continue to increase in popularity as companion animals
in California and elsewhere. This despite their status
as illegal pets in California (and a few others states
or cities).. The logic as to their illegal status has
escaped me, having worked to change this status over the
past many years to no avail.
have been treating ferrets as a veterinarian for
multiple decades and find them to be wonderful
companions. Incidentally, veterinarians are legally
allowed to work with ferrets in need of medical care.
is a 4-year-old ferret cared for by Tom and Maggie. She
is kept in a large cage at night but is allowed lots of
out-of-cage time with her caretakers. Tom has tried to
"ferret proof" his house, which I believe to
be an impossible task as ferrets are extremely good at
finding ways into and out of almost any situation.
Recognize the term "to ferret out"? No term
could be more accurate when describing these mischievous
Petal has begun to slow down. She is sleeping much more
than she used to and her play time is greatly subdued.
Tom describes episodes in which she will begin to
explore almost normally then suddenly stop and almost
fall asleep. These episodes have become more frequent
over the last few weeks. She seems to be eating
normally, but logically Tom and Maggie have concern.
off, realize there are very many possible causes for the
symptoms Petal is showing. There is one, however, that
is overwhelmingly most common among them.
likely is afflicted with hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
caused by a tumor or multiple tumors in her pancreas
called insulinoma(s). Sugar in the blood stream is the
energy source that is used to power Petalís body. When
that energy source gets too low (hypoglycemia) her body
in ferrets is most commonly caused by single or multiple
insulin-secreting tumors as I mentioned above. The
production of excess insulin from the tumor(s) drives
the sugar out of Petalís bloodstream into her cells
thus lowering the available sugar within the
bloodstream. This condition left unchecked is fatal.
diagnosis of insulinoma is accomplished with blood
samples tested for blood sugar and insulin levels. In an
affected ferret, the blood sugar level will be low while
the insulin level will be elevated, which is exactly
opposite of how this portion of the normal blood sugar
regulatory mechanism is supposed to work. Normally, as
the blood sugar level drops, so too does the insulin
level. Correspondingly, as the blood sugar rises,
usually after a meal, the insulin level will rise. This
dynamic system is designed to keep blood sugar in a
for insulinoma can be surgical, which is especially
effective if there is a single insulinoma within the
pancreas. Removal of this mass will cure the disease. If
Petal has a case of multiple insulinomas within the
pancreas, surgical intervention is less likely to cure
the problem. I have had cases with other ferrets where
they had many tiny insulin secreting masses in their
pancreas and we were able to remove enough of the
pancreas to lower the insulin production to more normal
levels and alleviate the hypoglycemia.
surgery is not a good option, medical management of the
hypoglycemia can often be achieved using corticosteroids
that counteract insulin, thus reducing hypoglycemia.
There is also a drug called diazoxide that directly
inhibits insulin and it, too, can be used in ferrets
Petal, the first step will be a veterinary encounter,
hopefully then leading to a definitive diagnosis
followed by appropriate therapy to bring her back to her
old "ferreting" self.