Pet ferrets are, most of the time, healthy eaters without any severe food-related problems. Occasionally, though, you’ll encounter some problems when it comes to ferret food and feeding ferrets. Below are a few of the most common ferret-feeding issues and some suggestions on how to handle them. But keep in mind that if a problem persists you need to get your fuzzies to the vet.
Picky Eaters and Underweight Ferrets
Sometimes pet ferrets can seem to be picky eaters, or your ferret may suddenly begin eating a lot less than usual and losing weight. If you’ve determined with certainty that this isn’t the result of some underlying health issue, here are some things you can try. (Also, if you’ve just adopted an adult ferret and don’t know her preferences, you might try these tricks.)
- Drizzle some warm water on the ferret kibble or even soak the kibble in water for a few minutes. Ferrets often find the softened kibble more palatable and tend to eat it better.
- Puree the food and, using an eyedropper, feed it to your ferret – in the jaw socket, NEVER directly down the throat.
- Place a few drops of a veterinarian-recommended fatty-acid supplement onto the food.
- Keep experimenting with a variety of flavors and brands.
- In a pinch, try pureed, meat-based baby food. (But, remember, this should be only a very short-term solution.)
If the problem persists, see your veterinarian. Your ferret may be sick or recovering from an injury. If so, you will need to give him lots of special attention to help him to gain and maintain a proper weight.
Being overweight is generally a pretty rare problem in ferrets because they are so active (when they’re awake that is.) They burn off their excess calories, and they are usually pretty good about eating only what they need. Occasionally, though, it happens, and here’s what you can try:
- Put only a small amount of food in the bowl at each feeding and refill it when your ferret appears ready to eat again. Leave the food bowl empty for an hour or two each day may do the trick.
- Encourage your ferret to exercise by playing with it for longer periods of time.
- Monitor how much your ferret eats. If he doesn’t seem to be eating as much as usual, but still looks overweight, he may have an intestinal blockage or another illness.
Baby ferrets are a special case. Ferret kits are usually weaned when they are about one and a half to two months old. At that point, they may be given water with just a small amount of very soft ferret food. (The consistency is usually compared to pea soup.) Kits need a lot of water to avoid a swollen stomach, which could lead to constipation and a prolapsed rectum (a condition that often requires surgery). (And be sure to offer your kit a variety of ferret-friendly foods. The various tastes will help avoid the problem of “picky eaters.”)
Over the next several weeks, the pea soup-like food is gradually thickened until at last, at about three months of age, the kit is eating dry food. However, be sure to monitor her water intake to be sure your kit is drinking enough.
General Ferret-food Tips
Here are a few rules of thumb to help you feed your ferret well:
- Always clean the food dishes thoroughly every day.
- A ferret’s age-related eating patterns are similar to a human’s. An adolescent will eat everything in sight in preparation for a growth spurt. An “old-timer” will likely eat less as he becomes less active.
- Never force feed a ferret.
- Don’t let your ferret eat non-food items. Common items that tempt ferrets include cloth, plastic, rubber bands, and sponge rubber. These can block the intestines or lead to choking. (If your ferret does happen to eat a non-food item, you may have to monitor the litter box and determine whether all of it has passed through the digestive tract. You may even have to piece the item together to determine whether something is still trapped inside the ferret’s body. If so, contact your vet.)
- Inappropriate biting or nipping does not usually signify a hunger problem. More likely, it’s aggression and is a behavior the ferret should be trained away from doing.
- Make sure you have food bowls that will not tip or spill easily.
- Consider getting several food bowls if you have many ferrets. You may need to do so if you suspect one or more of them has a feeding problem or if you need to administer medications through their food.
- Don’t let other pets share your ferret’s food and vice versa.
It will take some effort on your part, but try to get to know your ferret’s eating habits. Measure the food carefully at first and watch how long it takes for it to disappear. Also, notice which foods your ferret likes and dislikes. Pay attention to changes in eating patterns and preferences, and ask your vet for advice when they occur.