Insulinoma in Ferrets
Insulinoma is a tumor in the pancreas that secretes an excess quantity of insulin. It is one of the most common diseases in pet ferrets, and is usually seen in ferrets older than two years of age. The tumor causes the body to absorb an excessive amount of glucose and reduces the liver's ability to produce this type of sugar. This, in turn, can cause hypoglycemia or affect the nervous system, bringing on such symptoms as seizures, disorientation, collapse, and partial paralysis of the back legs. It may also affect the gastrointestinal system and bring on nausea and vomiting.
Symptoms and Types
Ferrets with insulinoma will usually display more than one clinical sign. However, the symptoms are typically be episodic -- that is, they come and go -- and may or may not be related to fasting, excitement and eating.
- Muscle twitching
- Excessive urination and extreme thirst
- Stargazing (a severely twisted neck, forcing it to gaze upwards)
- Nausea (characterized by excessive salivation and pawing at the mouth)
Insulin-producing tumor or cancer of the pancreas.
Other conditions or diseases can cause many of these symptoms, so your veterinarian will have rule out the possibilities before arriving at a diagnosis. A physical examination followed by a blood test and urinalysis will help them determine whether insulinoma is the cause. Ultrasound may also be used to look for tumors.
Your pet will be hospitalized for examination, surgery, and possibly for treatment; however, you will decide whether or not surgery is an option. If you choose to proceed with the surgery, the ferret may be treated as an outpatient. If it is only showing mild signs of hypoglycemia, the animal may respond well to dextrose or glucose fluids (or supplements).
Diet is the first and most important aspect of management (with or without surgery). Therefore, if the ferret is still able to eat, a special diet may replace dextrose-containing fluids. Four to six small meals given daily and consisting of low simple sugars, such as honey or syrups, and high-quality animal proteins should be enough alleviate symptoms. Alternatively, mild signs may be abated with low simple sugars and one small, high-protein meal; avoid using semi-moist food.
If collapse or seizures occur, you should seek immediate medical attention. Insulinomas are progressive, even with surgical treatment, as the complete removal of all nodules is rarely possible. However, surgery will confirm the diagnosis and can provide temporary (and occasionally, long-term) remission of the tumor(s).
For early detection of insulinoma, annual (or semiannual) measurement of a ferret's blood glucose concentration is recommended if it is over the age two.
Living and Management
Some ferrets will develop short-term (or transient) hyperglycemia after surgery and treatment. However, the hyperglycemia usually resolves itself within one to two weeks. At home, the urine must be monitored for glucose two to three times daily for a week following treatment. And the veterinarian will want to monitor fasting serum glucose concentration two weeks after surgery (or when medical therapy begins), then every one to three months thereafter.
It is also important to restrict the activity of your ferret during its recovery.