Feeding Ferrets – A Few Common Problems and Some Suggestions

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.

Overweight Ferrets
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.

Young ferrets
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.Story about a Boy and His Pet Ferret
  • 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.

Feeding Your Pet Ferret and Ferret Food

Ferrets are carnivores and need diets high in protein and low in fat. And that means meat,Pet Ferret and Puppy Eating Ferret Food fish, and poultry.

Also, just as humans should avoid sugar and non-nutritious food, ferrets must avoid them as well. Formerly, ferret experts recommended such ferret treats s raisins, cereal, and ice cream, but they have since learned that these are not ideal and should be given to pet ferret only very infrequently if at all.

Ferrets digest their food amazingly fast, with the food traveling through  a ferret’s digestive tract in about four hours. That’s not enough time to break down vegetables (i.e., fiber). Ferrets are thus prone to bacterial infections since they cannot use fiber to push such bacteria out of the system.

In addition, you may be surprised to know that some foods can easily get stuck inside ferret intestines, which are narrower than a standard drinking straw.

Meat Protein
Generally, ferrets need a diet of 35% to 40% percent meat/animal protein. (Those with kidney or liver problems need a little less. In such cases, consult a veterinarian for the proper amount.)

As you may know, protein can come from plant or meat sources. Ferrets need meat. In fact, if you are using pre-packaged ferret food, make sure at least one to two items in the top five ingredients are meat, rather than a plant protein, grain, or sugar.

Acceptable meat protein sources are chicken, turkey, fish, egg, egg product, liver, lamb, venison, and beef. Some ferret owners claim pork products cause digestive problems.

Fat
OK, so if protein makes up 40% of the ferret diet, what about the other 60%? About half of that remainder should be fat. However, this amount varies by the age of the ferret – active kits need more, and sedentary, older ferrets need less (only about 18%).

Other foods
The remaining 30% or so of a ferret’s diet may include plant products, including plant protein (which is indeed different from meat protein). Plant protein and other fibers help to bind food together so it is less crumbly. This is where the occasional treat comes in. Good choices include soft fruits (such as apples and melons), soft vegetables (such as cucumbers), and cheese. However, these should be rare treats, indeed, never more that a ¼ teaspoon every third day or so.

Now that you know what a ferret should eat, you should also know what foods it shouldn’t eat. These include carbohydrates and sugars. Do not give your ferret dried, hard-fleshed, or sugary fruit or hard vegetables as they can block the digestive tract.

Also, avoid giving your ferret ice cream or milk as they can upset a ferret’s digestive system. Ferrets have lower levels of lactase – the enzyme that digests dairy products – than humans have.

You may think it’s cute to give your ferret “people food” like cereal, chocolate, or raisins. While in the past these were encouraged, recent studies have shown that these are not good for ferrets.

Which foods to use
There are several ferret-food options. You can use dried or canned food made especially for ferrets. You can follow a whole-prey diet or a raw-food diet, or you can use a combination of these.  Here’s what you need to know.

There is no hard and fast rule as to whether pre-packaged, raw, or whole-prey foods are best for your ferret. However, if your ferret has been eating solely a pre-packaged diet, it may be a challenge to introduce raw or whole-prey foods at first. Many owners find that combining the raw or whole-prey with the pre-packaged food acclimates their fuzzies to their new diet fairly easily.

Prepackaged foods
While it’s true that many ferret owners consider pre-processed food less expensive and easier to manage, it’s important to remember that ferret foods are not all the same. The cheaper brands may have fillers like grains and sugars that are not good for your ferret. In fact, they could cause digestive problems such as gastroenteritis, insulinomas, and digestive stones. These will not only harm your ferret; they will also lead to more veterinary visits and thus cost you more money in the long run.

Here are some widely recommended ferret-food companies:

These companies and their products are readily found online and at major pet-supply stores.

If you decide to try dry ferret food, look for a pure meat kibble – no corn, vegetables, sugars, or anything else.  Sprinkle a few drops of water on the dry kibble and heat it in the microwave for a few seconds. This will make it easier for your ferret to chew and possibly prevent a choking hazard.

