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Ferret Nutrition And Malnutrition

What elements make up balanced ferret nutrition, and what goes wrong when ferrets eat an imbalanced diet?

By Jerry Murray, DVM
Posted: March 1, 2011, 5 a.m. EST

Page 2 of 2

Must-Have Minerals For Ferrets
Minerals are also crucial for proper ferret nutrition. Calcium and phosphorus are the two minerals that cause the most problems. Meat contains a lot of phosphorus and very little calcium. Ferrets actually need slightly more calcium than phosphorus. If calcium is not added to the diet, then a calcium deficiency develops. With time the ferret will lose weight and become reluctant to play. Eventually the bones will not have enough calcium in them, so bone fractures can occur. In countries where ferrets are fed homemade diets consisting of meat and organ tissue only, young ferrets commonly develop bone problems and are unable to stand up because their bones are so weak. They will often try to move by crawling or “swimming.” These kits are often called “swimmers.” Most commercial ferret diets have the correct amount of calcium and phosphorus to avoid this serious problem.

Ferrets And Carbohydrates
Ferrets do not require carbohydrates and do not need carbohydrates in their diet as long as the diet has enough fat and protein. Carbohydrates can cause two common problems. Carbohydrates stimulate the pancreas to make insulin. Ferrets normally eat small meals frequently, so the pancreas is repeatedly stimulated to produce insulin. This chronic overstimulation of the pancreas may cause an insulinoma (cancer) to develop. The other problem that carbohydrates may cause is diarrhea. If the ferret cannot digest the carbohydrates (starch, complex carbohydrates) in the diet, then water will be drawn into the colon and cause a watery diarrhea.

Ferrets And Fiber
Ferret diets should have a very low fiber level. A high level of fiber will draw water into the colon, which can cause a watery diarrhea. Fiber will also decrease the absorption of fat and protein. If a ferret’s diet contains too much fiber, the ferret may not be able to eat enough food to meet its energy needs.

Ailments That Affect Ferret Nutrition
There are also disease conditions that can cause malnutrition and even slow starvation, despite feeding a ferret a good diet. Ferrets are prone to stomach ulcers. Ferrets with ulcers fail to eat enough due to abdominal pain. Ulcers must be treated with a medication to coat the stomach and alleviate the pain (Carafate), an antacid (Pepcid, etc.) to reduce stomach acid and pain, and a soft food to increase the appetite.

Cancer of the gastrointestinal tract (lymphoma) and inflammatory bowel disease can cause a problem digesting the food, and a problem absorbing the fat and protein from the food. This will usually cause diarrhea and weight loss. Both of these conditions can be improved by using pred and/or chemotherapy to reduce the inflammation in the GI tract. Some cases of inflammatory bowl disease will benefit from a weekly injection of vitamin B12.

Older ferrets can have painful dental disease that prevents them from eating enough food to meet their nutritional needs. A teeth cleaning, extraction of loose teeth, and an antibiotic to clear up the gum infection can solve this problem.

Ferret nutrition is a rather complicated interaction between protein, fat, vitamins, minerals and fiber. Not enough of some of these can cause problems, and too much of some of these can also cause problems. Feed your ferret a diet that is complete and balanced to help avoid nutritional deficiencies and toxicities.

Dr. Jerry Murray practices at the Animal Clinic of Farmers Branch in Dallas. He currently has one senior ferret (Bam-Bam), two young kits (Hans and Frans) and one hyperactive Rottie (Katrina).

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Ferret Nutrition And Malnutrition

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Reader Comments
Spencer and Priscilla both eat a balanced mixture of Zupreem and 8-in-1 Supreme, both high in protein (45%) and fat (30%). They have few snacks, and in fact, food is quite often used as a snack which they love to run and hide. This article was extremely informative--Thanks!
Cheryl, Jacksonville, FL
Posted: 3/25/2011 9:25:35 AM
I currently feed my ferrets (12) Evo ferret food (kibble) I have found that they seem to eat less and have better energy than they did on Marshalls ferret food & the ingredients seem to be what is recommended in this article. I would recommend people that can purchase Evo to do so as it also has minimized the smell in the litter pan & since it seems to contain more of what my fuzzbutts need nutritionally they don't have as much waste as they did on other kibble.
I also find that adding chicken, tuna, and shrimp to their diets at least two times a week helps keep their coats glossier.
Tonya, Blue River, WI
Posted: 3/24/2011 11:15:00 PM
Is the Wysong the ferret kind? I have read on VIN that some Wysong diets do lack some important ingredients. The only reason I menchion this is because I placed my business on a Wysong cat/kitten (it was the best I could find in my area at the time, this was several years ago)and after a period of several months their healths began to decline, various ages and health issues. I had a very hard time believing the article I read on the Veterinarian website about the apparent deficency but honestly that is the only factor in their lives that changed during that period of time. I still believe Wysong is a great food but if I could make a recomendation it would be to make sure they have access to any other qualifying food in addition to the Wysong... Just a recomendation from what I experienced and read, no confirmed studies or anything just personal speculation. When I read that article a few years after all mine passed I couldn't help but feel it was something I missed somehow.
Christine, Pollock Pines, CA
Posted: 3/17/2011 12:10:27 AM
your article now makes me wonder if my ferrets are getting the right food.My ferrets are feed ferret diet nutrient rich.the back of the bag does not seem to list everything in your article.should I change them over to the green bag of ferret food I beleive it's called zumdom.what do you think
Lori Bockheim, Grand Rapids, MI
Posted: 3/11/2011 7:58:24 PM
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