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Ferret Goes Limp, Drools, Seems Blind But Then Recovers

What would cause a ferret to go limp, drool, seem blind but then recover after a few minutes?

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

Q: We have a male ferret that is about 4 years old. About a month ago we found him in his cage in the middle of the night limp and drooling and his paws seemed very cold. We wrapped him in a blanket and tried to make him comfortable. He would not eat or drink or even lift his head; then, miraculously, a couple of hours later he got up and started walking around like nothing ever happened and was eating and drinking fine. Since then this has occurred three more times, but not as severely. He starts to drool, becomes very limp and seems like he is blind. The episode usually lasts for 10 to 20 minutes. The last time this happened we fed him small pieces of chicken and a few drops of watered-down honey, and he immediately got up and moved around. We have had several ferrets but never had any with this problem. Could he be diabetic? If so what, if any, help can you give us? We live in a small town and cannot find a veterinarian who is knowledgeable about ferrets. Our ferret has never had surgery or any other medical conditions. This is the first time he has been ill.
A: What you are describing is a very typical episode in ferrets that have an untreated insulinoma. This disease causes the blood sugar to be very low. The disease comes on very slowly, and a ferret becomes habituated to the low blood sugar until one day, he can no longer compensate and he shows signs of hypoglycemia. Signs include weakness, sometimes profound, drooling, and even appearing like they cannot see.

Early on with this insulinoma, ferrets respond when they are given some nutrition. But as the disease progresses, ferrets need more than food to come back from a hypoglycemic episode. Most ferrets are treated medically with steroids for this disease and they can have an excellent quality of life on this medication. We also recommend surgery to remove the diseased areas of the pancreas.

Of course, the problem afflicting your ferret may not be an insulinoma but some other disease. Other causes of episodic weakness include heart disease, liver disease, renal disease, seizures, ingestion of toxins and muscular diseases. Even though insulinoma is the most common cause of the signs you describe, your veterinarian will need to run some basic tests to rule out those other diseases.

Unfortunately, there are still many veterinarians who are not well-versed in ferret medicine, and this can be difficult for ferret owners when they try to find a veterinarian to help their ferret. In a situation such as this, I recommend that you find a local veterinarian who is willing to consult with a veterinarian who is an expert in ferret medicine. There are various ways your veterinarian can contact these experts. In these situations, you have the benefit of working with your hometown veterinarian but the knowledge of the expert veterinarian.

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Reader Comments
This happened to my ferret several times. The vet gave me an rx but my ferret hated it-but I force fed it to him. My vet told me he had to have the rx & that he would die within a year & told me he had to stay at the vet office to recover, but I was short on funds. I started asking him questions & started thinking. If my ferret was acting like he was hypogl. Then I would just monitor him. So I took him home, kept giving him the rx & corn syrup for about 3 hours as directed & he got better. After that I mixed his food with warm water & mushed it & held him & fed him using my finger 3-4 times a day. I did this every day for about a month- month 1/2 until he would eat again on his own. It's been 3 years & he's still alive & plays & hasn't had an episode. I still have to take him to his food to eat, or he won't eat, but he's fine as long as I make sure he eats. He's on a Marshall ferret diet. Also, before his episodes I gave him cereal for treats but afterward I stopped giving him any treats, this helped alot bc he's not getting all that extra sugar. One more thing, anytime he looks a little lethargic, i give him some of the rx from the dr & he perks right up. The vet did tell me 3 years ago that the more rx u give the ferret, the more immuned they get to it- kind of like us & antibiotics, so i only give it to him when he needs an added boost- about 1x every 3-6 months. I hope this helps someone else, my ferret was really bad but with consistent care he's living a happy life.
Ami, Binghamton, NY
Posted: 1/17/2014 9:17:22 PM
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