Wet (canned) ferret food is usually a better option because it is easier for your ferret to eat. It also comes in different flavors – so if your fuzzy doesn’t like one type, try another the next time. However, many owners find that canned food contains so much water that their ferrets eat more of it, thus costing more in the long run. And the fuzzies may become overweight into the bargain.

Don’t think you can cheat by using food designed for cats, dogs, or other critters either. EachMarshall Premium Ferret Diet species has its own nutritional needs. Dog food was designed for dogs, cat food for cats, and so on.  A ferret needs food created for ferrets. (However, if you’re completely out of ferret food and the pet store is temporarily out of stock, you could use a very high-quality cat food for a short time. But return to ferret food as soon as possible.)

You don’t need to leave a huge amount of food in the cage. Ferrets are usually pretty good about eating only when they are hungry. Always leave some food in the cage to be ready when that hunger strikes, but check it often throughout the day.

Cleaning the Ferret Cage

I recently went back and read through my blog posts and noticed that I have mentionedFerrets in Ferret Cage cleaning my fuzzies’ cage a couple of times. And my husband has written about cleaning the cage with ferret “help.” But I haven’t written about ferret-cage cleaning in any kind of step-by-step detail.

So what I am going to discuss today is exactly how I go about cleaning my ferrets’ cage.

First, I get my fuzzies out of the cage so they can run and play. Then I get their water and food dishes out and wash them with warm soapy water and then rinse them thoroughly. (I clean Rikki’s and Possum’s dishes in my bathroom, never in my kitchen sink.) After cleaning and drying my ferrets’ dishes, I get some dry kibble (which I have previously ground up in a small electric chopper/grinder) and put it in the food dishes and add a little water. (Rikki, my older albino ferret, eats it better this way.)

While the ferret food is soaking, I take out the litter boxes – Rikki and Possum have three litter boxes – and scoop out the nasty litter and poop. About once or twice a week, I wash out their litter boxes with soap and water and then spray them with a bleach solution. I use a spray bottle that holds about 20 oz. (maybe a little more). I put about 2 to 3 oz. of bleach in it and fill it the rest of the way with water. After I rinse the litter boxes, I let them dry.

Next, I proceed to clean out the rest of the cage. I use a shop vac to vacuum up the spilled litter, food, and other unmentionables. After I get the whole cage thoroughly vacuumed, I spray all surfaces with the bleach solution and wipe it down with an old wash cloth. Then, using another spray bottle filled with water only, I spray and wipe the cage again.

I use the bleach solution for ferret-cage cleaning because the same thing is used at many daycares. I figure that if it’s safe enough for infants, it should be safe enough for pet ferrets. Some vets and pet stores also use a similar bleach solution.

I make sure to keep the cage locked up while it is drying. This is to make sure Rikki and Possum don’t sneak in and mess it up.

After the cage has dried, I get the litter boxes (and finish drying them if needed) and put fresh litter in them. Then I put the boxes back in the cage, making sure they are secured to the cage’s sides. If you don’t secure them, you’ll soon have litter all over the bottom of the clean cage – and the litter boxes will be upside down too.

After this, I open up the lower cage door so Rikki and Possum can get back in when they’reHappy Pet Ferrets ready. Then I get their food and add a little more water. (Rikki likes her food a little soupy.) I put the food dishes back in the cage – with my fuzzy kids following closely because they know it’s chow time! I next fill the water bowl, add food to their dry-kibble bowl, and then lock the cage doors. And Rikki and Possum now have a clean home.

I do want to warn you about one thing, though. You will have a lot of “help” cleaning a ferret cage! Just ask my husband about that.

Changing the Ferret Food – Moving to a Raw Food and Whole Prey Diet

I am about to make myself a liar – well, a little bit. In a previous post about ferret food, I said that I would probably always use the Marshall ferret food. But, now, I’m about to change my ferrets’ diet.

Lately, I have been doing a lot of research/reading about the best diet for ferrets. The main thing we need to keep in mind is ferrets are very strict carnivores. Their wicked-looking teeth should tell you that! Ferrets’ teeth are made to rip into their prey.

