Lady Tosca

My little girl, Lady Tosca, is nine years old now. Sadly, she is struggling with three common issues ferrets face as they age: adrenal tumors, insulinoma, and possible lymphoma. Ferrets are such joyful, active, playful, adventurous critters that they live much in a short time. Their lifespans are between 7-9 years, on average.

Just over a year and a half ago, Lady Tosca started to show signs of adrenal tumors. These tumors are rarely cancerous but have an impact on the overall health of the ferret. The most frequently noticed symptom is hair loss. The pattern of loss usually starts at the base of the tail and spreads to include the entire body in advanced cases. There is no such thing as a “bald” ferret breed. If a ferret has lost her/ his hair, the little one has adrenal and needs vet care. Sometimes, a ferret might loss hair on the tail. Look closely. If you see black bumps, the ferret has blackheads. These can be treated by washing the tail with gentle soaps and a medicated wipe. Consult your vet.
Other symptoms of adrenal are increased aggression, swollen vulva (female), difficulty urinating (male), and, increased sexual drive, loss of appetite, lethargy, excessive grooming of other ferrets, increase in musky odor,and, increased thirst and urination, weight loss. Most pet ferrets are spayed/neutered. If you see mating behavior, it is a sign of adrenal. Ferrets with advanced adrenal may have a rotund belly and loss of muscle tone. The adrenal glands are located above the kidneys.

Adrenal tumors are treated either by surgery or controlled medically. Surgery involves opening the ferret up, locating the tumor, and removing it. If the tumor is located on the right gland, it may not be possible to remove, due to risk of serious bleeding. The right gland is located near the vena cava. If your ferret is not healthy, surgery may not be the best option. If the left gland has already been removed, most vets will not try to remove the right gland. It increases the possibility of Addingdons.

There are three medications used to control adrenal. Your vet may prescribe a Lupron depot, usually at 1,3, or 4 month intervals. The ferret will need Lupron for the rest of her life. The depot controls symptoms, and perhaps shrinks the tumors, but does not cure it. Melatonin implants are also used to manage symptoms. It is a natural hormone, already in the ferret’s body. The melatonin inhibits the release of the gonadotropin releasing hormone from the pituitary gland. This results in less stimulation of the adrenal glands. There are two ways to introduce melatonin to the ferret. You can give it daily, in a pill or liquid form, or use Ferratonin, which is an implant that releases melatonin over time. When giving melatonin daily, timing is critical. For it to be effective, it must be given 7-9 hours after sunrise to mimic the natural release in the ferret’s body. If you can’t be at home during that time, it is better to use the Ferratonin depot. Melatonin is used in conjunction with other treatments, not as a stand alone. The third medication is relatively new in the US but has been used for years in Great Britain: Deslorelin acetate. The brand name is Suprelorin F. Des works in a similar way to Lupron, by suppressing key hormones that stimulate adrenal function. It is an implant, that is placed under your ferret’s skin. The implant last about 12 months. Again, it doesn’t fix he tumors but controls symptoms and may reduce tumor size.

Tosca is being treated using the Suprelorin implant. Her fur is thick, her appetite improved, she’s less aggressive, and has more energy. She responds well to this treatment. I opted out of surgery due to her advanced age and that she was already showing signs of insulinoma. My vet and I felt she was too fragile to operate. She is doing great on the implants.

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Tosca Resting

Insulinoma is a tumor in the pancreas. The pancreas is a v shaped gland found in the abdomen. One part sits along the stomach, the other part sits on the upper small intestine. The pancreas has two functions in the body. It produces and releases enzymes for the digestion of fats and starches in the intestines. About 2% of the structure are scattered islands of cells. They are called the "islets of Langerhans" and they are responsible for the production of hormones: insulin, glucagon, growth hormones, and pancreatic polypeptide. An insulinoma tumor attacks the beta cells that produce insulin. This is why ferrets often suffer from blood sugar drops. The beta cells overproduce insulin, which is needed to get glucose into the blood cells. If there is too much insulin, your ferret will have hypoglycemia. This often results in neurological symptoms, since the brain does not have enough glucose to function. Hind end weakness, drooling, pancaking, and seizures indicate low glucose.

The symptoms of insulinoma can be "silent," where they are barely noticeable, to a ferret having a full seizure. Common signs you can see in your ferret: lethargy, weak rear limbs, difficulty rising from sleep, leg incoordination, collapse, pawing at mouth, seizures, vomiting. Insulinoma can happen with other issues, such as adrenal. A ferret may present with symptoms for more than one health issue.

Insulinoma is diagnosed by blood glucose testing. A normal glucose level in a ferret is over 70 mg/dl. After a 4 hour fast, a ferret with insulinoma will have a glucose under 70 mg/dl. This is a good screening for a healthy ferret but if your ferret is ill, fasting can put the ferret at risk. Talk to your vet about other options. Often, the vet will order other tests to rule out infections, anemia, and other health issues that may not be insulinoma.

