Insulinoma in Ferrets


Insulinoma is one of the most common neoplastic diseases affecting ferrets. It’s caused by tumors in the pancreas which produce excess insulin.

Some of the symptoms to look out for are:

Staring into space
Pawing at the mouth
Episodes of drooling
Occasional inactivity
Extreme weakness
Difficulty walking, especially in the rear limbs

Should the blood sugar drop very rapidly, it could cause tremors or seizures. In severe cases, the ferret could go into a coma due to lack of glucose in the brain.

If your ferret show signs of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), that is … lying there limp and looking like it’s about to die (i.e. comatose) … you MUST rub either honey or Karo (corn) syrup on its gums IMMEDIATELY. If you don’t have either on hand, use Nutrigel (for Aussie ferret owners) but be aware that the sugar levels aren’t as high. It might be an idea to keep a small jar of honey/Karo syrup in the cupboard, just in case!

Please make sure that you don’t mistake your ferret in a coma for Deep Ferret Sleep (DFS) syndrome. Ferrets in DFS wake up when you shake them but a ferret in a coma will not.

Not all ferrets show any sign of insulinoma and to find your ferret lying in a coma is a really frightening experience.

It might take a while for the honey, or whatever you put on your ferret’s gums, to kick in but if you don’t do that, you can be assured that your ferret WILL slip off into a deep sleep and never wake up.

When we found Muis in that state, it was the most frightening thing I have ever experienced because it happened out of the blue and so quickly. Because it was so unexpected, I really freaked out and thought we were going to lose her.

It took about half-an-hour from the first rubbing of Nutrigel into her lips for her to open her eyes. That didn’t last long but it was such a hopeful sign. I put more Nutrigel on her gums and about half-an-hour after the second rubbing, she finally came to and looked “normal”!

I gave her a saucer full of smoothie and she ate that up very enthusiastically, so I topped that up and she licked that all up too.
After that she was completely herself and trotted down the corridor to join the rest of the gang in the chest of drawers. It really was incredible to see the difference – an hour ago she was at death’s door and then, after getting the Nutrigel on her gums, she managed to snap out of her coma and appeared perfectly normal!

When I took her to my vet, she said that if animals have a drop in their blood sugar when they are asleep, they go into this comatose state so it’s IMPERATIVE to rub something sweet on their gums.

Muis didn’t show any signs of insulinoma apart from one occasional a month earlier where she seemed unsteady but it lasted just a couple of minutes and then she was fine, without any help from Nutrigel.

I had taken her to my vet and voiced my concerns about insulinoma but the vet thought that it might have been an epileptic fit, so I was to keep an eye out for any more occurrences. But since that one time, nothing else happened to make me worry until this.

So, I cannot stress this enough. If you find your ferret lying like a limp, wet noodle with its eyes closed and breathing shallow, rapid breaths, grab one of the following – Karo, honey, Nutrical or Nutrigel – and rub a small blob on its gums ASAP and once it comes around, make sure it has something to eat (like the smoothy) to get it back to normal. Then get it to your vet as soon as you possibly can.

There are various options for a ferret with insulinoma but be aware that a ferret with insulinoma cannot be cured. The disease can be controlled and hopefully will give your pet a good quality of life for as long as possible.

One other thing I should point out here – please do NOT get complacent if you *think* your ferret is having a “Deep Ferret Sleep” (DFS) episode.

Not all ferrets sleep deeply but if yours does and you find it hard to wake your little one up, then please don’t just assume it was a DFS, especially if you had to rub honey/Karo syrup on its gums.

If that happened then PLEASE take your ferret to the vet to be checked for insulinoma.

Information about blood tests for insulation from “Maddogdodge”, an Aussie ferret owner (who works with a vet’s office) who advised an American ferret owner on September 5, 2017 ….

A ferret doesn’t have to be going through a insulinoma episode to test positive for it. As for fasting, i’m not 100% sure on that, i think it can be done either way, but i think it’s better to fast for 4 hours before the test (absolutely avoid surgery stuff before the test though!).Here in Australia we use a different unit to measure it (mmol/l as opposed to mg/dL) so I’ve just had to look up a converter. Normal fasted range in the measurement your vet uses is 65 to 112 (for us that is 3.6 to 6.2) My old girl who had insulinoma first tested at 3.1mmol/l which converts to 55.8mg/dL (that was a fasted test).Her second test was 10 days later and not fasted… her results came back even lower 2.8mmol/l which converts to 50.45mg/dL.Her last test was not long before she passed. She had been fasted quite a long time in preparation for a general anaesthetic… her results came back as 0.4mmol/l which converts to 7.2mg/dL – That is insanely low!!!