So, during the course of my investigations, I found that most of the most knowledgeable ferretAlbino Ferret Playing experts advise feeding your fuzzies a diet that is as close as possible to what their diet would be in the wild. And that, of course, would be raw meat and whole prey – which includes meat, bones, organs, and the hair. Yuck!

At this point, you’re probably saying: “I am not going to hunt rodents and rabbits for my ferrets to eat!” Well, neither am I.  Pet stores carry the gross stuff, and that’s where I intend to get it. I will also feed my ferrets chicken and tuna and eggs.

My main worry about changing my ferrets’ diet concerns Rikki, my female albino ferret. Since she’s my oldest, getting her to eat different food is going to be a challenge.

I did find some veterinary-suggested steps for transitioning to the new diet at http://www.shirleys-wellness-cafe.com/ferret.htm. Susan A. Brown DVM, suggests that the best way to change an older ferret’s diet is to go “cold turkey.” Boy, is Rikki going to get a shock.

Another thing that was stressed in changing diets is NOT to put the ferret’s old food in with her new food. If you do, the ferret will always pick out and eat the food she is used to.

Since Rikki and Possum are the loves of my life, I’m going to have to do it, though. And that means going to whole prey and raw meat. I have a weak, squeamish stomach, so it’s probably going to be harder for me than it will be for my fuzzies.

Ferrets’ olfactory imprint with respect to food begins to be set very early in their lives and is usually fairly well established by the time they are a year old. This means that the older they are, the harder it is to get them to try new food – because the smell isn’t imprinted in their mind. So now you know my dilemma with Rikki and maybe with Possum.

Also, at the back of Ferrets for Dummies, there are several recipes for ferrets (not humans). I think I’ll try some of these in making the transition.

How many more times will I wind up changing my mind? Probably quite a few . . . as I keep learning more and more about my little woozles. You can find out more about what we’ve learned in Getting Started with Pet Ferrets.

A Mixed Ferret Bag – DIM, Ferret Cages, Ferret Food, and Brushing Ferret Teeth

Usually, when I write a blog post, I write about a fairly narrow subject concerning ferrets. This time, though, I’m going to touch on several things that people have searched for and that I haven’t written about yet.

1. Ferret Disease – Disseminated Idiopathic Myositis 

The first topic is Disseminated Idiopathic Myositis (DIM). According to Kim Schilling in Ferrets for Dummies, DIM is a fairly new ferret disease. The earliest documented case occurred in 1999, and the disease was first described only in 2003. Also, DIM is a disease that usually affects only ferrets younger than two years old.

DIM was considered a fatal ferret disease until about 2006. However, since that time, there haveFerrets Playing in Peanuts been confirmed cases of the disease in ferrets that have responded favorably to the currently available treatments. The symptoms of DIM are as follows:

  • Severe, persistent, but often fluctuating fever – sometimes reaching 104 to 108 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Dehydration
  • Pronounced lethargy and weakness
  • Enlarged lymph nodes or subcutaneous masses  
  • Depressed appetite
  • Abnormal stools

Additional signs/symptoms that may occur with DIM are:

  • A display of sensitivity and/or pain when the ferret is touched, especially near the rear end
  • Clear nose discharge and occasionally from the eyes
  • Elevated heart rate and respiratory rate
  • Small orange-colored dots on the skin
  • Pale gums

If your little fuzzy is displaying any of these symptoms, please take your baby to the doctor. When you do take your baby to the doctor, make sure the vet specializes in exotic pets – and, better yet, in ferrets in particular.

For more information about Disseminated Idiopathic Myositis, you can go to the American Ferret Association website at www.ferret.org.  And again, Kim Schilling has a lot of information on DIM in her Ferrets for Dummies. If you don’t have this book yet, then get it!

2. Ferret Cages – No Glass Enclosures

Our next topic is ferret cages – sort of. I’m aware that I’ve done a couple of posts on cages already, but there’s still more that needs to be said.

I had a person asking about a ferret enclosure with glass. And that, of course, is a big NO.

