human, being

Pharley: Insulinoma
March 1, 2009, 9:01 am
Filed under: life | Tags: , , , , ,
Pharley, finding a sleep spot in the woodpile

Pharley, finding a sleep spot in the woodpile

Yesterday morning, I snatched up Pharley, our sable ferret, to give him a morning cuddle. I discovered he was drooling (at first I thought he’d peed on me, which would be weird). As soon as I picked him him he went limp, rather than the typical struggle he gives when I want to share some love.

I immediately googled his symptoms and came up with a frightening word for ferret owners: insulinoma. Two hours and $180 later at Alameda East we had confirmation that he has this common, and usually fatal disease. Insulinoma is a tumor on the pancreas that causes it to make too much insulin. The opposite of diabetes, too much insulin causes blood sugar to drop precipitously. Drooling, lethargy and shaking are signs that he was very sick.

We don’t know exactly how old he is. He’s lived with us for about 18 months, and he was an older ferret when we rescued him, so we estimate that he’s close to 5. Ferrets live about 5 to 7 years.

The best chance for a cure with him is surgery, which will cost us about $1200. Or we can hope to improve how he feels by giving him prednisone, a steroid that also battles low blood sugar, and feeding him a high sugar food supplement several times a day.

Back in 2002, my first “baby”, a golden retriever named Duncan, was diagnosed with lymphoma. My ex and I were devastated, and we decided to do everything we could to save him, despite the fact that the vet told us we might get an extra 2 years at best. We put him through chemotherapy. He lost his fur. He had so little energy for six months. The cancer was in remission for 3 months then came back with a vengeance. We had spent $8000 in 9 months and were back where we started. We finally took him in to be put down. I vowed never again to do that to a pet in an effort to spare ourselves some grief. We have euthanasia available for a reason, and that is to keep these gentle creatures from suffering.

I asked the vet yesterday what he would do–treat or euthanize. He said ferrets can live quite a long time with insulinoma if they are monitored carefully and treated. He told me that with treatment, Pharley should get back to his old self again. The fact that the medication will cost us only about $12 a month helps too. He suggested doing an abdominal ultrasound because Pharley’s pancreas feels a bit nodule-y, which may indicate there is something else going on in addition to the insulinoma. He said most likely, it would be lymphoma. To treat that, they would give him pred, or put him down. Since the treatment would not be different, I decided against spending $400 on the ultrasound. We’ll give it some time. If he doesn’t improve to the point where he isn’t sleeping all the time, then we’ll have to make a different decision.

The saddest thing about having pets is that they rarely outlive you. The best thing is that when they’re with you, they give you unconditional love. We rescued Pharley and Jack from a bad situation, and the past 18 months they’ve had a wonderful life. They’ve shown their appreciation by making us laugh, hard and often, and occasionally licking the water off of our feet when we emerge from the shower. That’s enough for us.


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