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Ferret Is Lethargic, Weak And Losing Weight

Could an ulcer be causing a ferret to be weak and lethargic?

By Karen Rosenthal, DVM, MS
Posted: May 1, 2011, 5 a.m. EDT

Q: I’m the proud owner of two lovely ferrets, Oi and Luna. They are 6 to 7, and 5 years old respectively. We’ve got a serious problem with Oi. She was always a small ferret, but now she weighs only 380 grams! She slept a lot the last few months, but we thought she was just getting older. She eats well, but since last week she can’t stand anymore. She is too weak, even for the vet to take blood. The veterinarian said she thought Oi could have insulinoma or an ulcer. We have to take her up to do everything. She’s too weak, but still eats and drinks. Do you know of a case that an ulcer can be the reason for this? Tomorrow we probably get medication (ulcogant) for this. We had to order it from Holland, as it’s not available here in Belgium.
A: Unfortunately, there are many reasons why your ferret may be losing weight and is now very weak. Yes, ulcers can do this in ferrets.

The reason ferrets become very weak is that in serious ulcer disease, there is blood loss from the ulcer. As blood continues to be lost, the ferret becomes anemic. With severe anemia, your ferret will not be able to get up or move around. Your ferret will be very weak until the bleeding ulcer is treated.

It is difficult to diagnose an ulcer in a ferret. The definitive way to do this is through an exploratory abdominal surgery. At surgery, the stomach and intestines are opened and biopsies are taken of areas that look like they are ulcerated. Another option is to use an endoscope to go through the oral cavity and esophagus, and finally reach the stomach and intestines. With this method, it is possible to take biopsies without abdominal surgery.

If your ferret’s only problem is a bleeding ulcer, treatment for the ulcer and supportive care such as hand-feeding and fluids will improve her condition in a short time.

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Ferret Is Lethargic, Weak And Losing Weight

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Reader Comments
It sure sounds like insulinoma to me, which is all too common with older ferrets. The low blood glucose level associated with insulinoma causes the weakness, much the same as if you haven't eaten for a long time and feel weak and light-headed due to low blood sugar. Hopefully your vet has taken a blood glucose test to determine if it's insulinoma, and if so, has begun treatment with prednisolone.

Ulcers can occur secondary to other illnesses, such as insulinoma. The stress on the ferret's body caused by the primary illness can result in ulcers, so many times you have both a primary illness (insulinoma) and the secondary problem (ulcers) together. This may be what you see. If this is so, then your ferret needs to get treated for both at the same time. Treatment for insulinoma will be for the rest of her life, but the ulcers can probably be cleared up in a month to 6 weeks, if you are diligent with the medicines that are prescribed, and the timing that is required when giving meds for two different problems.
Jeff R, Connecticut, CT
Posted: 5/4/2011 11:10:50 AM
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