If you’re thinking about getting a cute, adorable fuzzy for the first time, please do some research on cages. And, please, do not use an aquarium or anything like it. Aquariums are for fish – not fuzzies. The problem is that aquariums and similar enclosures don’t have the right ventilation that ferrets need.

As I’ve mentioned before, I am – after doing a lot of research because my babies need a bigger home – leaning toward the Ferret Nation Cage. One of the things I really like about it is that you can purchase an add-on to make it even larger. And if you have a husband like mine – who has trouble with the ornery little fuzzies when cleaning out the cage when I’m gone for a couple of days – you can close off the area you’re cleaning so you won’t have the extra unwanted “help.”

3. Ferret Food – Eggs and Raw Meat   

Now comes the ferret-food topic. We’ve touched on ferret food before, but we haven’t covered feeding your woozles other kinds of food besides the dry food.

Yes, you can feed your fuzzy wuzzy eggs. You can feed them the whites, but the yolks are best because of the high protein and fat content.

Also, keep in mind that ferrets are full carnivores – you can tell that just by looking at their teeth. So, if you have the stomach for it, you can feed your pet ferrets raw meat. They love liver and hearts, and bone marrow is extremely healthy for them. (In Ferrets for Dummies, Kim Schilling – I think I mentioned that I consult this book a lot – provides several ferret-food recipes.) In addition to eggs and raw meat, you can also feed your little fuzzies canned tuna as long as it’s packed in water.

And before I forget, if you feed your fuzzies raw meat (either fresh or frozen), make sure it doesn’t remain in their food dish or cage or hidey hole for very long. If the meat is still there after 6 to 12 hours, remove it!

4. Brushing Ferret Teeth

The last thing I want to touch on is brushing your ferret’s teeth. Yes, you heard right. Brushing your fuzzy’s teeth is very important.

For one thing, it will help you keep an eye on your fuzzy’s health. A lot of health problems can be detected in your ferret’s mouth. So keep a watch on your baby’s teeth and gums. The gums should appear smooth, medium pink, and moist. If this is not the case, then on to the vet you go. If the teeth are grayish or greenish, then tartar may be the culprit. A little of this off color isn’t necessarily harmful, but if it gets worse, then it’s off to the vet again for teeth cleaning. Actually, you should have this done once a year anyway.

When you do brush your little fuzzy’s teeth, it’s a good idea to use a tooth brush designed for cats or one for infants (the human kind, that is). You can use dog or cat tooth paste, but my fuzzies hate the taste. Another thing you can use is Petromalt, which also helps prevent hairballs.

In any case, just make sure you don’t use tooth paste made for adult humans. The fluoride is most likely poisonous for ferrets. You can, however, use tooth paste made for infants and toddlers. But always remember: NO fluoride!

Well, then, I think I’ve covered enough scattered topics. Hope this helps some!

Ferret Food – Some Tips for Making Good Choices in Ferret Nutrition

Earlier we talked about getting started with ferrets as pets, but we didn’t cover ferret food. AndMarshall Ferret Food ferret nutrition is an important consideration – maybe more important than choosing the right ferret for your family and the best cage for your carpet shark.

When I first found Rikki, I was told by an “expert” ferret owner that I could feed her cat food. But I soon found out that this is a definite no-no! Most cat foods contain a lot of different fillers. You should never feed your ferret cat food unless it is very high quality with a high quality-protein content – and then only occasionally.

Then, when I found this out, I set off to Wal-Mart to buy some food specifically designed for ferrets. But the ferret food I found there had a lot of grain and fruit in it. Again, NOT good for ferrets.

I finally got smart and began some in-depth online research. I learned that because ferrets are full carnivores, they require a diet high in animal-based proteins with a good measure of animal fat. I also stumbled across the Marshall site and learned about their food for ferrets.

I also found out, when I got Possum from our local pet store, that you get a guarantee with a Marshall baby. If you feed only Marshall ferret food, they will replace your baby (your ferret) if (Heaven forbid) “something happens to it” within the first year.

As for other brands of ferret food, I really don’t know much about them. I have always fed my babies Marshall Premium Ferret Diet – and probably always will.

But if you know of a better ferret-food value than Marshall’s, I would love to hear more about it.