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Ferret With A Low Blood-Sugar Problem

Dr. Jerry Murray writes about ferrets and treatment for insulinomas.

By Jerry Murray, DVM
Posted: June 27, 2012, 4 a.m. EDT

ferret standing on cloth
© Jerry Murray
Ferrets are one of the few species that can suffer from insulinomas.

I had a ferret case that was quite challenging to treat. The ferret was brought in because she was having seizure activity. Ferrets can have seizures from several different diseases, but the most common cause is from low blood-sugar due to an insulinoma.

Insulinoma is a type of cancer in the pancreas. It causes the pancreas to overproduce insulin. Too much insulin will cause the blood sugar to become too low. When the blood sugar gets too low, the problems begin.

The ferret’s blood sugar was checked, and it was very low. The ferret had an insulinoma that was causing the seizures. An IV catheter was put into the small vein in her front arm. She was then given an injection of sugar (dextrose) into the IV catheter. IV fluids were started to rehydrate her, and an injection of cortisone was given to help raise her blood glucose level. She began to improve some and was alert enough to drink some liquid dextrose.

Unfortunately her blood glucose level was still lower than normal, and she began having seizures again. This time she had a "screaming fit” with a very high-pitched vocalization. Some more dextrose was injected into the IV catheter, and some dextrose was added to the IV fluids. This time her glucose level rose above the normal range. This stimulated the insulinoma to release more insulin, and her glucose quickly became too low again. It was hard to get her seizure to stop this time.

When a ferret remains in a seizure that does not respond to correcting the glucose level, additional anti-seizure medications need to be used. In this case, I used some valium, but she continued to have seizure activity. Phenobarbital, propofol or general anesthesia (with a gas such as Sevo or Iso) is the next thing to try. For this ferret, I put her under general anesthesia with Sevo to stop the seizure. It was hard to maintain her glucose in the normal range over the next 24 hours, but she eventually recovered.

Ferrets are not the only species to suffer from insulinomas. Insulinomas have been reported in dogs, cats, guinea pigs, cattle and people. Fortunately insulinomas are rare in most species.

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Posted: June 27, 2012, 4 a.m. EDT

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Reader Comments
If she eventually recovered does this mean that she didn't need any permanent medication such as prednisilone and that she continued seizure free? If mine has a seizure then I rub honey on her gums and then she's fine, but now she's been on pred for 20 months, only recently gone up to 1mg a day from half that. I'm in the UK and this seems to be the usual method for insulinoma rather than operations. I've also put her on 100% raw diet which she loves and I think that's been a great help in her continued good health by reducing insulin spikes I presume.
Sarah, International
Posted: 10/7/2014 12:54:59 PM
Surgical partial pancreatomy is the best option I have found in controlling the disease. Careful monitoring of BG after surgery and within a month Ms. Rhodes is medication free (she was on diazoxide only to stabilize before surgery) and feeling great again. Likely another detrimental disease will creep in and cause more problems before we have any more trouble with her pancreas. Amazingly enough her BG was found to be 30-40 and she never had a seizure! I believe a slow drop over time allowed her body to adjust and it took probably 6-12 months before the symptoms of staring/spacing out/road bumping/lethargy/inappetance appeared for her. (and clicked for me!) Thanks for the great article!
Susan, Odessa, TX
Posted: 6/28/2012 12:00:17 AM
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