Ferrets: Insulinoma

Insulinoma

One of the most common and most devastating of ferret diseases is cancer of the insulin-producing cells called an insulinoma. Other names for this tumor are beta-cell carcinoma or pancreatic endocrine carcinoma. This cancer occurs when the cells of the pancreas that produce insulin (beta-cells) grow out of control. The disease in the ferret caused by this cancer is not caused by the cancer growing into a large tumor and thereby disrupting the surrounding tissues or organs (as is often the case with cancer), rather, it is due to the effects of the over production of the hormone insulin by the cancerous tissue.

As with any major disease problem in the ferret, insulinoma is a problem that should be addressed by a veterinarian familiar with ferrets, their diseases and with significant experience performing surgery on ferrets. This common problem of ferrets is very rare in dogs, cats, or other small animals.

Significant anatomy and physiology

The pancreas is a large glandular organ located at the upper end of the digestive tract, where the stomach empties into the small intestine. This large gland has two functions, one, called “exocrine” (meaning the gland secretes material outward or out of the body), and the other called “endocrine” (meaning that the gland secretes into the body or into the blood stream). The exocrine function involves the production and secretion of the digestive enzymes used to digest food, primarily proteins and sugars in the diet. The endocrine function involves regulation of the level of sugar in the blood stream. Two substances, or hormones, are involved in this process, insulin and glucagon. After eating a meal that contains sugar or carbohydrates, blood sugar levels rise in the blood. This rise in blood sugar causes the pancreatic beta cells to release insulin. The insulin acts on body tissues to actively absorb the sugar from the blood stream and lower the level in the blood.

When an insulinoma is present, too much insulin is released into the blood and the body’s tissues absorb too much glucose. This causes blood sugar levels to drop too low for the brain to function normally, resulting in the signs we see in the ferret.

Occurrence of insulinoma

It is safe to say that most ferrets that “die of old age” die of cancer. The cause of this truism is not clear, but unlike most animals that die of organ failure (liver failure, kidney failure, heart failure, etc.), ferrets die of a variety of unusual forms of cancer. Insulinoma is reported to be the second most common cancer of ferrets, second only to adrenal cancer. As many as 25% of all ferrets may develop this form of cancer. They occur in both male and female ferrets, as young as two years of age up to “old age,” five to eight years. Early spay or castration has not been shown to increase a ferret’s chances of having this form of cancer, nor has diet.

Symptoms

A ferret with early stages of insulinoma may show very subtle signs. The ferret may stare into space as if it is in a trance. It may seem tired or may lack energy. As the disease progresses the ferret acts increasingly weak. It may drag it’s back legs or be too weak to climb. The ferret may retch or paw at it’s mouth as if nauseous. With advanced disease the ferret may become unconscious or have seizures caused by very low blood sugar levels. Other signs that may occur with insulinoma include vomiting, and black, tar-like diarrhea. If left untreated signs may progress to coma and the death of the ferret.

Diagnosis

Insulinoma is tentatively diagnosed on the basis of history, physical signs and tests that show low blood sugar levels. The disease is confirmed by tests showing high blood insulin levels and evaluation of cancer tissue removed at surgery. These tests must be performed by a veterinarian and there is some interpretation of results required. There are times when a ferret with an insulinoma may have normal blood sugar and normal insulin levels. The tests are best performed following a two to three hour fast. Longer fasts may give a falsely low blood sugar reading. Tests taken when blood sugar is very low, especially if it has been low for some period of time, may give a falsely low blood insulin level.

Treatment

Insulinoma is treated with a combination of medical and surgical therapy and, in some cases dietary changes. Medical treatment consists a steroid, prednisone, and in difficult to control cases, an insulin blocking drug, diazoxide. The prednisone acts to change the way the ferret’s body uses sugar. This greatly reduces the high and low sugar levels responsible for the symptoms caused by the tumor. Diazoxide helps to block the effect the insulin has on body tissues. Prednisone is very inexpensive and comes in both small dosage pill and liquid forms. Diazoxide is very expensive and comes as a liquid and a pill, however the pill form is difficult to reduce to a small ferret dosage.

Once stable, surgery may be recommended. The goal of surgery is to slow the progress of the disease. Insulinoma tumors metastasize or spread to other locations in the ferret’s body very early in the disease. This makes a surgical cure highly unlikely. However, removal of the primary tumors appears to significantly slow the progress of the disease.

Surgery is most often recommended after two to three weeks of medical treatment has been completed and the ferret has become medically stable and stopped showing signs of low blood sugar. In the author’s practice, ferrets undergoing surgery for insulinoma spend two to three days in the hospital. The surgery is performed on the first day. The ferret is prepared for surgery early in the day. An catheter is placed in a vein in the front leg and the ferret is started on a constant infusion of fluids including glucose (sugar). This reduces the risks of anesthesia and surgery in these patients.

Isoflurane, an inhaled gas anesthesia, is administered, first by a mask and then through a tube placed in the patient’s airway. The abdomen of the ferret is shaved from the middle of it’s chest to the inside of it’s thighs and the skin of it’s abdomen is washed and sterilized. An incision is made from just below the umbilicus (the belly-button) to the zyphoid process (the point at the bottom of the sternum). The tumor (or tumors) are located in the pancreas and the abdomen is examined for other forms of cancer and other problems. A common finding at surgery is the presence of a large spleen or adrenal cancer. If present, these problems would be addressed at the same time. The abdomen is closed with three layers of sutures and surgical staples.

Pain medication is given prior to the time the ferret awakens from the anesthetic and repeated in the evening. Further pain medication is usually not required. Intravenous fluids are continued until the patient is eating on it’s own.

Experimental treatments

The author has experimented with chemotherapy aimed at killing the cancer tissue. Two drugs have been used to treat insulinoma in other species and hold promise for treating the disease in ferrets. These drugs are highly toxic to insulin producing cells and have been used in medical research to produce diabetic animal models (animals that can not make insulin). This research is in very early stages and their routine use of these drugs is many months to years away.

Prevention

At this time there is no known way to prevent this disease. Some authors recommend not feeding sugary treats and keeping your ferret physically fit. Good diet and husbandry are always recommended.

Conclusion

In summary, insulinoma is a very common cancer of ferrets. Signs of the disease may include trance-like staring, lack of energy, loss of attention, weakness, nausea, and convulsions. It is caused by cancer of the insulin producing cells of the pancreas. The disease is significant and ferrets showing signs of insulinoma should be attended by a veterinarian familiar with ferrets and experienced in the surgery to correct this disease. The disease is diagnosed with a combination of history, physical signs and lab tests. Treatment consists of both medical and surgical treatment and, someday, may include a chemotherapy protocol aimed at killing the tumor cells. Treatment is not curative but will greatly enhance the quality and in most cases quantity of life, especially when initiated early in the course of the disease.

Signs of insulinoma

(In order of progression)

  • Trance-like Staring
  • Lack of energy
  • Weakness
  • Hind leg paralysis
  • Nausea / Pawing at mouth
  • Muscle tremors
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Death

Article by Jeffrey R. Jenkins, D.V.M

About Dr. Jenkins

Comments

  1. I recently took my male ferret to a vet. his hind legs “fall over” when he runs or walks, he’s having trouble climbing, he makes a horrible sound like someone stepped on him from time to time, and he is eating less. The vet didn’t do any blood tests at all just squeezed his middle and lower areas and then told us he has cancer. Is this normal? Should the vet have done blood tests or can cancer be found just by physical touch?

    • The signs you describe are common signs of weakness. Insulinoma would be one cause, but there are many other problems that may present similarly. The masses or tumor of insulinoma are very small, most often only a few millimeters in diameter and would typically not be felt by palpation (feeling from outside his body). There is a chance that your veterinarian felt a large tumor (most likely not an insulinoma).
      In most cases some testing, and possibly radiographs, would be taken to diagnose insulinoma. Blood glucose levels being the most common test.

