Symptoms include: sleeping a lot, head tilted to the side, not eating well, pawing or clawing at the mouth when drinking or eating, drooling, gagging, stumbling or falling over when walking, glassy look to the eyes, eating a lot but still no energy, being nearly comatose, hind end weakness, and can’t stand up well.
If your ferret has these symptoms, it needs to see the vet for a blood glucose test. The vet may try to talk you into other bloodwork while there. Insist that just the blood glucose test is done to start with. If the ferret has low blood glucose, no other test may be needed.
Treatment for insulinoma is steroids, like Prednisone. Steroids help control the insulin in the body and keep the blood glucose at a more regulated level. I prefer Prednisilone because it’s not as hard on the liver.
Medication is normally prescribed twice a day, approximately 12 hours apart. Don’t worry if you have to give it an hour or so early or later, just be sure the timing is at least eight hours apart.
Steroid medications are hard on the stomach and MUST be given with soup to help protect the stomach. Do not just assume the ferret will eat enough kibble to protect the stomach. It won’t.
The medication actually only lasts about eight hours in the ferret’s system. After that, the ferret is sort of coasting along until the next medication. So, if your vet prescribes steroids only once a day, question the vet about it. This means the ferret will actually only have something in the system to control the blood glucose 1/3 of the day.
If you can give extra soup after eight hours or before the 12 hours, it helps keep the blood glucose up until time for the next medication. If you can’t do this all the time, that’s fine. Just try to do it when you can. It helps.
If the ferret is prescribed .25 ml of steroids twice a day, I prefer to use tablets rather than liquid. As soon as the liquid hits the stomach, it can start causing damage. Tablets disintegrate slowly and travel to the intestines and, therefore, don’t cause nearly the damage to the stomach. The liquid steroid also has a bad taste to it and it can be a fight to get the ferret to take it. It isn’t normally a good idea to add the liquid steroid to the soup because it can alter the taste of the soup and make the ferret not want to eat it. Since it’s important the ferret have the soup, it’s not worth the risk it will stop eating it because of the bad taste that’s been added.
For tablets, put a ½ teaspoon or so of Ferretone, salmon oil or melted coconut oil in a dish. Add ¼ tablet. Let it sit for 5-10 seconds. Use the back of a small spoon and crush the tablet into the Ferretone or oil so it is very fine. Warm some soup (not hot), then scrape the Ferretone or oil and crushed pill on the top of the soup. The Ferretone or oil will make the medication float, so that when the ferret is eating the soup, it eats the medicine first. (If your ferret doesn’t like Ferretone, salmon oil, or coconut oil, rub some on its lips four or five times a day to get it used to it.)
If there is any concern the ferret is not going to get all of the medication, you may have to use liquid steroid until you can get it used to the soup with meds on top. You cannot risk the ferret not getting the medication. If you only have tablets, find a way to get the tablets with Ferretone, salmon oil or coconut oil into a syringe so you can squirt it into the mouth. (Always squirt liquid in from the side of the mouth to help prevent it from being inhaled.)
Ask your vet to provide you with some anti-nausea medication to have on hand. If a ferret is feeling nauseous from low blood glucose, it is not going to want to take its medication. A small dose of anti-nausea medication will let the ferret feel like eating and drinking again.
It would be a good idea to keep some Glutose on hand. You can get this at a store like Target. It’s sold in health supplies for people with diabetes. This is very high in sugar and can help bring a ferret out of a low blood glucose stupor. You can also use Ferretvite, Nutrical, etc. Be aware, these products cause the blood glucose level to spike and then quickly drop when it wears off in the system. If you use something like this or Ferretvite, Nutrical, etc., it is extremely important you get soup and meds into the ferret ASAP after giving it. The medication will help stabilize the blood glucose level and keep it from bottoming out.
If your ferret seems to be in a stupor or coma, is showing signs of insulinoma and doesn’t want to take soup with meds, or is nauseous (pawing at the mouth, drooling, gagging), use a Q-tip to rub the Glutose on the gums. (If you don’t have a Q-tip, use your finger.) This should perk the ferret up to the point it will feel like eating soup with medication. Do NOT give this regularly. It can worsen insulinoma because of the high sugar content.
If your ferret is stable with medication and begins showing symptoms again or you must use anti-nausea medication or Glutose, Ferretvite or Nutrical, then you must take the ferret to the vet within a couple of days to see if the medication dosage needs to be changed. This can be life or death.
You may want to consider getting a pet glucometer as well. You use it to test the blood glucose level, like a person with diabetes tests theirs. Below is a link to a company that I got my meter and strips from. You order the one meant for a dog, as their blood glucose readings are more similar to a ferret than those of a cat. http://www.animaldiabetes.com/