Pet ferrets are prone to many different kinds of diseases including one that involves their pancreas. Insulinoma is the word that commonly refers to a disease involving this interesting organ but what is an insulinoma?
The pancreas of a ferret is an odd looking organ. It is located alongside the stomach and intestines and, in addition to producing and releasing enzymes that help to digest fats and starches, it produces hormones.
Such hormones include insulin, glucagon, and growth hormone. There are islands of cells throughout the pancreas called "islets of Langerhans" that produce these hormones. Every type of hormone has a different kind of cell that it is produced by. The cells that produce insulin are called beta cells. These beta cells are what can form a tumor called an insulinoma, the most common type of islet cell tumor.
What is an Insulinoma?
As previously stated, an insulinoma is a tumor of the beta cells, or the cells that produce insulin. These cells proliferate and cause the body to secrete too much insulin. Insulin in return causes the blood sugar, or glucose, to drop too low for the body to function normally. Your ferret gets weak and drags his hind limbs, and can even have a seizure if his blood sugar level drops too low.
Diagnosing an Insulinoma
Your exotics vet will most likely recommend checking a blood glucose level to see if your ferret's blood sugar is too low.
How is an Islet Cell Tumor Treated?
Partial pancreatectomies can be performed if a tumor is found or your ferret is diagnosed with an insulinoma.
This will remove some of the beta cells that are secreting too much insulin. Although this surgery may seem like a fix it is only an aid in treatment. Your exotics vet will most likely prescribe a steroid called prednisolone to suppress these beta cells.