Hypoglycemia in Ferrets
Hypoglycemia is an abnormally low blood concentration of glucose, or sugar—basically, the opposite of diabetes. It’s caused by excess insulin or insulin-like factors (e.g., insulinoma or an overdose of insulin administered medically). Because glucose is a main energy of source in an animal's body, a low amount will result in a severe decrease in energy levels, possibly to the point of loss of consciousness.
Symptoms and Types
Some ferrets appear normal aside from findings associated with the underlying disease, while most have episodic signs, including:
- Muscle twitching
- Exercise intolerance
- Nausea, with excessive salivation and pawing at the mouth
- Posterior partial paralysis
- Stargazing (i.e., head abnormally angled toward the sky)
- Abnormal behavior (e.g., depression, lethargy, and general stupor)
- Seizures (rare)
- Insulinoma—one of the most common diseases seen in ferrets and the most frequent cause of hypoglycemia
- Latrogenic (physician caused) insulin overdose
- Severe hepatitis (e.g., toxic and inflammatory)
- Cirrhosis (scarring of the liver)
- Sepsis (the presence of various pathogenic organisms or their toxins in the blood or tissues)
- Young kits
- Severe malnutrition or starvation
If you notice any of the aforementioned symptoms in your ferret, it is advisable to see a veterinarian immediately. If your ferret has already lost consciousness, or is visibly at the point of collapsing, you will need to call your veterinarian for instructions on immediate at-home treatment, followed by a visit with the doctor.
Even if you are able to treat your ferret at home during the episode of hypoglycemia, you will still need to see your veterinarian so that blood work can be done. Your veterinarian will need to do a complete blood profile, a chemical blood profile, a complete blood count, and a urinalysis. He or she may also recommend abdominal X-rays and an ultrasound, especially if he suspects cancer or other masses as the underlying cause.
There are two types of treatments for hypoglycemia, one of which is given when the episode is occurring -- to raise blood sugar levels immediately -- and the other to treat the underlying condition, to prevent hypoglycemia from recurring.
For serious symptoms that impair the ability to take sugar through the mouth, you may need to rub corn syrup, honey, or 50% dextrose on the inside of the cheek using a cotton swab; however, first consult your veterinarian.
Living and Management
Your veterinarian will want to monitor your pet periodically for signs of a return or progression of signs of hypoglycemia.