Q: I have four ferrets. Three of them were privately adopted. The one female I have I believe is very sick, and no one can tell me what’s wrong, not even the veterinarian. I was told that she is 2, but I think she’s older. She sleeps all the time. She only wakes up to eat, drink and poop. She has small hair loss to the base of her tail. She is weak to the point that when she walks she loses balance, or even falls over. I took her to a vet approximately a month ago because I found her in the bottom of her cage collapsed, half in the litter box half out, and kind of convulsing. When I make her get out of her cage, she walks and bumps into something, then she stands there for two or three minutes and stares. Then she takes off like something scared her. What is wrong with her?
A: There are a number of conditions that I would consider in your ferret with the type of signs you are describing. The loss of balance, the lethargy and even bumping into things sounds very much like whole body weakness, but really only a veterinarian who is doing a physical examination can tell you that for certain.
What can cause whole body weakness in a ferret? Almost any disease condition can do this. There are some that are more common than others in ferrets. The most common cause in older ferrets is insulinoma disease. This cancerous disease of the pancreas causes the blood sugar to be low, in some cases dangerously low, and the result is a very weak ferret. This is an easy disease to diagnose. A small amount of blood is taken and tested for the amount of glucose. If the glucose is inappropriately low, we make a diagnosis of insulinoma. Treatment includes both medical and surgical approaches.
Another cause of whole body weakness includes heart disease. Ferrets get a number of different types of heart disease. Only your veterinarian, using a stethoscope, radiographs and even advanced testing such as EKGs and cardiac ultrasound, can make this diagnosis. Some forms of heart disease can be treated while other causes of heart disease respond poorly to medication.
Other types of organ disease, specifically liver or kidney disease, can cause a ferret to appear to be overall weak. The hair loss on the base of the tail may be the beginning of adrenal gland disease. This should be investigated by your veterinarian. But it is likely that adrenal gland disease is not causing the other signs you are observing in your ferret.
At this point, I suggest you either re-visit your veterinarian and ask for new diagnostic testing or get a second opinion from another veterinarian familiar with ferret diseases. The veterinarian will likely recommend blood tests, a urine test and whole body radiographs to start in trying to find the cause of your ferret’s problem.