  2. My male ferret Echo just turned one in march and for the past few days he’s been laying down out of nowhere. Now, I know that’s normal, but he does it every few minutes and lays there for anywhere from 30 seconds to over a minute. I’m currently enrolled in school to be a vet tech and I plan on taking him to our school clinic to have bloodwork done. I just wanna know if insulinoma is a possibility or is he just worn out?

    • Kelly
      It would be unusual for a one year old ferret to have an insulinoma. Still the signs you describe are not normal behavior for a young ferret as well. It is more likely that your friend has eaten something that he shouldn’t. Young ferrets have a strong attraction to things made out of latex, rubber and foam.
      Best if you have Echo seen by a veterinarian familiar with ferrets as soon as possible.
      Good luck! Dr. J

  3. Crickett Love says:

    Hello, my name is Crickett and I have 4 wonderful little Ferret friends. I love them very much so it just crushed me when one of them, came down with “what appears to be Insulinoma”. My lil friend Freakers went into screaming siezures a few days ago. It took meds from his doc and 24hrs to get them to stop. Im still waiting for test results and final diagnosis, but it’s real clear what is ailing him. He’s unable to walk or move around on his own. He has to be force fed, but once he gets started at times is eager to eat. He act like he’s a bit confused most of the time, when he’s looking around. He’s approx 7yrs old, but was very active before the symptoms started. It’s been a week now and the most he can do is lift his head and it seems the lights are on and no one is home. It’s breaking my heart to see him this way! I do NOT want him to suffer. What are the chances of him “with proper treatment” recovering from this? Is there anyway for me to help my other little friends from getting Insulinoma, too? C.L

    • It’s difficult to tell you if your ferret has an insulin producing tumor or not, but his signs do sound consistent with the disease.
      I am surprised, however, that he is not doing better if he has been under the care of your veterinarian. If his blood glucose levels were low and he has signs suggestive with insulinoma, most veterinarians would start treatment with prednisolone and most ferrets would improve significantly.
      I think it’s time you had a talk with your veterinarian!

      • Crickett Love says:

        Thank you so much for your quick reply. I will do that right away! Im very happy to hear that with proper treatment my ferret should do well. God Bless :)

  4. I just went through a horrifying experience with my little girl ferret last night, she is 4. I’ve researched a lot on this particular subject, and I am most positive this is what she has. It breaks my heart that she had to go through what she did.
    I came in, around 4 am and saw her laying stretched out at the bottom of her cage. She usually likes to be in her tent with her blanket, covered, so I noticed that was weird. When I walk in the room, her eyes usually light up and she starts climbing to the top of her cage wanting out. She just looked up, tried moving, and fell right on her face.
    I panicked. I got her out, held her. She was foaming, drooling, breathing really funny. I thought I was about to lose her. All I had was in common instinct was to make her comfortable and try to talk to her to keep her responsive.
    She would look at me when I called her name, but would go back into a trance of staring at nothing, or her eyes would close. I tried playing with her legs, usually she pulls them back from me, but she was lathargic. When I put her on my bed to run around after she kinda woke up, she wanted to walk around, get under the covers, play, but sadly her little legs, weren’t letting her. It was as if she was drunk, or her leg was broken.
    Finally, after researching this, I found the Karo syrup deal, didn’t have any so I used corn syrup. Not 10 mins later she was responsive, hoping around, playing. Still having trouble walking, but after I put her in her cage, she ate, drank, curled up and went to sleep.
    I got her out this morning and she was walking fine, eating fine, being her silly self. The vet I use for my dogs, would rather not work with ferrets, I live in Memphis, TN and would love to help her as much as I can. I’m going to get some baby food, chicken to get some protien in her as soon as I wake up. She’s my baby, and I just don’t want to lose her. I’ve seen that it is not 100% curable, and that breaks my heart. Name anything and everything I can do to help prevent her from going through that ever again.

    • Ashley
      Most ferrets with insulin producing tumors respond well to treatment with prednisolone and some are cured with surgery.
      You have an Exotic Animal Speciality Practice in Memphis. I’ve known Dr. Hannon for some time. He has a good reputation and, I am certain, will help your ferret get back to health.
      Best of luck! Dr. J

    • I have just lost my ferret today to pancreatic insulonoma. I am heartbroken. It started a year ago, when he wouldnt eat, or poo or drink. Vet did blood test an said it was this. he started him on diazoxide twicce a day. every six weeks he would have a relapse. I found a liquid cat food called liquivite which was the only thing that gave him a jump start, so every couple of weeks he would have this. He was losing weight and i took him back to the vets august 2011 and he was prescibed steroids (prednisolone) as well as diazoxide. I gave him these tablets crushed and in chicken soup in a syringe twice a day. He continued to lose weight and he sadly lost his fight today.

      • Karen
        Sorry about your loss. Also that it took you till now to find our web sight.
        WE would have recommended your friend start prednisolone on day one and talked about doing an exloratory surgery as soon as he was stable. Many of these ferrets do well, some even cured, with surgery to remove the tumor(s).

  5. Thank you so much, do you know anything about their price range? I have never even heard of the place til you mentioned it.

  6. I have a 3 year old female ferret who has tumors in her digestive tract. When first diagnosed, she was put on prednisone (pill form). The tumors shrunk within a matter of weeks. Recently (3 months later) the tumors have rapidly increased in size. Larger than before. I had the prednisone filled as a liquid to ensure she is ingesting the right amount. Has the tumor built up a toleration and the prednisone is no longer effective? If so, would increasing the dosage be appropriate? Originally, the vet told us surgery would be too difficult as the tumors are thoughout the tract. I do feel small little bumps in a couple places, but I feel one extremely large (quarter size) in one spot. Would the removal of the largest tumor relieve her and prolong her life? As of this week, she has a lot of trouble walking and barely wants to move. Her muscles in her arms and back are almost non existent. Any input and advice would be greatly appreciated. I understand this disease is somewhat unstoppable, but I am wondering would the best thing to do is in order to relieve her and make her comfortable. Thank you so very much.

    • It is difficult to give a very specific answer without knowing more about the tumor, however, I can make a good assumption that this is a form of lymphoma (because it responded to prednisone). If that is the case there is a good chance that a more aggressive course of chemotherapy (typically a 3-4 drugs given in concert with each other) will bring the tumor back under control. We typically would start with one of these “chemotherapy cocktails.”
      I think you need to get a biopsy or aspirate of one or more mass so that you know what you are up against and how to proceed.
      Let us know if we can help. Good luck!!!
      Dr. J

  7. Hello Dr J
    I have a 8 year old ferret. Last May she had a seziure. Come to find out she has cancer. She is now on predisone. It doesn’t seem to be working anymore for her. I have had it raised to help with the blood sugar. She has good days and bad days. The question I have is, as long as she is on the meds will she have another seziure? And also how long is to long for me to hold on to her? I don’t want her to be in pain like the first time she had a seziure.

    • Laura
      As the tumor(s) grow in size and mass it will be more difficult for the prednisolone to control her blood glucose (sugar). More (prednisolone) will work for a time but not for ever. How long depends on the number and size of the tumor(s).
      Another option is to do an exploratory surgery to remove / debulk the tumor mass. This works on MOST ferrets and some are even cured by the surgery. We perform insulinoma surgery regularly (averaging more than one per week).
      You should find a veterinarian with a busy ferret practice that performs this surgery often (at least 6-8 times a year). It is not uncommon to find adrenal tumors during these surgeries. These can be removed at the same surgery.
      Until you have her surgery done / If you choose not to do surgery, you should make an effort to get your ferret to eat often. Wake her up and encourage her to eat every time you come or go, your meal times or anytime you think about it. As anyone who has owned a ferret knows, ferrets eat many times during the day. This gives them a constant source of blood sugars made from the fats and proteins in her food. Her insulinoma will cause her blood sugar to drop and that makes it hard for her to wake up and eat. If she goes to long between meals her blood glucose (sugar) can get too low and lead to a seizure.

