Ferret Insulinoma Diagnosis and Treatment

Insulinoma is a disease which causes tumors in the form of nodules or lumps to form in the pancreas and is a common disease among ferrets.

An animal’s pancreas performs the same function as the pancreas of a human. It is responsible for supplying enzymes needed to digest food and also provides a hormone called insulin which regulates sugar in the blood.

Most human problems involving the pancreas are related to the lack of insulin production, which leads to diabetes. In ferrets, it is just the opposite — too much insulin is being produced.

Symptoms and Diagnosis of Insulinoma in Ferrets

Some ferrets do not show any symptoms, especially in the initial stages. As the disease progresses, the warning signs normally become more pronounced and you may see any of the following:

  • lethargy and weakness, decrease in activity
  • loss of appetite and weight
  • increased salivation, drooling, they may even vomit
  • glazed appearance to the eyes
  • dragging of the hind legs due to weakness
  • seizures

The only way to know for sure if your ferret suffers from insulinoma is to be tested. The first of these test will likely be a blood glucose test. If the blood glucose test shows a positive result, additional tests will be called for to check the pet’s other organs in the body for damange, and to rule out any other possible causes of the low glucose reading. Your veterinarian may also suggest an x-ray, urinalysis, and an ultrasound. Some of these tests are more important depending on which option for treatment you choose.

Treatment Options

There is currently no complete cure for insulinoma, however, the treatment options available – surgery and/or medication – can extend life sometimes as long as two or three years.

Once a diagnosis is made, a course of treatment must be decided upon based on what is best for you, your financial situation, and your pet. Surgery is normally considered to be the best option if the ferret is fairly young, otherwise healthy, and if the insulinoma is not in the late stages of the disease.

During surgery the veterinarian will remove visible nodules as well as part of the pancreas. With removal of part of the healthy pancreas less insulin will be produced, hopefully bringing the problem of over-production of insulin under control. Since there is no precise way to know exactly how much of the pancreas should be removed to achieve a perfect balance, pancreatic surgery is best performed by a veterinarian experienced with this type of surgery.

When surgery is not an option the treatment is daily medications which will help raise the blood sugar level. The two most common drugs prescribed are Prednisone and Diazoxide. Both drugs are also used in the treatment of human illnesses.

The Importance of Diet Before and After Diagnosis

Regardless of which option is chosen for the treatment of Insulinoma, your ferret’s diet in the years ahead is going to be very important in maintaining proper blood sugar levels. Ferrets with insulinoma need to be fed a diet containing little or no grain, carbohydrate, starch, or vegetable ingredients. They do best when fed a diet high in protein and fat and fed frequently to keep their blood sugar in balance.

These feeding recommendations apply to all ferrets whether or not they have diagnosed with insulinoma. Feeding your pet a high quality, meat or poultry-based diet with as few additional plant ingredients as possible may help prevent Insulinoma.

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