Feeding Old or young, Sick, or Under Weight Ferrets
This brochure is not intended to take the place of advice from your veterinarian. When you have a ferret that won?t eat, has diarrhea, or is dehydrated - please contact your veterinarian.
Healthy ferrets can be fed nutritional recipes for maintenance.
Ferret Family Servicessprite@ksu.edu
Domestic Ferret Information and Education
PO Box 186, Manhattan KS 66505-0186
It's helpful to get ferrets to eat a liquid gruel type nutritional recipe
while they are well so it will be easier to entice them to eat if they get sick. When
ferrets aren't feeling well they don't want to eat, especially if they have an upset
tummy, stuffy nose, are stressed, getting an ulcer, have an abrupt food change, or have
a sore tooth or gum infection.
For ferrets that don't want to drink or eat on their own, I gently feed 90cc's (3 ounces) per pound per day (24 hour period), divided into 3-6+ feedings. If your ferret is drinking or eating a small amount on their own, your ferret may need to be fed less, about 60 cc's/pound a day of a recipe. Never force feed a ferret with a possible blockage. If the ferret is vomiting frequently, has thin or no stools, these might be signs of a possible blockage. Some ferrets get hairballs in their stomachs. The longer the hairball sits in the stomach, the harder it becomes. When a foreign object is in the stomach, symptoms may include occassional bouts of nausea, not wanting to eat and a general not well feeling from time to time.
Ferrets have a short digestive tract. Food transit time is normally 3-6 hours. When ferrets aren't feeling well they would much rather sleep than eat. Your ferret needs to eat to live. You'll need to be calm, gentle, and persistent. Ferrets go down quickly so act swiftly and monitor them closely. If you are unable to get them to eat very much at one time, feed more frequently until the needed amount is eaten. I've started with as little as 3 cc's every hour or two and increased the amount at a level the ferret would tolerate. It is extremely important that ferrets eat frequently, especially when they are older or have insulinoma. With older ferrets their systems are not able to break down the food properly and their digestive tract may not be able to absorb the needed nutrients. With insulinomic ferrets they need to eat frequently to help stabilize their blood sugar. Feeding a nutritional liquid gruel type recipe provides an easier-to-digest meal.
When ferrets have upset tummies they do not want to eat. The syrup from a can of peaches in heavy syrup (1/2 cc, 2-4 times daily) may help. If your ferret has insulinoma be sure to check with your vet before giving the syrup and follow with a protein meal such as meat baby food. I empty the syrup from a can of peaches into a sealable container and place in the fridge for storage. Be sure to check it before dosing if it's been in the fridge for awhile. Ferrets aren't fond of fermented peach syrup. In different situations, I've given 1/4 of a cc of Children's Mylanta or 1/4 to 1/2 cc of regular strength Pepto Bismal (mixed with 1/2 cc of heavy whipping cream), or 1/10 of a pepto tablet mixed with their recipe serving. Check with your veterinarian before giving any human medications to your ferret. DO NOT GIVE YOUR FERRET ANY PRODUCTS THAT CONTAIN IBUPROFEN OR ACETAMINOPHEN - THESE ARE DEADLY IN FERRETS.
I've found that Dexamethasone injections (0.2 of a cc), once daily for 3 days, help to take down inflammation, calm upset tummies and increases appetite. Dexamethasone is a steroid and would need to be prescribed by your veterinarian.
During some illnesses your ferret may be so sick he/she won?t want to eat at all. Imagine how you feel when you have the flu and this will give you an idea of how your ferret may feel. If your vet doesn?t recommend withholding food and you know there isn't a blockage, you'll need to gently hand feed your ferret until your ferret starts eating on it?s own again. Don?t give up. This phase should pass as long as you stay on top of it.
To determine if your ferret is dehydrated, gently pinch the skin at the back of the neck, similar to scruffing. If the skin goes down slowly then your ferret is dehydrated and may need fluids. Their face may have a pinched look. You can gauge hydration by gums also. If their gums are sticky or tacky, they may need additional fluids.