  8. I found my ferret this morning at 6 and he was laying on his stomach face in the litter he was still warm but stiff and there was no symptoms he was fine the day before please help

  9. My ferret is a 3 year old male I found my ferret this morning at 6 and he was laying on his stomach face in the litter he was still warm but stiff and there was no symptoms he was fine the day before please help

  10. Hi there, I have a 7 and a half year old female ferret who has just been dianosed with strongly suspected insulinoma. She had laid down, seeming really sleepy, so I took her to the vet. Her blood sugar was 2.8 and later (after glucose) 3.7. I’m trying to work out whether to risk surgery (strikes me as either a very good or very bad outcome) or just to use the steroids (which I believe will help her for a few months, so possibly to the end of her natural life, though possibly not). The added problems are that she has been found to have a very slow heart rate (60 beats per minute). The vet is not sure why this is but is thinking it might be due to the low sugar levels – I’m not sure how much this affects her chances under the knife. Also, the vet found a little fluid around her heart, not too much but a bit. Liver & kidney tests seem OK. Can you offer any assistance on my decision? I’m not sure if her age and other symptoms should put me off surgery (which seems like the action of choice) or not. Many thanks.

    • Most ferrets that are diagnosed with insulinoma are in bad shape at the time they are first presented and most of them improve enough with prednisolone that we can do their surgery or maintain them for significant periods. I’ have you see how she does over the next couple weeks and then make your decision about surgery.

  11. Hello,
    My ferret is around 7 yrs old and she was just diagnosed with moderate insulinoma. I took her in when I noticed she wasn’t using her back legs. She’s on steroids now and I have nutrical for emergencies. Unfortunately it took 2 hours for her to be seen after the incident. Will she regain use of her legs and walk again?

    Thanks!
    Justin

    • Her hind leg weakness is due to low blood sugar (not brain trauma, etc.). That means that the dose of prednisolone / prednisone is not enough to get her sugar levels up OR that she needs to have her tumor removed or reduced in mass so that the prednisolone can do its job.
      Best of luck! Dr. J

  12. Justin Altizer says:

    Hi, my little buddy Albus just had surgery to remove a mass near his right adrenal gland. The vet said it is one of the largest he has seen. My question is two fold: A- The vet said he noticed a dark red area on the pancreas and was going to take it out and biopsy, But after getting the adrenal gland and the tumor he went back and couldn’t find it…do you think that could be the early stages of insolinoma? B- Albus has been rubbing his chin on the floor after eating since his surgery (6 days ago)…do you think he could have stomach ulcers?

    Thank you for you help! The fuzzbutt are lucky to have you.

    • Sorry for the slow reply. Your question got lost in the pile !!!
      I’m hoping Albus is doing well and that you have histopathology back and an answer to what the mass was.
      Very often the pancreas will bruise when being handled. Insulinomas are small firm tissue that, if anything, are lighter in color than the surrounding pancreas.
      The chin rubbing could be a sign of nausea and could be a sign of gastritis or gastric ulcers. If he continues he should be treated as if he has ulcers.

      • Justin Altizer says:

        Thank you for the reply Dr. Jenkins. I can tell you the VCL done by our vet has saved our little buddy. It certainly took a few weeks for his spirit to perk back up, but now he is giving the business a run for their money (as CEO of course). Good to hear you think the spot on the pancreas may just have been a bruise.

        Unfortunately the histopahology came back malignant so I am not sure exactly what is in store down the road. Dr. Hess took part of our little Albus’ liver along with the Adrenal mass, while completing the VCL, because the tumor had grown into it. I know that the adrenal tumors are common but most often benign correct?

        As for the ulcers, he sure had them. But after a few weeks of Calafate* he was eating everything from duck soup, to kibble up to and including my shoes (again).

        One thing I noticed a couple weeks before the surgery was his tempo. Albus slowed quite a bit acting almost like he had the flu. Little did we know that his blood flow was being cut off little by little. It is sad to think how many nights he barely made it through, and just what would have happened if the surgery were performed 2 weeks earlier or later.

        But we are so thrilled to have our buddy back, and to love him every minute we can. Life is important, all life, and we cherish his from the bottom of our hearts.

        Thank you again for your reply

  13. This is a bit insane to think. but, i have a male ferret. only one yr. old. but, last night i was holding him in my arms, and i picked him up and he just fell again. but, he had had a very very long play day. so i think he was just tired, because today i let him down, and he was as happy as could be. since he is not in the age range for insulinoma, what can i do to try and prevent it from happening, and give him a fulll, happy life? please, i just want to make sure my baby boy is okay. and, i’m also new to a new state, and i’m not so sure where the nearest veterinarian is if i ever need one in case of emergency. i love in Pensacola, FL. can you help me?

  14. Hi my feret passed away this past Sunday. He woke me up at about 4 am scratching the carpet. He somehow got out of his cage. I got up and put him(Timmy) back inside his cage. Then I had to look for the other little guy(Pancho) well I did find him under the sofa. I put them both back inside. They seemed ok. But later that day I looked at Timmy and he was laying on his stomach face first into the litter box. He was cold so I tried to wake him up but he was dead. But it’s been 1 day and Pancho is doing fine. Any idea what could have killed him over night? And also do you think Pancho will feel sad being by himself? Should I buy another feret to keep him company?

    • There are lots of possibilities. Young ferrets (<2 years) love to eat rubbery things or thing made of foam. If Timmy found and ate something that totally blocked the outflow from his stomach he could progress rapidly. They will also eat things that they should not (cleaning products, etc.) but I’d expect those thing to show signs right off and take longer to progress to death.
      If you still have Timmy you should have a veterinarian or local/state veterinary lab perform a necropsy. That is the only way to get the true answer.

  15. I have a ferret who was diagnosed with insulinoma about a year ago and he is on prednisone and that was working fine, but in the past few months he has lost weight and I am having trouble getting him to eat anything that will help him gain weight, I was just wondering if you had any suggestions, I have tried eggs, chicken, ham, baby food, and soft cat food, all with no luck. Also I was wondering if there had been any new Developements with the experimental drugs listed above, and if I could get the names of them.

    • Try Glucerna. It’s a liquid diet for people with diabetes. The hospital grade product is best, but the shakes will do in a pinch.

      Not much going on with chemotherapy. If your friend is not doing well with the prednisolone (we give doses up to 1 mg/kg twice daily) then it’s time to go to surgery and debulk his tumor. We even cure some of them !!!

  16. Hello again. I brought home two ferrets because one of the two I had passed away. I just noticed today that one of them has green diarrhea. But I don’t know which One. But all three seem healthy and they all eat good. And drink plenty of water. Also there all very playful. What should I do or give them?

    • Most important is to quarantine them away from any older ferrets.
      There is a good chance that the green diarrhea is just caused by dietary discretion (lots of ferret diarrhea is green in color due to the high levels of bile in ferret GI tracts). That said, if one of the new ferrets has the viral diarrhea (commonly called “green slime disease”), it can be very hard and sometimes lethal to older ferrets.
      It would be wise to have the new ferrets see your veterinarian (something you should do with all new ferrets). Take samples of their stools with you.

  17. My male, 4 year old ferret died yesterday morning. For the past month I have noticed that his eating habits were diminishing until eventually he wouldn’t eat at all. He also lost most of his body weight. I began mushing up his food with water, and he began eating it lightly. He began acting normal again, then I noticed other symptoms, including hind leg weakness, and dark diarrea that he couldn’t control. He was messing all over the cage and his hammock so I had to take him out of the cage, and isolate him so it would be easier for him to go to the bathroom. Just 2 months ago he was behaving, eating, pooping normal. So the quickness of this downhill health problem was fast. It sounds like he had insolioma. I was in the process of getting him to the vet, but the nearest ferret vet to me is 3 hours away, so it’s a big deal for me to take him there. I found him in his hammock dead yesterday morning. I cannot believe my little boy is gone. I still have his sister with me, and she has adrenal disease, she is currently on Lupron. I can’t believe how FAST this happened, and I’m very sad, shocked and devastated.

