I have such mixed feelings writing this article because I have so much regret. I wish we could have caught Moose’s Insulinoma sooner. I wish I would have learned more about how to prevent Insulinoma before it was too late. Here’s the First Aid Kit we now recommend after our experience with 3 ferret illnesses at once.
I am writing this article now to inform those of you that still have hope! You may be familiar with the word ‘Insulinoma’ and yet unfamiliar with the subtle signs of illness and the many ways you can prevent the disease to prolong your ferret’s life.
What is Insulinoma in Ferrets?
If a ferret is diagnosed with Insulinoma, it means that they have tumors on their pancreas. These tumors cause an increase (too much for the body) in the secretion of insulin. This leads to very low blood sugar. If a ferret’s blood glucose (blood sugar) levels fall to extremely low levels, the ferret can experience a seizure -with prolonged low blood glucose levels leading to brain damage and death. Insulinoma in ferrets a very scary disease when it is not managed properly!
What are the Symptoms of Insulinoma in Ferrets?
- Excessive salivation
- Pawing at the mouth (sign of pain)
- Weakness of hind limbs
- Extreme Tiredness or lethargy
- Blood Glucose levels under 80 mg/DL
Is Insulinoma in Ferrets Curable?
Unfortunately, there is no way to cure Insulinoma in Ferrets at this time. Surgery is not 100% effective because it is impossible to remove 100% of the tumors (many are microscopic) and you cannot completely remove a ferret’s pancreas. Medication such as Prednisolone and Diazoxide only help maintain the ferret’s blood glucose levels and do not affect the tumor growths in any way.
Is Insulinoma in Ferrets a Form of Cancer?
It depends. Insulinoma in ferrets can be caused by an insulin-producing adenoma (tumor on a gland) or an insulin producing adenocarcinoma. The first listed in benign, and the second is malignant (cancerous).
How Common is Insulinoma in Ferrets?
Insulinoma is very common in ferrets. Insulinoma is thought to be more common in the United States, and even more common among ferrets that come from large breeding facilities.
Is Insulinoma Related to Diet in Ferrets?
Because Insulinoma in ferrets is related to blood glucose levels, it can be assumed that a more stable, nutritionally accurate diet will help manage the symptoms of Insulinoma in ferrets better. It is also assumed that a good, balanced diet from the beginning has the potential to prevent Insulinoma.
There is a large suspicion that food high in carbohydrates contributes to a higher chance of your ferret getting Insulinoma. This is because ferrets are obligate carnivores and are meant to only consume animal products -no grains, fruits, vegetables, or other carbohydrates. When a ferret consumes a large amount of carbohydrates, their blood sugar spikes and then drops (think like a rollercoaster).
With a more nutritionally accurate diet (one with at least 40% protein and 20% fat), a ferret’s blood glucose levels can remain more consistent throughout the day and night (think like a long, flat highway with very minor hills).
Our thought is -why risk it? Most ferrets we personally know have all gotten either Insulinoma or Adrenal Disease. These are both heart breaking, debilitating diseases. Why not give them a better chance at life and feed the healthiest food you can find?
How Do You Treat Insulinoma in Ferrets?
- Make sure your ferret eats every 4-5 hours
- Monitor your ferret’s blood glucose levels
- Give your ferret medication at the same time every day
How Long Can Ferrets Live with Insulinoma?
6 months to 2 years
As somebody that has a ferret suffering from Insulinoma right now, I hate this question! I hate how short the life expectancy can be once a ferret has Insulinoma. However, I have spent some serious time on ferret forums and quite a few people have had their ferret live for 2 more years after their Insulinoma diagnosis.
How Can I Prolong the Life of My Ferret with Insulinoma?
The key to a prolonged life with Insulinoma is proper diet and a rigid treatment schedule.
After the initial diagnosis for Moose, it was so important for Channing and me to get a treatment routine down.
For reference, this is our treatment routine for Moose:
- 6:30am Check Moose Blood Glucose (once per week now) and give Moose Carafate
- 7:00am Spoon feed Moose Wysong Epigen 90 DS that has been ground into a paste
- 8:30am Give Moose Prednisolone along with a little bit of food
- 11:00am If we are home from work, spoon feed Moose
- 4:00pm If we are home from work, spoon feed Moose
- 5:30pm Give Moose Carafate
- 7:30pm Spoon feed Moose
- 9:00pm Give Moose Prednisolone with a little bit of food
- 10:00pm Spoon feed Moose, Channing makes a new jar of food paste for tomorrow!
***Notice that for 11am and 4pm it says “if we are home, feed Moose”. We have dry food available to the ferrets all day long. However, Moose does not have a big appetite so we tend to assume he is not eating if we do not feed him ourselves.
Keeping a ferret with Insulinoma is no walk in the park but for those of you that know Moose, you know he’s worth the trouble -just like every other ferret in the world!
If you are thinking “oh my goodness, how could I ever feed and medicate my ferret around the clock?!” let me just mention the plus side: Caring for Moose has brought me and Channing closer as a couple and it has also deepened my relationship with Moose. Spoon feeding that little stinker every day is something I will remember for the rest of my life. Yes, it is time-consuming but much like the final moments you spend with an ailing loved one, caring for your ferret with Insulinoma will be one of the most meaningful things you do in your life. I promise you can do it and you will be happier for it.
Please reach out if you need advice or encouragement.
How Can I Prevent Insulinoma in My Ferret?
You can prevent Insulinoma by feeding your ferret a proper diet. Remember to look for foods with at least 40% protein and 20% fat content!
You can also prevent Insulinoma by monitoring your ferret’s blood glucose levels regularly throughout their life. Veterinarians recommend you test your ferret’s blood glucose levels every 3-6 months when they are showing no signs of Insulinoma. If your ferret has Insulinoma, it is recommended that you test your ferret’s blood glucose levels once per week while your Prednisolone is getting calibrated, and then testing your ferret’s blood glucose levels once per month thereafter. Channing and I tested Moose’s blood glucose levels multiple times a day for the first few days to learn Moose’s natural body levels. We found it very useful for our vet records!
The only blood glucose monitor our ferret-specific vet recommends is the AlphaTRAK2.