For first feedings you may have to entice your ferret to eat by dipping your finger in the recipe and rubbing it in your ferret?s mouth. Usually after a couple times they'll realize that it really isn?t all that bad. A factor in feeding ill or weak ferrets is HOW you feed them - your finger, saucer, spoon, or syringe. This is ferret choice, you will need to experiment to find what is best for each individual ferret.
Syringe (no needle) feeding (Use only when absolutely necessary) - 5cc or 10-12 cc O ring syringes work well. Suck up the recipe in the syringe. Hold the ferret upright. Place tip of syringe up to front or side of mouth. Gently dribble the fluid in, a drop at a time. Be careful not to go too quickly or your ferret might inhale the fluid into it?s lungs which can result in pneumonia.
Saucer feeding - Place the warm recipe in a saucer. Hold your ferret upright on your lap and hold the saucer allowing the ferret to lap from it. You may have to start them by dipping your finger in recipe and gently smearing it in their mouth. When your ferret starts licking your finger, slowly lower your finger till your ferret is licking from the saucer.
Spoon feeding - Place warm recipe in saucer. Place ferret on towel on solid surface. Spoon recipe and let ferret lick spoon.
If your ferret refuses all food, you can try mixing meat and gravy baby food (small jar) with a small amount of either Pediasure, Ensure Plus(vanilla or strawberry), Sustacal (vanilla), Resource Plus (vanilla), or Deliver 2.0 (ordered through pharmacy). These are human nutritional supplements that may make the mixture more palatable and may help to sustain your ferret for a short time till they accept more nutrient dense recipes. The key is to find what your ferret will eat when ill. You may also add a tablespoon of heavy whipping cream to their recipe. Some ferrets find this more palatable and the heavy whipping cream is packed with fat calories. Some ferrets may be lactose intolerant. If they get diarrhea from the heavy whipping cream, reduce the amount to their tolerance level. In rare occasions a ferret may have an allergic reaction to the heavy whipping cream so monitor closely after feeding. Dyne and Omega 3 Plus are liquid high calorie animal supplements, and Carnivore Care and Wysong PDG are meat based powdered animal supplements that can be added to recipes or given alone for a short time. These products can be found at on-line pet supply stores if they aren't available in your local area. If your ferret likes raisins and refuses to eat a recipe, take a small handful of raisins and boil them in a cup of water. When the water is golden, strain out the raisins and mix a little raisin water with your ferrets recipe serving to entice them to eat. NOTE: The raisin water is used only as a mild flavoring to entice your ferret to eat the recipe, it has no nutritional value for ferrets. Reduce the amount of raisin water in the recipe at each serving as quickly as your ferret will accept till your ferret is eating the recipe without the raisin water. Refrigerate left over raisin water between uses. Use special caution with this method if your ferret has insulinoma.
The following recipes may be adapted to your ferrets individual taste. You may add clover honey to any of the recipes (3 cc's) if your ferret likes sweets. Note that simple sugars are absorbed more easily. Start with a small portion of a simple recipe. Mix and match ingredients to find what your ferret likes best. Recipes vary depending on the ferret's preference as do textures. Some ferrets will like the recipe chunky while others like it more soupy. When syringe feeding you will want it more soupy so it will go through the syringe easily.
Recipes can be stored in sealed containers and refrigerated for up to 36 hours. For longer storage, recipes can be frozen in sealable glass containers, or ice cube trays and placed in freezer bags. Defrost overnight in refrigerator.
Mix all ingredients well. Warm individual servings for about 10-15 seconds in microwave in small container (not in serving dish), mix well with finger to check for hot spots. Serve in separate container. Small coffee saucers work well. Coffee bean grinders work well for grinding kibble.