    • Sorry to hear of your loss. I agree that your ferret could have had an insulinoma. With luck, deslorelin implants will become more available and that will make managing ferret adrenal disease much easier.

  18. Dr. Jenkins, I have two male ferrets who will be turning 5 this year. They are Marshal Farms ferrets. From your experience, is there a higher prevalence of Insulinoma or other serious ailments associated with ferrets that come from breeding farms versus small, private breeders? Are they at a higher risk at a younger age? They are not showing any warning signs, but I cant help but be worried about this 5yr mark. Thank You!

    • Hi Michele
      In my experience, Marshall Ferrets are as healthy, if not more healthy, than others we see. We see problems in all ferrets, even ferrets from England and Europe.
      A couple of things that may help reduce your ferrets chance of having problems is to start them on a low dose of melanin (I’d suggest 1/4 mg, that’s 1/4 of the 1 mg tablet) nightly. This is thought to regulate adrenal gland cycles and may reduce the chance of adrenal disease. Feed a good quality diet and don’t let your ferrets become overweight. See your ferret veterinarian regularly. At least yearly, but in older ferrets, every 6 months would be a good idea.

  19. I have a male who is about 6 yrs old. We let all our feretts out to play. He normally comes be-bopping out of his cage. All the others were playing, but no Frodo. My husband checked on him. He was all curled up in a ball and just looking at me. I held him and his eyes were very big and glassey I spoke his name and he kind of looked at me but still was in a daze I put him on the sofa to see if he wanted to play, nothing. He could not stand up and he fell over I held him for a long time and he was shaking like they normally do when they wake up but his hind legs were twitching. I held him for a long time we then laid him down on the floor and he just laid there and slept. He drank water but did not get up. He did try to stand. Eventually, he draged himself to Kitchen area and had a bowel movement and urinated. He then climbed in a little box with a tee-shirt and went back to sleep we kept him quite away from the others and he still is acting the same. He is drinking, eating, going to the bathroom, but wont move… So sad

    • There is a good chance that your Frodo has an insulin producing tumor and his symptoms are caused by his low blood sugar. If you have not done so, you need to get him to a veterinarian as soon as possible. Meanwhile syringe feed him if he is not eating (to raise his blood sugar levels).
      Best of luck, Dr. J

  20. Hello. I just adopted a ferret, his name is Griswald, he is a sable ferret. He is just laying in his hammock, peeing and pooping all over himself. He won’t move and he feels limp but almost stiff!! He has dark diahrea and his eyes look like he is jus in a daze!! I can’t stop crying when I look at my baby!! What could this be? Any suggestions on home remedies?

    • Right now you need to get some food into your ferret then you need to take the Griz to the Veterinary Emergency Clinic and have them check his blood sugar levels. I’m guessing that they will be low and that he has an insulin producing tumor (insulinoma).

  21. What diet do you recommend for a 5 year old Ferret with insulimoma

    • Any of the major brands of kibble are fine (I like Mazuri (Purina Mills) or Marshall’s). More important is how you feed a ferret with insulinoma. You need to wake them, bring their fooe to their attention, offer dry and moistened, etc. to get them to eat often and regularly.

  22. My ferret passed away today from Insulioma. She was diagnosed about a year ago and was on Prednisolone up to now. I’am devasted and feel as though I’ve lost a child :( This year she would have turned 7 years old and I regret not opting for the surgery. Financially it would be impossible right now. A few years back, she was hospitalized when she came down with a bug and the vet performed an Xray and found her liver to be “very tiny,” would this have any bearing on her disease or maintenance of the prescribed medication? Thank you

    • I don’t think it has any bearing of her insulinoma. Liver size alone (especially on radiographs) seems to be a poor indicator of liver function or disease. If her liver enzymes and function tests were normal then her liver was likely fine.

  23. Thank you Dr. I appreciate your feedback very much. I have one other question to ask…Our little ferret quickly declined over a period of 4 days. When I noticed she wasnt eating her kibble anymore and her symptoms returned. I quickly put together a high antioxidant duck soup and fed it to her via syringe every few hours with Pedialyte. Felt I did everything humanly possible to regain her health in combination with medication. It was heartbreaking to see how much weight she lost during the last few days of her life. My question finally is…if I were to bring her to a vet at a time, when she was this sickly and basically wasting away, would there be anything the vet can do for her? Have you seen extreme cases where the ferret survived in some cases? Thank you in advance!

    • Water under the bridge. Sounds like you did your best to save your little friend.
      That said, we are successful in saving advanced cases of insulinoma. Many are never presented until they have a seizure that goes on for several minutes. Most of these cases need to be stabilized and taken to surgery to debulk the tumor soon thereafter.

  24. Christopher says:

    My oldest ferret Portia has been showing the signs of insulinoma for the past half year. She is older than eight years old, that is all I know regarding her age as she was a rescue. The vetrinary hospital I took her to following her first seizure diagnosed lesions (cancerous) on the pancreas. Due to her age they recommended against surgery and sugegsted steroid treatment would be hazardous due to the strain on her liver. I have been following their recommendastions of supplementing her diet with large amounts fo ferretonin/ferritvite and administering small doses of malt syrup or maple syrup at signs of seizure. This has successfully avoided a serious incident for several months. However today she had a seizure and spent several hours in a stupor while I held her, fed her and gave her water through a syringe. My question to you is this; at this age, would you recommend surgery or steroid treatment in spite of her age. My other alternative is to continue dietary treatment until I feel her quality of life has become poor and then put her down. Thank you for providing this source of information and aid.

  25. Ashley K. says:

    This past weekend my oldest (they’re both about 5yo) started behaving much much differently than normal – like someone flipped a switch.
    The first thing we noticed was that he was cuddling with us for hours at a time (normal he plays the “come love me, just kidding!” game where he can’t wait to get out of our arms).
    Then we noticed that instead of sleeping in one of his beds, he’s been sleeping/hanging out on the cage floor. Until now, he spent 98% of nights in the same bed as his brother. Often now he’ll hang out on the floor, staring off into space.
    Most recently, he’s started to seem off balance when he’s walking around and he has started having accidents everywhere! We have a small 600 sq ft apartment with 2-3 litter boxes in each room (in places they’ve picked as bathrooms), so it’s not an access issue. He’ll go anywhere and everywhere – even in the middle of the living room when we’re both sitting right there.
    We have taken him to his vet (who specializes in exotic animals) who did labwork and a U&A – notable only for a glucose, which was 74. The vet said anything below 80 was insulinoma, but that this wasn’t necessarily the issue as older ferrets commonly have low glucose. He’s scheduled my little monster for a US this Wednesday, but at this point isn’t sure what could be causing these issues…. I’m just eager to find out why he’s acting strange. He isn’t showing physical symptoms, other than an enlarged spleen which was dx’d 1-2 years ago and which labs showed was just a normal ferret “thing”. He’s itchy and the hair on his tail is a little thin, but he’s normally our chubby mischief maker.
    Our youngest monster has insulinoma and is well managed on Prednisone and with scheduled feedings 2x a day in addition to the food they always have available in their cage. The symptoms he displayed leading up to his diagnosis are nothing like what we’re seeing in our oldest.
    I would greatly appreciate any help or suggestions…. Thank you!

  26. My ferret Sophi is 9 years old. She has adrenal gland disease and was diagnosed with Insulinoma in October of 2011. She has been taking Prelone every 12 hours since. She is scheduled for Adrenal Gland Removal surgery this Monday. Last week we had to up her dosage of Prelone (because the prior dosage was starting to lose its effectiveness). About two days after we upped it I noticed she had green discharge coming from her vulva. Is this a sign of a UTI? She doesn’t seem to be in pain when she goes to the bath room and she eats and drinks just fine. Or is it a side effect of the increased medicine dose? I only see the discharge in the mornings.

