Message Number: YG13828 | New FHL Archives Search
From: Kym Barone
Date: 2002-06-14 18:25:00 UTC
Subject: [Ferret-Health-list] when to do surgery

Hi Sue,

You ask a very good question, the problem is that there are
many variables that go into the answer. But this is a topic
that I struggled with a lot over the years and I think I have
some input for you. Forgive the long post... but lots to say!!

First - let me say, regarding insulinoma that is undiagnosed
causing problems in surgery - it is always, always recommended
that you do a CBC and a blood glucose test on any ferret prior
to going in for surgery to determine underlying problems that
the eye cannot see - not just insulinoma, but that's a big
one. You should also consider an x-ray to determine if there
are any heart problems prior to anything that requires
anasthesia. This adds a bit to the total cost of surgery, but
if you're trying to do everything you can to minimize risk
during surgery, these are the things to do.

As for the age of the ferret and the condition of the ferret
going in for surgery - it really all just depends. Case in
point: I had a young, big, strong, healthy under-one-year-old
ferret go into surgery for a routine neuter. He died on the
table due to a reaction to the anasthesia. Very rare, this is
NOT common, but it happens. When I ran my shelter, I also had
mid-range aged ferrets, strong, fat, and healthy *not* come
out of surgery because of underlying problems. I've also had
stronger ferrets pass away due to complications after surgery,
most often bleeding out. (Please understand that this is still
the minority of cases - I make it sound like most of the
ferrets that went in for surgery didn't come out. That is not
true. Most of them DID make it through just fine - but since I
was sheltering, and we did surgery on EVERY eligible ferret
who needed it, we had literally dozens upon dozens go in for

But then take case in point, my personal ferret, Koto. At age
6 and some months she was diagnosed with insulinoma. My vet at
the time refused to do surgery on her because she was 'too
old' for it. For years I thought any ferret over 5 was 'too
old' for surgery because my vet taught me that. So I put her
on prednisone, which she remained on for *two years* (very
gradually increasing dosage) and tolerated it very, very well.
At age 8, she had maxed on her dosage of pred, and we had to
turn to pred with proglycem. It worked, but Koto would have
rather died than take proglycem (even compounded/flavored).
She got worse and worse. By the time she was 8 1/2, she was
well under a pound, in bad shape, and had nearly lost her will
to live. I was NOT going to lose my little girl though. So in
desperation, I turned to Dr. Weiss (now of Green Valley Animal
Hospital in Bethesda, MD) who I had heard could perform
miracles. I emailed him with my story of Koto. I told him that
I figured surgery was a very bad idea, but it was my LAST
hope, without it, she would die. To my surprise, he felt
optimistic that he could help her and told me he had done many
surgeries on the elderly gang. So I made the long drive to
him. Long story short, Koto not only made it through surgery,
but with flying colors. She improved dramatically, and did not
need to be on any medication (pred/proglycem) after her
surgery. She lived to a ripe old 9 1/2 and was a very, very
happy and very loved ferret to the end. I never regretted that
decision. So it most certainly IS possible. But what I want to
caution anyone reading this is that the FACT is that an older
ferret, particularly in Koto's very bad-off shape is NOT the
best surgical candidate and the chances were high I'd lose
her. But at that point, it was a risk I was willing to take
because there were no other options for her.

I've also had quite a few ferrets go in for surgery at 6 and 7
years of age and come through with flying colors and extend
their lifespans for up to two years of good, quality life.

Factors you must consider:

1. First and foremost, the experience of the vet. Get
recommendations!! Dr. Weiss was doing up to six or eight
surgeries on ferrets a day at the time (don't know if he still
does) so his experience with it was well above par for the
average vet. When choosing to do any surgery on a ferret, it
pays to go to a ferret specialist with lots of experience,
even if it means going to another state, which I did. If your
regular vet isn't comfortable with surgeries on elders, don't
put your vet or you or your ferret in the position of using
that particular vet. Doesn't mean that your vet is a bad vet -
just not the right choice for the procedure.

2. Equally important is the condition of the ferret. An older
but plump, energetic ferret that is eating and pooping well
will statistically do better than a younger, sickly, thin,
weak, malnourished ferret. Your goal is to not wait too long
to do surgery. If your ferret is diagnosed with adrenal,
insulinoma, etc., and you are told you can wait to do surgery,
be aware that if you do wait until the ferret gets weaker or
sicker or thinner, your risk is higher. It's best to do
surgery as soon as you know a problem exists.

3. As mentioned above, it's worth the extra money for
diagnostic tests prior to any surgical procedure.

But as the story of Koto describes, if you're running out of
options, don't assume that you cannot choose surgery as an
option. As Sukie posted, Lupron is not as effective in
older-older ferrets, and some ferrets just don't respond to it
at all. If you find that medicinal alteratives are not working
for your ferrets' problem, and surgery is your only option
left, it's not wrong to decide to do surgery. If you lose your
ferret on the table it is absolutely heartbreaking, I
understand this; but at least you gave it your best shot, and
one thing to take comfort in is that it is a peaceful way to
go for them.

For anyone reading this who has been following the story of my
Patches, please don't think that I'm being hypocritical; I
wrote how I had two options with Patches - surgery, or
prednisone, and I felt she was in NO shape for surgery. Had
the prednisone option NOT been an option, and surgery was the
only way to save her, I would have done the surgery. Of course
I lost her anyway, but I had hoped the pred would stabilize
her. :(

I apologize for the length of this post, but I hope that it
helps in making decisions.


Ferret Mommy to 20
L'il Grunt, Kerplunk, Mookie, Mikayla, Marty, Tanglefoot,
Tumbleweed, Corky, Tequila Sunrise, Squirt, Piggly Wiggly,
Trouble Too, Muse, Patchwork Princess, Boo, Homer, Connie,
Bonnie, Sallie, and Tangerine Twist
Meet the kids:
-----Original Message-----
From: sue []
Sent: Friday, June 14, 2002 3:03 PM

I have been reading and I am so sorry for everyone who has
lost a fuzzy. I have a question and would like everyone's
feedback on this subject.