Feeding the Sick Ferret

Ferrets have a very high metabolic rate and burn calories readily. As a result, the sick ferret with a diminished or complete lack of appetite will lose weight rapidly and become debilitated in a matter of days. Therefore nutritional support is an important part of any treatment plan in a sick ferret.

The Internet abounds with recipes for the nutritional support of sick ferrets. Many of these go by the name of “duck soup” and may contain a vast number of additives from honey to MetamucilTM, to olive oil, and everything in between. Unfortunately the nutritional balance and effectiveness of many of these formulas have not been proven.

Your veterinarian can simplify the support feeding of ferrets with a few tips. There are several nutritionally balanced and easy to prepare formulations available from your veterinarian. These include Hill’s A/DTM or Royal Canin Recovery RSTM both formulated for dogs and cats. These canned products are the consistency of smooth pudding and can be watered down and fed by syringe. The palatability and acceptance by the ferret varies. Some veterinarians suggest adding Gerber’s chicken baby food (Beechnut chicken baby food, stage 1 or 2, is an acceptable alternative) to these formulations to improve acceptance.

Another formulation at the veterinarian’s disposal is Carnivore Care ¬†from Oxbow Animal Health. This product was specifically developed by veterinary nutritionists with the ferret in mind. It is a high protein (42% protein) powdered formulation that is mixed with water to the appropriate feeding consistency. Ferrets seem to like the taste and acceptance is good. Many ferrets will drink the formulation directly from a bowl or readily lap it down from a feeding syringe.

It should be noted that in most situations these products are only used temporarily until the ferret is up on its feet and eating well again. Some ferret diseases such as insulinoma, where the pancreas is producing excessive insulin with a subsequent drop in blood sugar, may require long term supplementation with one of these formulations in order to keep the ferret nutritionally fit.

A few tips on supplemental feeding of the ferret include:

  • Warm foods slightly to just above room temperature
  • Gently open the ferret’s mouth by placing your fingers on either side of the upper jaw just behind the canine teeth. Once the mouth is open, place the syringe of food in the ferret’s mouth and slowly administer. The goal is that ferret will lap the food from the syringe without resistance. Never force feed if the ferret resists, as we do not want the ferret to inhale any food into its lungs.
  • If the ferret begins to lick the food off of the syringe or your finger, you can then give them as much food as he/she wants. A good rule of thumb is to feed 20-30 cc’s per meal, four to five times per day or more.
  • Ferrets will often graduate to eating off of a spoon or from a shallow bowl. If using a microwave to heat the food, make sure that you check the food thoroughly for “hot spots” before feeding.
  • Soft stools or diarrhea are not uncommon with initial feeding but usually straighten up with time.
  • Once the ferret regains some of its energy, begin to offer the ferret’s regular kibble, preferably one of the well-balanced specific ferret foods.

With a sick ferret, you have enough to worry about. You shouldn’t have to worry about how to keep your ferret fed during its recovery. This system has worked for hundreds of ferrets and works well.