    Regardless I’ll ask my vet about it when I bring her in for surgery Monday. Sophi is a fighter :)

  27. I have a male ferret that is almost 8. He has had the surgery to remove one of his glands a few years ago and has been on prednisone for about a year now. He has a full coat of fur but clearly has symptoms of Insulinoma, weak back legs, etc. His major problem as of the last 3 months is urinating. It’s painful and he has a very hard time going and is clearly avoiding going now. I would like to start him on Propecia right away. Please let me know your thoughts. Is there any downside to trying this? Thank you. Steve San Diego.

    • Steve
      Sorry for the slow reply. I was not getting messages from this forum for some reason.
      Even though your ferret has a good coat of hair his problem is most likely from prostatic enlargement caused by another adrenal tumor. If you bring him in we can implant a Deslorelin implant that will stop the hormone production from the tumor. This is typically a better solution than surgery at his advanced age. Th implants last up to a year.
      Call the hospital for an appointment. Dr. J

  28. Hello my names Michael and I just wanted to share my story with you and get feed back on if this was normal because it was so heart breaking for me.

    My wife and I decided to get a ferret for our new apartment her name was Ginger. Things were going good for a while but she started getting lonely so we went to get her a new friend, his name was Basil. We had Basil for a total of 3 months. Three weeks after we got him from the pet store, as a 6 week old baby, things started changing. First he started to slow down and stair at us, from there we walked like he was drunk all the time, at about 2 months he’s signs became worse and we didnt know what to do. We scheduled a vet appointment at our local vet 2 weeks out when we had the free time. At the end he could hardly walk, couldnt eat without help and was just very very sick. three days before his vet appointment i was coming out of our bedroom and heard our female ferret screaming in the den we had built for them. I checked the hammock we had for them and there he was passed on to a new world. He was only 4 months. I lost my little boy and didnt know why till I found this article. Is this normal at such a young age and for it to work this fast?

    • Michael
      I would think your Basil must have had some other problem other than insulinoma; most likely a genetic or developmental problem. The most common one that we see are polycystic kidneys that progress to death at a very young age. Unfortunately, only a post mortem exam (necropsy) would give you that answer.
      Good luck with Ginger.
      Cheers, Dr. J

  29. Brandi Dalton says:

    I have a ferret (don’t know how old, got him off Craigslist) that does not have good muscle tone. He had a girl ferret with him that I adopted as well. She was hairless and very tired all the time. I took her to the vet and she told me she had a UTI. I asked about adreanal disease but she just wanted to run a bunch of test and my girl still died months later. I still believe it had adreanal disease . I live in a small town so very limited on vets (and money).
    Now Winston (my boy) is acting very lithargic and slobering stareing off in space. I got the high calorie sup. for him cause since her death he has not been eating very well. I don’t know what to do !!!
    I love this ferret so much and I know I need the prednisone, but how do I get it without going broke from all the unnecessary test the vet will run because they clearly are not familiar with ferrets? I don’t want to lose Winston like i did Sooki. What can I give him that he will garantee eat? He loves the high calorie stuff but he barely eats food. I am lost !!!!

    • Brandi
      Call your local vets and talk with the receptionist. Let them know what is happening and that you are quite sure that your ferret has an insulinoma. Let her know that you have limited funds and cannot afford testing. See if they will just do a blood glucose test using a glucometer (normal is 100-120 mg/dl, under 80 mg/dl is pretty much diagnostic for insulinoma) and write you an Rx for the prednisolone (get the name brand Pediapred)
      Take a copy of this page on insulinoma to your appointment and if the vet has any questions, he/she is welcome to call me.
      Best of luck, Dr. J

  30. Hello
    I really need advice as I think I am loosing my girly ferret, Mia and I’m devastated. Shes one years old.
    Not last night but the night before I noticed something was up with her she was floppy, less responsive than usual, sleepy, her eyes were squinty and then she passed a black poo. I knew this was a majorly bad sign so rushed her to the out of hours vet; they sedated her, x rayed her, gave her fluids and antibiotics by injection. The x ray didn’t show anything dodgy apart from one bit but the vet was certain it was where her kidneys overlap.
    I took her home and the next day she seemed to perk up a bit (according to my mum and sister as I was at work). Then when I got home from work, she had gone right downhill again. Rushed her to the vet again and he gave her antibiotics again and tried her with this ‘gut healing’ stuff but its aniseed flavor and I think she must hate it as when he gave it to her she was sick. He said unless she hates it, it shouldn’t make her sick. When I tried later on she was sick again so I stopped it as it would just make her dehydrated. He also said she might be hypo so to try and syringe feed her sugar and water, which I’ve tried and she is really resistant. This morning she is SO much worse again. She was in my bed and then I went to get her and couldn’t find her and she was just laid on the floor by my bed, just like she had fallen out and couldn’t bring herself to move. Rushed her to the vet and they gave her fluids again but said that there is not really anything else they can do!
    I have tried to get baby food down her but I’m just not getting anywhere with it. I’m devastated that the vets have no hope or nothing left to offer even though she was a perfectly healthy, energetic ball of fun just days ago. Leo (her brother) is absolutely fine though!
    Now her lips and feet are very cold too, do you have any idea at all what this could be? I just don’t know what else to do! Thank you in advance for taking the time to read this.

    • Looks as if your veterinarian / emergency veterinarian knows little about ferrets.
      Your case is very suggestive of a ferret with an insulinoma. I’m surprised that they spent your money on a radiograph but appear to have neglected to have so much as checked a blood glucose on a glucometer.
      I think you need to find a good exotic animal veterinarian (that may man you need to drive a ways) or find a veterinarian that is willing to work with you and have them call our hospital or a similar hospital and do a consultation with a knowledgeable ferret veterinarian.
      The melena (black tarry stool caused by bleeding into the stomach or upper intestine) is a common problem with ferrets. Melena may be a primary problem caused by gastritis or gastric ulcers (that are caused by Helicobacter bacteria), but most often is secondary to an underlying disease, most often insulin secreting tumors / insulinoma.
      Until you get to the veterinarian, feed your friend every few hours. If he acts weak give him a teaspoon of Karo syrup and follow that with Glucerna (liquid diet for people with diabetes) or Atkin shake (both available at most pharmacies).
      Best of luck and let us know how things turn out. Dr. J

  31. I have a ferret who has been diagnosed with a condition similar to insulinoma . The vet who diagnosed him did not call it insulinoma, but suggested that there might be a tumor in the pancreas because of the ferret’s incredibly low blood sugar—19 mg/dl. I am not arguing with the vet: he is obviously much more educated in this area than I am. But, really, I began to see problems in my ferret when he began having respiratory issues. He wheezes a lot and has a hacking cough at times. In addition to that, in one eye the third eyelid is swollen. He’s not as energetic as he was, and he’s lost a lot of weight. Also, he seems to have a little weakness in his back legs, which I know in addition to his blood indicate insulinoma. But I cannot find any mention of his respiratory symptomes being linked with the condition. Do you think there is something else wrong with my ferret—or at least something in addition to the insulinoma?

    At first, I really thought he was allergic to something. I have changed his diet to Evo ferret food, changed litters, changed detergents to a hypoallergenic one, quit using fabric softener sheets on his laundry, put him in a different room of the house and nothing makes him better.

    • Laura
      You are right that respiratory tract signs are not associated with insulinoma. Your vet is also right in that insulinomas are tumors of the pancreas.
      There is a chance that your ferret could have both and insulinoma and another problem (causing the respiratory signs) or that the other problem has caused your ferret to eat so little that its bod sugar is very low.
      Time to get an xray taken of his chest and general blood work to rule out infection or other organ problems and, depending on the results, perhaps an ECG and or an echo-cardiogram to evaluate his heart.
      Best of luck! Dr. J

  32. I recently had to take my two year old ferret to the vet because he was displaying some very worrying symptoms. He has issues maintaining an upright posture, and simply flops over, as if weak, making it very difficult for him to walk. He’s also very stiff, he’s locking both his back and front legs, and even locking his neck in a curled position. He’s lost a significant amount of weight and he’s fairly dehydrated, and it’s difficult to get him to drink any water (syringe feeding him water because of this now.) While at the vet, they ran a blood test and urinalysis, and everything was in normal ranges, except for one type of liver protein that was elevated. The vet prescribed antibiotics, but it’s been a few days and the little guy is showing very little improvement. At this point I’m lost as to what to do or what could be the cause.