Insulinoma is not curable but it is treatable. Some vets will attempt to remove the tumors from the pancreas. This may not effect a cure, as it may not be possible to get all the tumors. Symptoms can be controlled by medication and careful diet/feeding. Corticosteroids are the first line of treatment. Most vets prescribe Prednisone. Diazoxide is a diuretic. It causes increased urination and raises blood sugar. It is added to Predisone treatment. Feeding a ferret with insulinoma is critical to provide a diet with high protein content and low carbohydrates. Many owners make up "duck soup" or "dook soup" that is made from high protein sources, ground together, into a semi-liquid. Carnivore Care is a product that is designed to be high protein to be used for ill carnivores. I use it as a base for my soup recipe. Check out ferret communities on the web or on Facebook for recipes for duck soup. It's important to make sure the ferret eats every 4 hours.

Unfortunately, outcomes with insulinoma are not good. The ferret generally goes to Rainbow Bridge within a year of symptoms. It becomes increasingly difficult to manage blood sugar issues. Tosca was diagnosed with insulinoma 6 months ago. She is on Pred. So far, I have increased her dosage once. She seems stable right now. She is a food Diva. She doesn't eat kibble and only likes duck soup if it is more liquid… In the cage. Out of the cage, she wants it thick, and warmed in the microwave, thank you.

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Tosca and Kaliyah

Lymphoma is cancer of the white blood cells. White blood cells are found in organs of the lymph system and can also be found in skin, blood, and gastrointestinal tract. Lymphoma can effect any of these systems and it can metastasize. This makes it complicated to diagnose.

There are two types that can happen: Classic and juvenile. Juvenile happens to ferret under two years old. It is very aggressive and has a poor prognosis. The health declines rapidly.

Classic lymphoma effects older ferrets and moves more slowly. There are four stages.
Stage 1: involves only a single site or tumor
Stage 2: multiple sites on the same side of the diaphragm.
Stage 3: involvement of spleen and lymph node on both sides of diaphragm
Stage 4: involvement of multiple sites on both sides of the diaphragm

The ferret does fairly well with treatment until the lymphocytes invade visceral organs. At that point, organ failure occurs and the ferret goes onto Rainbow Bridge. Effectiveness of treatment depends on where the tumor is located and what stage the ferret is in.

Symptoms include lethargy, swollen lymph nodes, and weight loss. Ferrets may also present with a swollen spleen. This can indicate lymphoma but there are other causes of swollen spleen in a ferret. The spleen is located in the belly of the ferret. The spleen will be easily felt on palpating or the swelling can also be easily seen. The only way to diagnose lyphoma is with a needle aspirate or biopsy of suspected lymph nodes or organs.

Treatment includes the use of Predisone. However, if a ferret is already being treated for insulinoma by Prednisone, treatment may not be as effective. This does not cure the ferret. It improves quality of life. Ferrets can also be treated with chemotherapy. Using chemotherapy in combination with Prednisone may increase the survival time of the ferret. However, you have to consider quality of life. Will the drugs cause side effects that make life uncomfortable for your ferret? For most ferrants, cost is also prohibitive. Chemotherapy is expensive. Choose what is best for your ferret.

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Tosca playing with Taliesin

It has been a hard few months. While Tosca has insulinoma and adrenal it is not confirmed she has lymphoma. Tosca does have swollen spleen but no swelling in the lymphnodes.

It is hard to love a ferret. They bring so much joy, energy, happiness, playfulness, mischievousness, and love. But, their lives are so short, mainly because of these health issues.
Even with her illnesses, Tosca continues to play and explore. Last night, she stole a clean pair of running socks I dropped, and disappeared under the couch. She also ran through the tube maze.

I appreciate the time with my older ferrets. There is bonding that happens as the ferret looks to you more for company and food. Tosca eats best when she is sitting on my lap. She eats, then wipes her face off on my clothes, sighs, stuffs her head in the bowl and eats more. At the end of her eat/ wipe cycle, she sighs and starts to groom my fingers.

Tosca is a special ferret to me. I love all my ferrets but some I connect to a little stronger than others. Tosca is deaf. When I got her, she bit, and screamed. It took a while to figure out what she needed. I make sure she sees, or senses me, before I pick her up. I thump the floor so she feels vibrations to call her. She also was the “boss” of her group: Taliesin and Koda Bear. Both the boys wait for her at the Bridge.

Love means being with the ferret through the best and support and care at the end.

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Young Tosca at Play

Meditations

I changed my routine today.  After I finished my physical therapy run at the track, I spent time just being.  So often in life, I move from task to task without spending time just being present.  It’s easy to do.  Life has time demands: family, work, ferrets, and even fitness and other enjoyable activities.   In the past, I have often been so busy doing life that I forgot to live. 