My current insulinoma boy had 2 fasting blood tests… first one came back 3.6 (64.86) and his second was 3.1 (55.85).

Update … December 15, 2014

This is something I’ve just come across and all I can say is that I hope, hope, hope that our vets will be able to do something to prevent our babies from dying from insulinoma!

Chemotherapy for Ferrets with Insulinoma

If your ferret has insulinoma, please print this article out and ask your ferret vet if he can help.

I’m not sure how many vets do the chemotherapy routine for ferrets in the States or the UK, and I certainly have no idea if any vets do this procedure in my wonderful land down under!

This “tip” for a ferret taking prednisone/prednisolone comes from the Three Rivers Ferret Council


“The liver is a vital organ that is involved with many functions having to do with blood volume, clotting, fats, glucose, cleaning blood.

“One job of the liver that many people don’t realize is that the liver makes, stores and uses glucose. That is why prednisolone (which bypasses the liver) works better than regular prednisone (which is turned into prednisolone in the liver) in older ferrets and ferrets with liver issues.

“A way to help support the liver which actually works is to give your ferret Milk Thistle. It’s the main component (along with B-vitamins) in Hepato-Support, which was recommended by Dr Wagner for a ferret with liver disease.

“It’s innocuous, and seems to have no side effects. I give about 1/4 capsule of Milk Thistle in some duck soup and I’m convinced it’s helped more than one ferret not only to feel better, but also to throw off liver infections.”


Another “tip” I came across was on the with their article about “DMG: A Nutrient for the New Millennium” (DMG is short for dimethylglycine, which is a nutritional supplement that can provide wonderful positive benefits to humans and animals). This is from the article …

“DMG for Seizuring Animals

“Ferrets with Insulinoma

“DMG increases the threshold for seizures and can reduce seizures in all types of animals. In some cases, if DMG is added to a seizuring animal’s therapy, it may decrease the amount of anticonvulsants required by an animal. This can be very beneficial for ferrets suffering from insulinoma, until the blood sugar issues are under control. Diet plays a huge role in helping stabilize a ferret suffering from insulinoma, and Young Again Ferret Food is one very positive step in improving the health of a ferret. In some cases, an insulinoma may present as a solitary tumor in the pancreas, but for most ferrets, the lesions are microscopic infiltrates, and surgery is not considered the best way to treat this condition. Some veterinarians recommend surgically removing approximately 1/3 of the pancreas, usually the tail of the pancreas, however, the pancreas is a delicate organ and surgery is not always beneficial.”

I don’t know if it’s a coincidence or what but when I added Nutrigel to my guys’ smoothies, I had ferrets with insulinoma. Since I stopped using it, I haven’t!

When Dash, my sable boy, was diagnosed with lymphoma, I asked the vet if I could give him milk thistle and she agreed it was a good idea. She gave me a bottle of Herbal Authority’s liquid milk thistle and told me to give Dash 3 drops in the morning and three in the evening.

Unfortunately Dash died before the bottle was halfway finished so I started giving it to Mojo, who has a swollen liver and glands as a result of her adrenal disease.

We took Dash for his final visit to the vet in May and Philip thought that Mojo would be following soon afterwards, as she really didn’t look well. However I must say that the supplements I’ve been giving her in her smoothie have worked their magic and, wef October 2015, she’s still bright and alert and mooching about the house happily!

I really do recommend anyone whose ferret has insulinoma to give their babies milk thistle to help their liver cope with the medication!

You can read more on Insulinoma in ferrets here …

Insulinoma in Ferrets by Simon Starkey, DVM, DABVP

Ferret Insulinoma by Long Beach Animal Hospital (includes photos of removing the cancerous tumors)

Insulinomas (Pet Care Veterinary Hospital)

Beta Cells Gone Wild! – insulinomas in the ferret by Exotic Animal Medicine for the Vet Tech

INSULINOMA (Beta Cell Tumor) by allFerrets

INSULINOMA (or pancreatic cancer) by The Ferret Society of Canberra

Insulinoma in Ferrets: Symptoms and Treatment (The Modern Ferret)

Insulinoma by L Vanessa Gruden (FACT)

Insulinoma by Jeffrey R Jenkins, DVM

A reader has very kindly shared his advice on how to look after a ferret suffering from this all-too-common disease. Pat’s ferret, Bandit, was diagnosed with Diffuse Insulinoma 2 years ago and is still enjoying good quality of life.