    • Weakness of any origin is manifested in ferrets as weak legs and a desire not to walk. Causes might include Insulinoma,gastric foreign body (rubber objects and hair balls are common), gastric ulcers, etc. Your first objective should be to get some source of calories into him (we syringe feed Glucerna, a liquid diet for people with diabetes, but you can use duck soup if he will eat it).Then get him to you vet for xrays they may need to do a barium study.
      Good luck,Dr. J

  33. Megan Harwood says:

    My ferret Murphy was born 1/31/05 so he is 7 yrs, 8 months old. He has been very healthy his entire life. The only thing the vet noted during his last vet visit was an enlarged spleen, which he explained was typical, and a missing upper tooth. It is over a year later and lately he has been accidents all over the house and even in/around his cage near his blankets and it gets stuck on his own fur (which he would never have allowed in the past). This started about 2 months ago. Some of the BMs are of normal consistency and some are diarrhea or loose stools. He is also loosing control of his bladder and will have pee all over his belly afterwards. I don’t know if this is just old age or if something is wrong. None of the typical conditions seem to match his exactly. The reason I say this is he still has energy and eats regularly. He does seem extremely thirsty, so I don’t know if it’s related to insulin.
    His hind legs do seem weaker than usual, but he has always been a bit of a klutz. It’s strange because he can make it into the litter box, but then eventually will leave it and pee/poop on the floor or his cage. That’s why at first I thought it might be dementia. He does also appear to have cataracts but I heard this is typical and doesn’t affect them very much. Any advice doc?

    • Megan
      I think it’s time for your friends 100,000 mile check-up. There are many possible causes for his symptoms, from insulinoma (which makes them weak and foggy headed) to renal failure.
      Best if you have your veterinarian do a good physical examination including a CBC, blood chemistries and a urinalysis. That should give you a very good idea of what is going on.
      Best of luck! Dr. J

  34. We rescued a ferret about three weeks ago, and he’s become increasingly ill. I wondered if all the changes made to his life had been causing him depression as one of my ferrets attempted to starve herself merely over a change of food brand. His last owner fed him Alpo dog food, honey buns, and frosted flakes. He had the run of her house 24/7 and was around dogs all the time and allowed to play outside by himself. While we allow our own ferrets a room designated for them to play in, he takes no interest in playing with my own four ferrets, he nudges a toy or two and goes somewhere to sleep. He does the same when they have outside play time, he just seems disinterested. He was very plump when we got him, though his skin was dry and very red from too much bathing and he had clumps of fur stuck in his coat. But he’s lost a drastic amount of weight over these last three weeks, and now he’s stopped eating and drinking. We have to feed him by dropper and he is beginning to turn his head and bite when we try. When he tries to move he stumbles and falls, he won’t climb the stairs in his cage anymore either, I imagine because he’s too week. We’ve just recently been to the vet for our own ferrets vaccinations and check ups, which was very, very costly and has put me behind a bit. I’m afraid I can’t afford a vet, but I’m very worried about him. And I hate to give up on this little guy, but I haven’t a clue how to fix him if I don’t know what’s wrong.

    • First thing is that you should isolate him from your other ferrets, just incase he has something contagious. This may also reduce his level of stress. Try supplimenting him with Glucerna. I like the hospital grade product (available from the hospital pharmacy or on like from places like Amazon.com), but the Glucerna Shakes that are at most regular pharmacies is OK.
      He likely needs to have some blood tests. You may want to look to see if any of the ferret rescues in your area will help you out. And, if he gets too weak, you may need to have him euthanized.
      Best of luck, Dr. J

  35. Hello Dr.J,
    My oldest ferret Baloo is around 8-9 years old. He is definitely showing his age now but I feel like this came to fast. He used to run around and have his spurts of energy but since moving to a new house and acquiring two more ferrets, he has seemed to go downhill pretty quick. I feed him baby food 3 times a day and sometimes give him fluids if I feel he is dehydrated. I am in vet tech school at the moment so I am comfortable with giving him the fluids. He has thrown up a few times but it has been about 3 weeks since the last episode. He does paw at his mouth but he hasn’t done that in a while as well. He has Adrenal Disease and recieves Lupron once a month which helps with that but I feel like he has insulinoma as well. Is he just getting old, under a lot of stress, or showing signs of insulinoma? I took him to the vet a couple days ago and he said he looked great for his age. Again he eats normally but I feed him to make sure he eats (about 5-7 mL of baby food every feeding) and water with SQ fluids as needed. Is there anything else I can do or is it just him getting old? Thank you!

    • Hey Tyler
      As per our conversation, look into getting your friend a Deslorelin implant. and try suplimenting him with the hospital Glucerna. You can often buy it from the hospital pahrmacy or online from places like Amazon.com
      Let us know how he does.

  36. Our 6 year old ferret Rico had what we thought was a seizure last monday. He was up and running around like normal and then just laid down and wasn’t moving and started drooling really bad. We tried opening his mouth without any luck and then he suddenly came out of it. He then went right to his food dish and started chowing down and seemed ok.

    We took him to our vet the next day and did x-rays because she felt a mass in his abdomen. The mass (which she suspects is a tumor) did not appear to be on any of his organs from what she could tell. She was able to palpitate it and aspirate it and sent the sample to cytology at MSU. We ended up having to do it again because the first time it was non-diagnostic, and the second time they said the same thing. He also urinated while we were there and she did a urinalysis and it revealed a little blood in the urine.

    We had an exploratory surgery set up for next Monday, the 8th. This morning he got up and was roaming about like normal and then just laid down and started drooling again. I put some of his Marshall’s Ferret lax on my finger and he started to lick it and then again seemed fine. I fed him some chicken baby food and then he laid down to nap.

    I called the vet to let them know and she wants to do bloodwork now (which I thought we should have done from the begining), but they can’t get him in until Thursday. I asked whether we need to fast him or not before hand to get an accurate glucose reading, but was told its not necessary.

    He hasn’t been quite as active as normal, seems to tire more quickly from playing, sleeping a lot more, so we thought maybe he was just slowing down because he’s getting older. We also just lost our 8 year old ferret Bandit to adrenal disease on Sept. 1st, so it’s also been hard to tell if he’s less active/sleeping more because of depression. His appetite and bowel movements all seem to be normal. He’s well hydrated and within his normal weight at 3lbs.

    I feel like he is definitely showing symptoms of insulinoma, whether the mass is related to that or not I’m not sure. When he goes into these trance-like state and drooling is that all it is or do you think he is having a seizure? Also, I figured if there was some blood in his urine (from the urinalysis) I figured antibiotics would have been needed for that.

    Just looking for another opinion I guess. Thanks!

    • I’m with you, sounds like he has an insulinoma!
      Let us know what you find out.

      • Well the mass in his abdomen turned out to be an undescended testicle, we had it send out to be tested and it was cryptorchidism. Everything else looked good.

        We started Rico on .3 ml dose of pedia pred every 12 hours. He has done ok since the surgery but will not eat his kibble, only the gerber chicken/gravy baby food. We cut back to only giving him baby food when he takes the pred, hoping he would get hungry and eat his kibble, but that didn’t seem to help any.
        He had another seizure so we are back to feeding him 3-4 times a day with the baby food. We took him in to have his glucose checked yesterday and it was at 45. He upped his dosage to .6ml. He said that we still have room to go up to 1 ml, but even just doubling up to .6 ml seems like a lot! The suspension on the bottle says 3 mg/ml per ml.

        Just wanting to know if that is a safe dosage and is it ok that we keep feeding him baby food, since it doesn’t have all the vitamins and goodies like his normal kibble (TF and Wysong ferret epigen).

