Insulinoma refers to the insulin-producing tumor of the pancreas in the ferret. Too much insulin causes blood glucose (sugar) to drop below normal levels, resulting in hypoglycemia and symptoms of generalized weakness.
The cause of insulinoma is poorly understood. It appears to be a spontaneous event within the pancreas of older ferrets. Once diagnosed, insulinomas will require treatment throughout the ferret's life. Treatment is either medical or surgical.
This is a common disease in ferrets over three years old. Both males and females are at risk. Onset can be subtle in some cases. Other ferrets appear normal until they collapse or start to seizure.
Low blood sugar is responsible for the symptoms of insulinoma which are mild initially: weakness, sluggish behavior, sleepiness. The symptoms get worse as the disease progresses: difficulty walking, especially in the rear legs, stupor, and in some cases, seizures.
What To Watch For
Treatment can be surgical or medical.
If the ferret stops eating for whatever reason, hand feed or force feed chicken baby food (like Gerber's) or a veterinary formulation like Hill's AD. Soaked and blenderized ferret or cat kibble can also be given. Veterinary care is advised in any ferret that stops eating or changes eating habits abruptly.
Once diagnosed with insulinoma, the ferret needs to be on the medication for life, unless surgery is performed. Even with surgery, some ferrets still need medication. Missing even one dose can cause hypoglycemia and missing several doses can be very serious.
Weak and/or seizing ferrets need emergency care as soon as possible. If an insulinoma ferret becomes weak or stuporous at home and cannot swallow, try rubbing honey or maple syrup on the gums. Veterinary care must be sought right away. Do not allow a ferret to seizure uncontrollably for prolonged periods (more than a few minutes).