Hard food is optional in all recipes. If adding kibble there are two ways to prepare the kibble to add to the recipe. The kibble can be ground in a coffee bean grinder or it can be soaked in warm water till soft (about 1 hour) then combined with other ingredients in a blender. Both methods work well. The advantage of soaking kibble is that it can be soaked ahead of time and refrigerated till needed. The disadvantage of soaking kibble is that if you forget you won't be able to make recipe till the kibble is adequately softened by soaking. Even softened or ground kibble will cause a grainy texture in the recipe. If your ferret has an ulcer or other stomach or intestinal inflammation, it will be easier on their GI tract if the kibble isn't included in the recipe. Chicken, Lamb, or Turkey baby food may be substituted for Science Diet A/D. A teeny-tiny sprinkle of Garlic Powder (not salt)(use cautiously as Garlic may cause upset to a sensitive GI tract), Nutrical or Ferretvite, Dyne or Omega 3 Plus, Carnivore Care or Wysong PDG, and Acidophilus may be added to all recipes. Acidophilus is especially beneficial when antibiotics are being given. Buttermilk or yogurt may be added but may cause diarrhea in some ferrets.
Basic Recipes -
1 can Science Diet A/D Or 1 jar strained meat baby food
? cup Pedialyte 1 oz Heavy whipping cream
2 oz Water 1 oz water
1 tsp ferretone 1 tsp ferretone
Moisten regular hard food with warm water and hand feed.
Enhanced Recipes -
1 can Science Diet A/D Or 1 can Science Diet A/D
? cup ground hard food Sprinkle Brewers Yeast
?-1 cup Pedialyte 2 tablespoons Linatone or Ferretone
? teaspoon Brewers Yeast ? -1 cup Pedialyte
? cup Oatmeal Baby Cereal ? cup buttermilk or 1 Acidophilus
1 can Resource Vanilla or Ensure Plus or Sustacal
1 can SD A/D or 1 jar baby food
1 cup finely ground hard food (optional - ferret choice)
? - ? cup Gerber baby oatmeal cereal
? cup buttermilk or 1 capsule acidophilus
For ferrets that can?t break down foods - 1/8 tab Viokase may be added to a batch of recipe.
From a nutritional stance, a major concern with ECE is the osmotic balance in the gut. Ferrets are carnivores. Ferrets have short digestive tracts and do not digest fiber well. Watch carefully when feeding products that contain Bee Pollen as they may cause an allergic reaction. Our first recipe was formulated with the assistance of Dr. Tom Willard (Totally Ferret).
2 cans Science Diet A/D (Veterinarian)
1 cup finely ground Totally Ferret (or reg hard food)
4-6 cups Pedialyte
3 tablespoons Linatone or Ferretone
1 teaspoon Brewers Yeast
1 Chamomile capsule contents (soothes upset tummies)
1 Slippery Elm Bark capsule contents (coating, if liquid 3 drops/serving)
2 Pepto Bismal tablets finely crushed
1/2 cup Buttermilk or 1 capsule Acidophilus (provides "good" bacteria)
1/4 tablet Viokase (from your vet - Viokase is a combination enzyme that breaks down food before your ferrets eats it)
1 can Science Diet A/D or jar baby food
? cup Pedialyte
? - 1 cup bottled or filtered water
1 scoop Baby formula or milk replacer
1 tablespoon lecithin
? - ? cup Oatmeal baby cereal
Feed 3-6 times a day in addition to free choice of their regular food. If your ferret has a low blood sugar episode (salivating, pawing mouth, staggering), give 1-3 cc?s of honey or karo syrup and contact your vet immediately. If you ferret is unconscious, rub honey or kayo syrup on the gums with a q-tip and contact your vet immediately. Never force feed a ferret that is not conscious.
Additions to serving:
For diarrhea or nausea I add 3 drops of slippery elm bark tincture (non-alcohol) to each serving. This may also help with ulcers.
For ferrets with lymphosarcoma I add 5 drops Vit C with bioflavoniods liquid, 3 drops essiac, and 2 drops of Pau D? Arco (herb) tincture twice a day to the basic recipe.
Other recipes can be formulated for specific conditions.