CVMA-ACMV

Pancreatic Tumours in Ferrets (Insulinoma)

October 24, 2012

Introduction

Insulinoma, a tumour of the beta cells of the pancreas is one of the most common tumours found in ferrets. It is seen in ferrets three years of age or older in both males and females. The cause of this condition is unknown.

Signs

This type of tumour leads to excessive production of insulin which has the effect of lowering the blood sugar level well below normal. The ferret’s system then activates to increase blood glucose, which explains why the signs are intermittent and apparently disappear at the start of the disease.

The patient is usually brought to the veterinarian for episodes of:

  • Weakness
  • Lethargy
  • Difficulty waking
  • Occasional excessive salivation

How to Confirm the Diagnosis

Diagnosis is quite easy and consists of demonstrating an abnormally low sugar level. A number of readings are required to confirm the diagnosis. X-rays and ultrasonography can also be useful to obtain informed prognosis and subsequent treatment for this condition by checking for metastases (pancreas tumour may spread to the lymph nodes and liver).

Treatment

Tumours can be treated both medically and surgically. Your veterinarian will advise you regarding the different alternatives, depending on your animal’s condition. The medical treatment does not prevent the spread of the disease, but the symptoms may be relieved for a period of time.

The first stage of medical treatment consists of modifying the patient’s diet. High-sugar diets must be avoided since they bring about negative feedback, thus resulting in an even lower sugar level. A high-protein diet must be provided in small meals spread throughout the day. Brewer’s yeast contains chromium, which helps stabilize glucose and insulin levels and should be provided in dosages of 1/8 to 1/4 of a teaspoonful morning and evening in the food if your veterinarian recommends this adjunctive therapy.

The owner of a ferret with insulinoma should know that a hypoglycemia episode (a drastic drop in blood sugar) can occur, especially if the ferret has had nothing to eat for more than four hours. Corn syrup applied to the ferret’s gums will help you provide relief for your pet until you can take him or her to your veterinarian.

When diet changes are no longer effective, the veterinarian prescribes medicine to increase the patient’s blood sugar level. As the disease progresses, the animal responds less and less to medicine. When the blood sugar can no longer be controlled and the animal’s quality of life deteriorates significantly, euthanasia must be considered.