Posted: September 1, 2011, 5. a.m. EDT
Saving Ferret Food
Solution To Ferret Food Spillage By Digging: All ferrets occasionally dig in kibble. Kibble can drop to the floor, fall onto the yucky part of the cage or become spoiled in a myriad of other ways. Some bowls are designed to save food from being dug out, which might be the best solution for a few ferrets. I’ve found older or sick ferrets sometimes have difficultly eating from such bowls.
Another way to reduce spillage is to simply limit the amount of kibble to a day’s worth of food. This amount is easily determined by filling the bowl with kibble, weighing it and then weighing it again 24 hours later. Repeat this for a week, and the average weight lost per day is the weight of food your ferrets are consuming in 24 hours. Add an extra ounce for the daily allotment. If the bowl is consistently empty once you fill to this limit, then add another ounce of food; if full, subtract one.
If your ferret has insulinoma, it is better to waste food rather than risk low blood sugar, so don’t limit kibble. In addition, if you place the food bowl on a tray or dinner plate, a good part of spilled kibble can be salvaged.
• Pro: Waste is limited to a single serving; you can monitor food intake.
• Con: The bowl must be monitored to insure food wasn’t wasted early and ferrets are hungry; shouldn’t be used with insulinomic ferrets.
Solution To Ferret Food Spillage By Other Means: A poorly designed dish can tip or fall off the cage wire, or can tilt under the ferret. Some dishes are lightweight and ferrets purposely tip them over. Switching to a heavy ceramic bowl eliminates such problems. Use two, so one can be washed while the other is in use.
• Pro: Eliminates the problem; easily kept clean.
• Con: Heavy dishes are generally big and not space effective.
Ferret Food Waste Contamination Solution: Nothing is worse than checking on your ferret’s food and seeing it contaminated by fecal material or urine. Sometimes a sick or old ferret just poops anywhere, but usually contamination occurs because of bad placement within a cage. A ferret might try to use a higher corner of the cage and waste plops into the bowl. If food and litter are at the same cage level and near each other, the bowl can be accidentally used instead of the litter box.
If ferrets are territorially stressed, they might defecate onto food to claim it, or poo can be flung while fighting. Place food and water at the top of the cage and on opposite sides from the litter box and you will solve most problems, but only time resolves territorial disputes.
• Pro: Moving food usually works.
• Con: May not work with sick or old ferrets; may fail in territorial disputes or fighting; may not be feasible in smaller cages.
Wet Ferret Food Solution: Food is dampened by urine or water. For the former, read the “waste contamination” tip. Food spoiled by water is generally due to splashing from a bowl or dripping from a bottle, which is solved by moving it away from the source.
• Pro: Keeps the food dry.
• Con: Takes more room; may not be feasible in smaller cages.
Ferret Food Caching Solution: Ferrets instinctually cache food in safe locations for lean times. Unfortunately, they might not use the food because they have plenty. Cached food can become rancid or moldy, stink or attract pests. Limiting the amount of ferret food in the dish helps limit problems, but might not solve the caching behavior; see the “spoilage by digging” tip. In cases where food limitation fails, the only solution is to periodically search for caches and remove them.
• Pro: Food limitations generally eliminate caching; removing food discourages pests.
• Con: Looking for and cleaning up food caches.
Ferret Food Boredom Solution: Destructive ferrets are generally bored ferrets and might dig food out of a bowl simply for something to do. This is especially true in Spartan environments that exacerbate boredom. The only real solution is to enrich the environment with a number of interactive objects. For some ferrets, even this isn’t enough and only frequent human-ferret enrichment helps.
• Pro: Toys can reduce destructive behaviors; enrichment is always a good thing.
• Con: Non-human enrichment only works to a point; the best solution is human-ferret enrichment (which really isn’t a con).
Ferret Food Oral Contaminants Solutions: Have you ever emptied a bowl of kibble that ferrets have been eating from for some time and noticed the tiny particles of kibble at the bottom? The vast majority of those particles were dropped from the ferret’s mouth. When a ferret eats kibble, it tongues the kibble to the cutting teeth at the side of the mouth. As kibble is cut, tiny particles fall from the mouth, into the bowl and slowly sift down to the bottom. Those particles are contaminated with ferret saliva and can facilitate bacterial and mold growth, fungus, rancidity and other types of spoilage. This problem is due to the biomechanics of the ferret’s jaw and cannot be prevented. The only solution is to periodically dump out the kibble dish and wash it; I recommend several times per week minimally.
• Pro: Lowers risks of oral contaminants spoiling the bowl of kibble.
• Con: Can cause food wastage.
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