Many people believe meditation reduces awareness of the world around you.  There are different forms of meditation.  I frequently practice mindfulness meditation, which actually enhances your awareness and experience. When I was running, my focus was on running.  I was aware of my breath and my body.  My mind was focused either on the run or pleasantly neutral.  This, too, is a form of meditation.  As I walked to cool down, I focused on my breathing.  In through the nose, out through the mouth.  I visualized peace entering my body every inhalation and stress leaving every exhalation.   I felt my muscles relaxing.  I experienced the sensation of my feet on the track, the breeze gently blowing on my skin, the sound of the wind in the trees, and the smell of freshly cut grass and the nearby wheat fields.   Then I sat in the sun, closed my eyes, and felt the sun’s warmth soaking into me.  I listened to the song of nature around me.  I heard the shussch-shusssch of a nearby lawn sprinkler and the scent of water and wet concrete tickled my nose. 

I decided to take a trip. I sank my awareness into myself, becoming aware of my breathing and the movement of my abdomen.   I chose my destination: the Oregon Coast, near Haystack Rock.  This exercise was particularly challenging for me.  Even prior to the accident, I was not strong in visualization.  The concussion did not improve it.  I concentrated on my other senses.   I tasted the salty brine in the air, smelled the tang of the ocean, heard the crash of surf and felt the cold wind.   This is concentrated imagination or perhaps body memory, as I frequently visited the ocean in the past.  I managed to see the tip of Haystack Rock in a hazy gray mist.   Given the Oregon Coast, it would not surprise me if I visited in a rain storm, with reduced visibility.  I am pleased I got as much detail of the rock as I did.   Soon, it was time to return home.  I became aware of my breath; and then my body, paying attention to the feel of the grass on my legs and the contact of my seat on the ground.  Then, I paid attention to my other senses.  When I felt totally “home,” I opened my eyes.  This is meditation based on a themed visualization. 

Meditation benefits health in several ways and it is an important part of my recovery from the concussion.  Meditation reduces cortisol, the stress hormone, and slows the pulse.  It can help lower blood pressure.  Focused meditation is being used more in pain management and reduction.  Meditation improves concentration and the ability to use imagination.   When I first started meditating after the accident, I was totally unable to focus for more than a couple of minutes.  That was fine.  Meditation can be as short or long as I decide.   I think my meditative practice has helped improve my concentration.   Yesterday, I had a migraine that the medication was not ending.  I used a simple breathing meditation.  The headache did not leave totally but the pain level dropped considerably.   There are real health benefits to practicing meditation.

Many people are overwhelmed by meditation.  They visualize a monk, sitting cross-legged, chanting “ohm.”  That is one form of mediation.  But, as demonstrated in this post, there are many others.   Meditation does not have to be based on spiritual or religious practices, unless you want to use it in this fashion.   Prayer can actually be seen as a form of meditation on Deity, as well as conversation.  You can meditate on your favorite scripture or spiritual practice.    Meditation can be used as a method  to be in the presence of Deity and to discover more about yourself and your spiritual connection.    However, meditation does not need a spiritual theme to work.

I want to challenge you, my friends, to try a simple experiment.  

Find a time and place you won’t be disturbed.  You may want to go into a room and shut the door.   Ask children and family members not to disturb you.  If you have furry-family, you may want to put them in another room.  As much as I love my ferrets, they can interrupt a meditation faster than you can say “dook.”   You can play relaxing music in the background if you wish. 

 Sit in a comfortable chair with your feet touching the floor.  Next, take your pulse for a minute and write it down.   Follow this link to learn how to take your pulse.  http://www.webmd.com/hw-popup/taking-a-pulse-heart-rate

Close your eyes.  Become aware of the sensation of your body sitting in the chair.  What does it feel like?  Can you feel it touching your back and legs?  Become aware of the sounds and smells around you. 

Become aware of your breathing.  Just notice it for 5 breaths.  Don’t try to change it.  After 5 breaths, start breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. Don’t try to breathe deeper or change how fast your breath.  Just breathe. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.  Continue for 10 cycles of breath.   Remember, don’t try to force your breath.  Breathe naturally in rhythm.  When you complete your 10 breath cycles, slowly open your eyes. 

Take your pulse again.  What happened to your pulse?  What do you notice about how you feel? 

 This is an easy meditation that does not take much time.  Yet, it is still effective.  And it can be done literally anywhere. 

If you want to learn more about meditation, there are many sites on the internet and resources at bookstores.   I recommend for mindfulness meditation  “Full catastrophe Living” by Jon Kabat-Zinn.  The book primarily focuses on mindfulness in pain control and reduction.   However, it is a wealth of information on how to practice mindfulness in daily life.  Dr. Kabat-Zinn has other books and media available.   Thich Naht-Hanh is a Buddhist monk.  His books and audio are excellent to learn about life and meditation.   “The Miracle of Mindfulness” and “Breathe, You are Alive” are excellent places to start.   