  37. I have a 8 year old Ferret (almost 9), she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer about 8 month ago and the Vet put her on prednisone and a Kidney protection medication, I was told due to her age surgery is not an option, she is also on a special soft food diet, she is doing good most days, sometimes when she gets a seizure it takes longer for her to come back after giving her Karo syrup, my question is how can I tell if she is suffering, I don’t wont her to be in pain.

    • Ferrets are good patients and tough. She might do OK with surgery, the oldest ferret I’ve known had her 3rd surgery at just under 8 years, but you’d want to go into the surgery knowing that her prognosis would not be as good as a younger ferret.
      Quality of life is best assessed by you, the owner. I would have you to look at her appetite, activity, grooming (wanting to take care of herself is an important sign). Does she have more good days than bad? Does she get up and play? Does she socialize with you? / other ferrets or animals in the house?
      Eight is a very respectable age for a ferret (like 85-90 for you), but not a record breaker. There are a few 10-10+ year olds out there and most of them have had at least one surgery.
      Hope that helps.
      Cheers, Dr. J

  38. Hi Dr. J:
    I have an 8 1/2 year old female ferret who is for the most part pretty healthy aside from having arthritis and adrenal disease. She’s currently on enbrel,metacam & has a suprelorin implant. Her bloodwork and urine come back normal.
    But for the past 4 months she has been whimpering while going to the bathroom when she urinates and poops. There has not been a single time since this began that she doesn’t cry while going to the bathroom and when she’s done she seems back to normal.
    My vet can’t seem to figure out what the problem could be. I was wondering if you had any thoughts.
    Thank you!

    • Using Enbril (Etanercept) in ferrets is new to me . . . I assume for the arthritis (which is also not common problem of ferrets). Where is her arthritis?
      If you (and your vet) have ruled out urinary tract disease and colitis (common causes of crying when urinating or passing stool), I’d be looking for back pain or abdominal pain that shows up when she puts on an abdomminal press.

      • Dr. J Thank you for your response!

        I’m assuming her arthritis is in her back legs bc she drags them and when she eats she can’t hold herself up anymore. I’m going to mention colitis to my vet.
        Thanks again!

        • Ferrets drag their back legs as a sign of weakness. In your ferrets case that may be low blood sugar. I would recommend AGAINST treating arthritis without radiographic evidence.

  39. I bought a ferret from PETCO a month ago. He was eating Marshall’s ferret food and I wanted him.on a higher better quality food so I switched him to blue Buffalo wilderness grain free. I didn’t switch him slowly and since then he’s has very soft bird seedy stools. He won’t eat any other foods except Gerber baby food chicken. Will he be OK and get used to the food? I worry about ibd. I gave him some pumpkin mixed with the Gerber baby chicken food and its not helping. Thank you.

    Also I should add that he is gaining weight eating, drinking, and playing fine.

    • Kristine
      If his stools were good on Marshall’s food you may want to switch him back.
      It may not be as trendy, but more ferrets have lived their lives, problem free, eating Marshall’s than any other ferret food. It’s just a fact.
      The seedy stools you are seeing is a sign that his GI tract, more specifically his colon, is not happy with his diet. That may not lead to disease but there is a good chance that it will. To change his diet you will need to mix the old diet (in this case the Blue Buffalo) with the new diet and transition him over a couple of weeks.
      Good luck! Dr. J

  40. Thanks Dr J but I tried mixing in the Marshall’s with the blue wilderness and he hates the Marshall’s now and doesn’t eat it at all. Even mixed. I’m not quite understanding how a ferret food with by products corn and many carbs and fiber would be s good for him as a grain free high quality food. Thanks.

    • “Even mixed. I’m not quite understanding how a ferret food with by products corn and many carbs and fiber would be s good for him as a grain free high quality food.”
      I’m not sure if our idea that corn and simple carb’s are bad for ferrets is wrong or if they ar simply very resilient, but I have seen the ferrets at Marshall’s and they eat that stuff from weaning on and they look great through pregnancy, lactation and seem to live long healthy (apparently) happy lives there.
      You might also try mixing a “gravy” or other liquid with the diets and see if that will improve palitability.

      • I can try mixing the Marshall’s in again with the blue buffallo as last resort. I’ve been mixing some waterin with the blue buffallo kibble and softening it and his poops look a bit better though still soft and a bit grainy/seedy. I think softening the kibble helps him digest it a little better Ferrets in the wild ate only prey and that was grain free they don’t digest grains and fibers properly so I’m told. But it seems the higher protein no grain kibbles cause softer stools so its very strange indeed. I’m afraid grains and carbs would cause insulinoma later. Thanks!

  41. My pet ferret is 5 years old. He barely eats and he is gaining weight. He has been sleeping more than usual what is wrong with him? Please answer soon.

    • Ashley
      At 5 years old there are a variety of things that could be the problem. The thing I’d be most worried about is heart problems that would cause fluid (ascites) to accumulate in his abdomen.
      It would be best if you had your veterinarian take a look at him. I caught early, many problems, including heart disease can be fixed or managed.

  42. I just rescued 2 ferrets that were left in a foreclosed home to die. A female approximately one year old was said to have allergies. She had lost patches of hair and is scratching a lot. She is very hot to the touch, prefers being in her cage. I’ve only had them about a week, but there was only one incident where she livened up a bit and wanted to play. It didn’t last long. She is eating and drinking. I’ve been giving her FerretVite in the am and FerretTone in the pm. The person I got them from said that she had grown some hair in the month she had them. According to her, the male (18m) gets very rough with her and she plays dead and he drags her around the house. This has happened once here. I intervened because the female was squealing and I hope to break this habit. I don’t think the original owners did much with these guys in the way of playing or training. My main concern is the condition of the female right now. The male is strong and beautiful.

  43. I have two ferrets, both between 1 year and 1 and a half years of age. My second ferret, Peanut, was quite a bit bigger than my other ferret when I first got him. He is a lot bigger than most of the ferrest I have seen. But within the past month and a half, I have noticed him acting a little odd. He doesnt want to play as much as he use to. I know ferrets sleep most of the time, but he has also been sleeping more than he usually does. When he is out for play time, most of the time he just lays down. I noticed last week that he has lost a ton of weight. I can feel every ridge in his spine and his ribs. I felt of my other ferret to see if this was normal, and I cannot feel hers like I can Peanuts. I have not noticed any unusual eating patterns, but I am worried about him. Should I take him to the vet for a check-up or is this normal as they get a little older?

    • Marley
      At your ferret’s age, the most likely cause of his symptoms is a gastric foreign body. Ferrets love to chew and swallow things, especially things made out of chewy rubber or foam. Mot vets should be able to diagnose his problem with palpation, however, they may need to take an x-ray to be sure.
      Good luck, Dr. J

  44. I think my ferret is dieing :*(. She is 6 years old and can hardly move anymore. I’m giving her water through a syringe and soaking her food pellets but she can hardly eat anything. When she tries to move even a few inches she just lays back down and closes her eyes. Is there any hope for her or should I put her down?

    • Ron
      There are just too many thing that could be the cause of your ferret’s symptoms for me to give you a good answer. I saw a ferret that looked as you describe yours earlier today and it looks worlds better already, sitting up and responsive. Others that look like yours may be not savable.
      Please see a veterinarian and have some basic blood tests done and that will give you enough facts that you can make an educated decision. Good luck, Dr. J

  45. One of my ferret is shaking a lot. He is 6 months old but he’s in bed more often than not. He isn’t really playing with my 1 year old ferret anymore. The shaking isn’t just when waking up and he lays in my arms vibrating. He also will not eat unless the food is watered down or he’ll dunk food in the water bowl. The shaking isn’t continuous. I’m wondering if it’s a problem or if I’m just not in the room when he is up and he is cuddley and the shaking is nothing? I’m just worried because my other ferret has never acted like he is.

    • Shaking is an unusual sign in a young ferret. Possible causes could include: inadequate calories or nutrition (not eating or unable to digest food), pain (visceral, such as gastritis or gastric ulcers) or muscular or skeletal (from injury or ?), neurological, metabolic and even disease (diabetes, etc.)
      I’m afraid I won’t be much help without seeing your little weasel.

