Diabetes Mellitus in Ferrets
This form of diabetes causes the ferret's body to suffer from either an absolute shortage of insulin (Type I), or from an incorrect response from the cells to the insulin that is being produced, a condition termed insulin resistance (Type II). Both of these conditions will prevent the muscles and organs from converting glucose to energy, and will result in excessive amounts of glucose in the blood, which is also referred to as hyperglycemia. The deficiency in insulin, a hormone produced in the pancreas, will also affect the body's ability to properly metabolize carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.
Symptoms and Types
The signs and symptoms of diabetes mellitus in ferrets typically include the wasting away of muscle mass; excessive thirst (polydipsia) and need to urinate (polyuria); weight loss even with normal appetite; unusually high blood sugar levels; lethargy; and depression. As the disease progresses many ferrets lose the ability to eat and develop problems with anorexia and even increased or enlarged liver and spleen.
Diabetes mellitus in ferrets is caused most commonly by a condition known as hyperglycemia, where the blood sugar is too high resulting from improper insulin management in the body. This may result from surgery, especially surgical procedures that involve reducing the size of pancreatic tumors, which may disrupt the body's ability to maintain proper blood sugar levels. Basically, diabetes is not a disease that happens spontaneously in ferrets; something has to happen to stimulate its arousal or formation.
Usually a formal diagnosis of diabetes mellitus is made after a veterinarian confirms excessive weight loss, an increase in the concentration of glucose within the plasma consistently, and an increase in urinary output and protein in the ferret. Identifying a single cause of diabetes mellitus, however, may be challenging and may first require a differential diagnosis, where he or she will rule out other similar conditions such as kidney disease.
Typically, blood sugar or glucose levels higher than 100 suggest the presence of diabetes although levels as high as 500 are common. Other common laboratory results include high levels of liver and kidney enzymes, low levels of electrolytes, and other related abnormalities.
Most cases of diabetes can be managed without complications, but for some ferrets the situation may be more challenging. Your veterinarian will make an individual treatment and management plan for your ferret based on the ferret's current disease status. He or she will also brief you on what to look for in case of either hypoglycemia (low levels of glucose) or hyperglycemia (high level of glucose), both of which can be seen in diabetic ferrets.
Lowering insulin demands and balancing your ferret's food and liquid cravings to healthy levels is another priority, as obesity is one of the major risk factors for diabetes. Keeping a daily and weekly chart of your ferret's diet, glucose test results, daily insulin dose, and weekly body weight is highly recommended for following patterns and recognizing when your ferret deviates from it's regular pattern. There are various types of insulin available and a selection of the type that is appropriate to your ferret will made by your veterinarian.
Living and Management
Ferrets with spontaneous resolution (or the complete resolution of their symptoms without care) are most likely to have the best possible odds of a recovery. However, long-term follow-up care is often warranted, especially in ferrets with severe cases of diabetes mellitus. To ensure proper recovery, follow your veterinarian's dietary regimen. Ferrets that receive insulin therapy because of high blood sugar levels due to recent pancreatic surgery are typically on it only for a temporary basis.