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Insulinoma in Ferrets
by David Crum, DVM

What is an insulinoma?
Insulinoma is a very common tumor seen in ferrets older than 3 years of age. More specifically, it is a tumor of the beta cell of the pancreas which hyper-secretes insulin. Insulin is necessary for normal cellular metabolism and maintenance of normal blood glucose levels. As a result of excess insulin secretion from the tumor, blood glucose levels drop to dangerously low levels and can cause life threatening emergencies.

What are signs of insulinoma?
Symptoms commonly include lethargy, unresponsiveness, hind end weakness, chronic weight loss, and excessive salivation. Pawing at the mouth, seizures, along with star gazing or glassy eyes is also commonly seen.

What to do if your ferret has low blood sugar?
If you note any of the signs mentioned above, you may rub Karo syrup or sugar water on the gums to raise blood glucose levels quickly. Follow this with a high protein meal such as clinicare liquid diet for cats or puréed ferret pellets. Seek veterinary attention immediately as this can develop into a life threatening emergency.

How do you diagnosis insulnoma?
Diagnosis is usually based on clinical signs and by measurement of blood glucose levels. The blood glucose level may need to be repeated on done after 1-2 hour fast to document low blood glucose levels. A blood glucose level of 65mg/dl or lower is confirmatory for the disease.

How do you treat insulinoma?
Insulinoma is a highly treatable tumor with management including both medical and surgical options. Due to the high recurrence rate, surgery is not recommended but may be useful to debulk tumor load if another surgical procedure is required.

Life long administration of oral steroids is the treatment of choice for insulinoma in ferrets. Steroids help regulate blood glucose and prevent the precipitous drops in blood glucose levels. Dietary management also plays a significant role in treatment of insulinoma. All simple sugars and treats must be removed from the diet and only high protein ferret food given to prevent excessive insulin release.

Prognosis for insulinoma is usually good. However, since medical therapy is aimed at regulation of blood glucose levels and not reduction of tumor size, higher doses of steroids will be needed as the tumor grows. Most ferrets on average have about 6 months to a year of normal blood glucose before dosage needs to be increased.

Copyright 2007 - David Crum, DVM
Stahl Exotic Animal Veterinary Services

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