Common Diseases of Ferrets

While some ferrets in the U.S. are sold from private breeders, the majority of ferrets kept as pets in the U.S. are sold at large pet stores and come from just a couple of commercial breeders. As a result, they are quite inbred. Consequently, many pet ferrets are from the same genetic pool and tend to develop a handful of common diseases. A few of these commonly seen diseases are impacted by what ferrets eat. While ferret owners can’t necessarily prevent these diseases from occurring in their pets, with proper nutrition, they can feed their pets balanced diets to try to lessen the impact these diseases have on their animals’ lives.

For example, many pet ferrets after about age 3 or 4 years develop tumors in their pancreases that secrete excessive amounts of insulin. Termed insulinomas, these tumors release insulin especially in response to a ferret’s consuming foods high in sugar. Sugary foods cause a surge in insulin release which in turn drives down a ferret’s blood sugar and leads to bouts of hypoglycemia, weakness, weight loss, and even collapse. Ferrets are carnivores that, even when healthy, have gastrointestinal (GI) tracts that are not equipped to deal with high-carbohydrate meals. Ferrets with insulinomas are even less tolerant of carbohydrate in their diets and tend to have massive swings in their blood sugar from high to low, as their tumors release insulin. While ferret owners cannot prevent the development of insulinomas in their pets, they can lessen the blood sugar highs and lows in ferrets prone to developing insulinomas by feeding them high protein, low carbohydrate food, such as that found in most pelleted diets commercially formulated for ferrets, and by avoiding high-sugar treats such as raisins, yogurt drops, fruit, and sugary ferret vitamin supplements.

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