Give meditation a try!  It really helps!

Introducing My Furchildren

Since I will share many stories about my furry family over the course of the blog, I want to take a few minutes to introduce you to them.  Each ferret has unique quirks and personalities.  They are quite the cast of characters.

Taliesin Napping

 

 This is my handsome boy, Taliesin.  At 6.5 years old, he is my eldest ferret.  If Taliesin were human, he would be a food critic.  To say he is finicky is an understatement.  He eats what he likes and nothing else, thank you.  Needless to say, this makes medicating him a bit tricky when he’s sick.   Taliesin is almost lazy, as ferrets go.  While he enjoys exploring new places and playing a occassional game of pounce, tickle, kiss, pounce; he mostly enjoys his long naps, punctuated by a light snack with fresh water, followed by a siesta to aid in digestion.  He is affectionate, however, and enjoys a cuddle with his human. His favorite game is pounce, tickle, kiss, pounce.  He ferret-iouscly pounces at me; I catch him in midair, kiss him, place him on the ground, roll him over, and he immediately war dances, followed by another pounce.

 

Lady Tosca: Brave the Ferret

This is Lady Tosca.  The picture says it all.  Tosca is 5.5 years old and she is in charge. She is the leader of the business of ferrets.  Business is what a group of ferrets are called.  She is not my most popular ferret.  Tosca  is deaf and can become carried away in play and be a little too rough.  My father thinks she is a bully.  I can’t imagine why.  Just because she “trees” my parents’ miniature Schnauzer on the couch every time they come to visit.  No, Tosca isn’t a bully.  She is very protective of her territory.  She is also intelligent and quite affectionate.  Tosca is the ferret who first learned that she could open cabinet doors, then use the drawers as “stairs” to get onto the counter tops.  She actually can push out the top drawer to reach her goal.  She has since taught that trick to the others: except Taliesin.  Why climb when I’ll give him his treat in a bowl?  Tosca’s favorite game is chase and wrestle.  Her trick: taking a treat from my lips. 

A Cute Picture of Tosca

This brings us to Koda Bear.  Koda is a walking stomach on four legs covered with fur.  He is a sweet boy but driven by his stomach.   Koda has a knack at finding new ways to get to food.  He quickly mastered three tricks: beg, roll over, and circle. 

Koda will Do Anything for Treats

When he is not seeking out ways to fill his belly, Koda is a loving, affectionate little man.  He loves to give “groomies” (kisses) and his evening cuddle.  He does not play much with me.  He prefers ferret games such as tube chase and wrestling.  Every once in a while, he likes to play with a cat teaser. He will turn 5 this August.

Koda and Tosca in Action:

Last, but not least, is Kaliyah.  Her name means “Slayer of Dragons.”  However, she is a gentle girl for the most part.  I know when Kaliyah is out and about: I hear the scampering pitter patter of her little paws as she gallops through the house.  She does nothing slowly.  Her favorite hobby is the “steal and stash.”  She is always adding to her “treasures” under the couch.  Size does not matter to her.  If she likes it, she’ll do her best to steal it. 

Kaliyah Considers her Pounce

Kaliyah is a playful girl.  She enjoys wrestling and chasing with the other ferrets.  Her favorite toy is the pink feather cat teaser.  She is my only ferret who likes water and she often plays in my bathtub with shallow water in the bottom.  She is one year old and comes from GFX Ferretry in North Carolina.   I initially intended Kaliyah to be a playmate for Tosca.  The boys would often go off to nap before she was done playing.  Unfortunately, the ferrets had a different idea.  The two girls have been engaged in an ongoing squabble.  They are caged separately but tolerate each other enough to share playtime, with an occassional outbreak of hissing, biting, and poofing.  It is my hope the girls will one day declare a truce. 

 

Trying to fit the toy under the couch

 

That is my current furfamily.  In the future, I will post a memorial honoring those who have gone to Rainbow Bridge. 

Night thoughts

I had trouble sleeping last night.   I dozed off for awhile, then would wake up.  For some reason, my mind started thinking in haiku.  The rhythm of 5-7-5 bounced into my brain and stayed.  Perhaps it’s because my thought process is often in short bursts right now, especially when verbalizing something.   

Wreck

Ice stealing control
Gravity pulls, spiral down
Sudden crash, blackness.
 
Summer
Deep indigo sky
Crickets sing fireflies flash
Bright stars dance in night
 
Anxiety
Anxiety is
Shapless dark monster pouncing
Snacking on life unlived
 
Ferrets
Paw thumping on floor
Ferret teeth chewing at itch
Wake up!  It’s playtime!
 
 

That’s what happens when you don’t sleep.