are not open, please go immediately to the emergency clinic.
4) Surgery may be an option for some ferrets and is recommended for otherwise healthy ferrets under 6 years of age.  In some cases it improves the response to medical management and can cause temporary remission.  In other cases, the tumor may have spread to other organs and surgery provides no advantage to medical therapy.
5) Routine monitoring of your ferret's blood sugar levels and recheck examination visits are going to be vital to keeping your ferret happy and healthy while treating their insulinoma.