Caring for a Ferret with Insulinoma by Pat Ciriello

Information about the medication for insulinoma …

What is Prednisolone for Ferrets? (The Modern Ferret)



(Last updated November 2019)



DISCLAIMER: The information contained on this page is not meant to replace seeing a veterinarian if you think your ferret is ill. It’s only meant to supply general information on a particular illness which was obtained either from personal experience with my sick ferrets, or from books and/or the Internet.

2 thoughts on “Insulinoma in Ferrets”

  1. Ive been giving my ferret with insuloma cranberry juice after reading about it online. My vet told me it flushes out the liver as well. My ferret pee’s green for some reason when he is given medication. The cranberry juice is helping to stop that from happening and I dont hear him wimper as often either. I some time wonder if his occasional wimpering has to do with him peeing on himself, because his legs are too weak to hold him off the puppy pad. I just started physical therapy last night. He doesnt get the exercise playing like he use to so I encourage him to push against the palm of my hand, with his back legs. I’ve started off with 3 sets of 5 and will gradually add reps and sets. I starting off easy because i don’t want to risk weaken him further by making his leg sore. After giving him his prednisone I give him some cranberry juice off my finger to get the taste of the meds out of his mouth. I also mix it with lactaid whole milk and a little whipping cream. My Rufus eats a lot but is very thin, so I’m trying to figure put how to put some weight back on him. I need suggestions.

  2. That’s great to know Anne, thanks for sharing! I must say I haven’t come across cranberry juice being good for a ferret with insulinoma before. Can you buy cranberry juice from the supermarket or do you need to get a special brand?
    I was looking up the question on how to put weight on a skinny ferret and came across this ..
    If the ferret is eating the correct number of calories, move on to the next question. Why is the ferret not absorbing the calories? A thin gastrointestinal tract means there are not enough cells to absorb calories; this may be due to chronic disease. A thick gastrointestinal tract means either inflammation or cancer may be present.
    Could it be that your ferret’s insulinoma has made his gastrointestinal tract thick?
    I give my guys a daily smoothie which is no lactose milk with a raw egg yolk in it, together with many supplements to help keep them as healthy as possible. They’re quite chunky, especially my sick girl who has adrenal problems, so perhaps you could try giving your boy that?
    You can read about DMG on the Insulinoma page so maybe you could get that and add it to the smoothie, together with some other supplements to help his immune system to stay strong, like Vit C (I use Camu Camu powder as it’s supposedly stronger than ordinary Vit C powder), dandelion, astaxanthin, and extra virgin olive oil. These are the supplements I put in my guys’ smoothie, together with turmeric, but no one is on medication so I’m not worried about any reactions.
    Now, I have no idea if any of those supplements will affect the pred you’re giving to your boy so that’s something you’ll have to google.
    I’ve just found out that people should not take turmeric if they have diabetes as it could cause their blood sugar to fall further so perhaps a ferret with insulinoma shouldn’t have it!

    Another good thing to give your boy is milk thistle, to help his liver. When Dash, my boy who developed acute lymphoma, was put on pred, I was told to give him 3 drops of milk thistle every morning and again every night, so I know that works fine with pred.
    Have you thought of changing your boy’s diet to a raw one? Someone told me that their ferret improved when she switched him over from kibble to raw but I don’t know what kind of raw she fed him.
    I know you can get frozen whole prey for ferrets, like wiener mice and day-old chicks, and those who feed their ferrets’ that diet swear by that food.
    However I know of a lady who switched to day-old chicks and one day missed a chick which had been stashed by her ferret in her cage. She doesn’t know how long the chick had been stashed but her ferret ate it and got a terrible case of gastro which killed her 🙁
    So, perhaps a change of diet would help your boy and perhaps help him gain weight!
    I’m sorry I haven’t been able to give you some definite advice about how to help him get fatter but I do hope some of these suggestions might help!
    Hugs to your poor little man from his new friends down under 🙂

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