  46. Ms. Dudley says:

    Please help! My ferret Petey has become more and more ill. Last night he was tucked in my shirt sleeping on me like he normally would and I felt a little dampness where his face was. I thought his nose was wet or runny maybe or maybe drooled in his sleep. When I felt it though I began to panic there was a large puddle of drool that was on my chest and Pete wasn’t moving, I couldn’t even feel him breathing. His eyes were glossy and I could have sworn that he was dead. No movement whatsoever. I layed level to him and there was no movement no sign of breathing. As upset as I was thinking that I had lost my first born son, I had wrapped him up in his blanket and put him in a box in the next room preparing to bury him today. I put a small piece of banana because that has always been his favorite and in some crazy way I thought maybe he would come back alive, he remained motionless and seeming breathless for almost a half an he so I left him in the box and went into the next room. About 15 min went by and what do you know,.Petey walked right into the room like nothing happened. I put him back into his cage he had a bowel movement, ate, drank and climbed into his hammock and fell asleep. This morning he’s walking around, eating, regular bowels etc. He will be 5 this Sept. I just can’t imagine him not living a long prosperous life. Now, for the past 6 months or so he has been acting a bit out of the norm. But I thought maybe just getting older, he’ll just lay on the floor sometimes, or sleep more than usual, I changed his diet to a food with 40% proteins. I no longer give him banana and the only treats he gets are chicken treats. I’m not sure what else to do or what may be the problem but I do know I can’t bare to see him like he was last night . Please any info or suggestions would be a huge help thank you Dr. J in advance!.

    • Not a perfect fit, but Petey is the age we most commonly see insulinomas and his “lackluster” behavior would be typical.
      Have a veterinarian check his blood sugar levels. Anything below 80 is suspect.
      If he has an insulin producing tumor, there is a good chance he will respond to steroids alone.
      Best of luck, Dr. J

  47. Rich Garretti says:

    Thunder, age 5, passed away last night. We got him when he was 4 after his sister died. He was such a bundle of energy and joy for our family. He was caged his first 4 years but we gave him the run of the house and he loved it. For 16 months he has been the bright light that made everyone smile. 2 weeks ago he had diaharrea and stopped eating solid food. My wife mixed some with ensure and he ate some as well as part of a mashed banana. Took him to the vet a week ago and he treated for Insulinoma and took blood. The following day the test showed his glucose levels were fine which pointed to cancer. We took him home and cared for him and loved him endlessly. He continued giving kisses to the very day he died. Yesterday morning woke up and found he soiled himself, no longer being able to make it to the wee wee pad. I cleaned him in warm water and put him back in his blanket and went to work. My wife woke up to him soiled a little later. He refused to eat or drink water and just wanted to rest. He hung on for the rest of the day until I got home from work. He passe away peacefully in my wife’s arms about an hour later.

    • Our sincere sympathy to you and your family. These sorts of losses are always more difficult when we do not have an answer as to the cause.
      I’m glad she held on till you got to be with her.
      Warm regards.

  48. Monica Reinhart says:

    My ferret, Bandit, has insulinoma and has been on Prednisone for a little over a year. I have given it to him in meat baby food every day and he has been eating cat food with 46% protein. Several days ago, he stopped eating his kibble. I thought my son was filling up his bowl. He had energy and “life” about him just 3 days ago. Now, he’s lifeless, lethargic and appears to be in respiratory distress. As of yesterday, I continued to feed him until he no longer wanted any, but I fear I’m too late. He acts as if he wants the food in the syringe badly, but after he eats, he has no energy and I’m not sure if he will make it until I take him to the vet on Tuesday…they are closed due to the holiday. Is there anything I can do right now? I’m not ready for my baby to go, but I think it’s happening and I can’t bear to put him down by himself. Thank you.

    • Sorry for the slow reply. I hope you ferret is OK.
      In situations like this you should do your own little physical exam. Check inside his mouth to make sure there is nothing there that would stop him from eating: loose teeth, infection, foreign body, etc
      If is seems the change in his behavior is because he is weak (from low blood sugar) give him foods that will raise his sugar levels rapidly (I like to give them vanilla ice cream – some like it cold, some you need to melt it / warm it up). Once they are feeling better, try to get them to eat their normal kibble.
      I’d also give them an EXTRA dose of prednisolone (it won’t hurt them).
      If this happens repeatedly, you need to think about surgery to “debulk” the insulinoma.

  49. Hiya from Australia! I have a few questions so I expect this is going to be a long post; I hope that’s okay :\

    Tank, our mature-age ferret (probably 4 or 5, he was adopted so we don’t know for sure) recently scared the crap out of us with a drooling and collapsing episode, so we rushed him to the vet who gave us an insulinoma diagnosis. She said he responded very quickly to fluids, so he’s under dietary management right now (it’s been about 2 1/2 weeks) rather than medication.

    She did advise us to get a scan done and see if surgery was a good idea, though she seemed to have a present this as something that might be more risky than it was worth; obviously you advise the surgery quite strongly, so I’m curious – would you treat this as a fairly routine operation?

    Currently Tank is doing pretty well – he’s put a lot of weight back on (he was a huge ferret before he started losing weight before the collapse), though he’s usually a bit wobbly when he wakes up. He’s quite lethargic too, rarely doing anything other than eating and sleeping (he usually presents as bored or listless). Would you expect him to be livelier and happier if he had the surgery? Honestly, I could handle him having a shorter lifespan if it meant he could enjoy it. Also, if he had the surgery, would the constant feeding still be just as important?

    I also worry that he may be listless because he no longer has any other ferrets for company (we lost his adoptive brother earlier this year), but then I wonder if he would really be glad to have other ferrets around at a time like this? Or perhaps, if he is weak because of his condition, would having youngsters around be exhausting and unpleasant? Would it be too risky, since we might mistake how much he’s eating if there are other ferrets around?

    With regards to regular feeding, should I be expecting him to eat more over the course of a day than he would otherwise, or am I basically stretching the day’s food out, and he only needs to eat a little at once? He’s eating regularly, but only very small amounts, like half a chicken giblet or a small piece of liver every couple of hours. That makes me stress out and give him cat treats or Nutrigel (one of those syrupy animal supplements), since he will almost always eat those. Am I so worried that I’m overfeeding him?

    Finally, I noticed that when he came home from the vet his poop was healthy and solid, but recently has gone back to tarry. I think at the vet’s he was eating only biscuits, whereas at home he has been preferring meat (we have made both available, and while he ate mostly biscuits when he first got home, he seems to ignore them now) . Is this what I should expect in his condition, or is it a sign that we’re doing something wrong? (Or possibly that yes, indeed, I HAVE been relying too much on treats?)

    Gah, sorry that was so huge! I really appreciate your time. We’ve had ferrets for quite a few years, but Tank is our first insulinoma case, so we’re still finding our feet when it comes to how we should respond :\

    Thank you!

    • Hiya back!
      We confirm insulinoma cases with repeated glucose (blood sugar) tests. Other changes in a ferrets life may result in a low glucose level but once corrected their levels should be normal. Insulin levels in the ferret’s blood have been disappointing and challenging to correlate with a diagnosis of insulinoma.
      If you and your veterinarian a solid on a diagnosis we suggest medical treatment (typically prednisolone). Some ferrets do well for months or years without surgical intervention. Weights should return to normal or pre-diagnostic levels as should activity levels.
      If the ferret fails to improve with medications alone or the condition deteriorates then surgery is typically necessary.
      Ferrets cycle through periods of activity, eating and sleeping (making it impossible to classify them as nocturnal or diurnal). Ferrets with insulinomas may become hypoglycemic (low blood sugar) while sleeping and not wake to eat. It is important that you help them with this task. We suggest waking them (almost) anytime you find them sleeping and encouraging them to eat (their regular diet). This will help, more than anything, them regulate their glucose levels.
      Hope that answers your questions.
      Cheers!

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