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If you spot the signs of a pancreatic tumor, it’s important to take your ferret to a veterinarian as soon as possible. Your ferret will need immediate treatment to manage the symptoms of insulinoma, and the longer you wait, the harder it may be to treat this condition.
A ferret’s pancreas supplies its body with insulin, which is a hormone that regulates blood sugar. When an insulinoma, or pancreatic tumor, begins to grow on the pancreas, it causes the overproduction of insulin.
Typically, insulin is released into the body when sugar is detected so it can break down the sugar. But, when a tumor grows on the pancreas, it will release an excessive amount of insulin, and the ferret’s blood sugar will begin to drop as a result. This is known as hypoglycemia. Ferrets may begin to exhibit severe symptoms including fainting, unsteadiness, weakness, drooling, and seizures.
Ferret owners may overlook the symptoms of pancreatic tumors in the early stages of the condition. However, the symptoms will become more obvious as time goes on. Some of the most common signs of insulinoma include:
The cause of pancreatic tumors is unknown. Some tumors are noncancerous while others are cancerous. Although the exact cause of cancer is unknown, it could be caused by a combination of genetics and environmental factors.
If your ferret begins to exhibit the signs of insulinoma, take him to a veterinarian as soon as possible for treatment. Let the vet know what symptoms you have observed and when they first began. Even if you do not think a symptom is serious, such as gazing upwards, you should mention it to your vet. The more information you can provide, the easier the vet can diagnose your ferret.
The vet will immediately perform basic tests, including a complete blood count, urinalysis, and blood chemistry profile. These tests should indicate that your ferret is hypoglycemic, which means his blood sugar levels are low. This will tell the vet that your ferret has too much insulin in his body, so he should immediately question whether your ferret has a pancreatic tumor. To confirm this diagnosis, the vet can perform an ultrasound to look for any masses on your ferret’s pancreas.
If a tumor is spotted, the vet may recommend performing a biopsy, which involves taking a small sample of the tumor cells. The sample will then be sent to a laboratory for testing, where it will be determined whether the tumor is cancerous or benign.
Treatment will begin immediately following a diagnosis of insulinoma. Surgery can be performed to remove the tumors, however it is possible that this will not be successful. Tumors tend to be very small, so the vet could miss some that will later grow and cause the symptoms to return.
If you decide against the surgery, you can try to treat your ferret with medication instead. Prednisone is usually administered to raise your ferret’s blood glucose levels. If prednisone is ineffective, the vet can also try to administer diazoxide, which is given to humans who have hypoglycemia. However, this medication has serious side effects so it is often used as a last resort when surgery and prednisone are either ineffective or are no longer options.
If your ferret has pancreatic cancer, he may need to undergo surgery so the vet can remove the cancerous tissue. Your ferret may also need to receive a combination of radiation and chemotherapy if the surgery did not remove all of the cancerous cells. Radiation and chemotherapy may also be needed if cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
It is difficult to determine whether your ferret will recover from a pancreatic tumor, especially if the tumor is cancerous. Surgery on noncancerous tumors usually provides temporary relief, but the symptoms can return again.
It’s important to carefully monitor your ferret’s blood glucose levels so you can spot insulinoma as soon as it returns. Immediately following treatment, you may need to check your ferret’s insulin levels multiple times a day by testing his urine. The vet may also ask you to bring your ferret in for multiple follow-up visits so he can monitor his recovery. Talk to your vet about how often you should be testing your ferret’s blood sugar.
You should also discuss your ferret’s diet with the vet. Because your ferret’s body will produce insulin when it detects sugar, it’s important to be mindful of what you feed your ferret. The vet will be able to advise you on what foods to avoid and what foods to include in your ferret’s diet.
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