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Treating Ferrets With Insulinoma

What is the recommended treatment for a ferret with insulinoma?

By Karen Rosenthal, DVM, DABVP
Posted: October 31, 2008, 11 a.m EDT

Q: I have an approximately 5-year-old ferret (he was rescued, so his exact age is iffy). He never had a seizure but was acting "off," and a fasting blood test showed his blood sugar in the 50s. The veterinarian put him on 2.5 mg of prednisone (divided into two doses a day). She is reluctant to do surgery, as she has not personally seen any real change in the medication needed to treat him. This was about five months ago, and my ferret is again beginning to act "off." On his recent physical exam, the vet said outside of a slightly enlarged spleen he seems to be in good condition.
Will surgery be of any benefit for my little guy? Do I just need to look for a more specialized ferret veterinarian (the closest vet on the exotic pet certification site is approximately six hours away)? Are there any other new protocols/medicines available now for insulinoma? He is an absolutely great little guy and has been an amazing local ferret ambassador.

A: These are great questions. Most ferret veterinarians believe that surgery to remove part of the pancreas is beneficial to the quality of life of a ferret with insulinoma. Most ferrets after surgery still need some medication, but almost all will require a smaller amount.

Insulinoma disease is due to a malignant cancer. This means that in time it spreads and ultimately causes the death of the ferret. The theory is that surgery slows down the spread of the cancer by removing parts of the pancreas, therefore removing some of the cancer load on that organ.

The best answer for you is to get a second opinion on your ferret. Unfortunately, if the closest doctor that can help you is more than six hours away, then that is not a good option. I say that because even if you went to this doctor and he or she advocated surgery for your ferret and it was done, would you travel six hours each way every time your ferret needs to see that doctor? If you cannot find a doctor nearby, perhaps you can speak with your current veterinarian and ask her to consult with an online group to decide if surgery for your little guy might be helpful.

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Treating Ferrets With Insulinoma

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Reader Comments
Hi-my ferret has had insulinoma for almost one year-he became lethargic and was drooling and foaming at the mouth and I took him to the vet right away -he had recovered by the time I got him there , but the tests showed that he had a very low glucose level and he was diagnosed with insulinoma-he too was started on a steroide(prednisolone)twice a day-eventually it was reduced over a period of time and now he is on .25cc twice a week and he also takes pepcid 1cc(compounded by a pharmaacy to taste like chicken)every day-he is 7 years old -I would never subject him to surgery-I also give him nutri-cal for ferrets twice a day(I put it on a teaspoon and he licks it off)-he occasionally still has episodes, but I put a little of the nutri-cal on my finger and he licks it off and perks up enough to eat some of his regular ferret food-I gave him permission to die when he first got sick, but I guess he is not ready to go yet-he is not in any pain-he seems happy-he does sleep a lot more,but he is also older-I have another ferret around the same age, who is not sick, and they have both slowed down with age-they both seem happy-good luck with your ferret, I hope this was helpful to you-
Carolyn, Nutley, NJ
Posted: 1/16/2009 5:48:14 PM
Your vet could increase the dose of pred, or if it gets really bad could add diazoxide. It is a good idea to have your vet do regular glucose checks to see specifically how well the meds are working. Unfortunately, there does come a time when the symptoms are no longer manageable and the ferret must be put to sleep.

As to surgery - my understanding is that insulinoma surgery is best done early if at all. I don't know how reasonable it would be to pursue surgery 5 months after diagnosis.
April, Bowling Green, OH
Posted: 11/2/2008 8:10:58 PM
I would also suggest contacting the nearest ferret shelter and ask what Vet they use, and some of the treatments they find worth while.
Joan, Upper Darby, PA
Posted: 10/31/2008 2:40:54 PM
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