Posted: May 23, 2008, 7 p.m. EDT
Ferret Nutrition Question #5
KS: A product with high-nutrient density results in lower food consumption and fecal output, therefore a nutrient-efficient diet will provide more nutrition in each bite and have the added benefit of a reduction in the amount of feces. On the other hand, a diet with lower nutrient density will produce more feces. Moderate decreases in nutrient density typically are not a concern. However, with large decreases in nutrient density, dietary carbohydrates will become excessive and the ferret may likely experience digestive problems.
LG: Certainly there should be concern if defecation occurs with high frequency, and particularly if in the form of diarrhea. Equally concerning is infrequent defecation and hard stools. Occasional, temporary bouts of either should not be of concern. If the appropriate diet is fed, the stools will be as they should be.
MM: Not necessarily. Obviously if you’re bulking up the food with a lot of fiber that they can’t digest or a lot of carbohydrates that they’re not digesting as well, your stools are bulkier. That would be a problem because you’re forcing the animal to make use of an energy source that it’s not good at making use of. If the reason for the bulk is that you have carbohydrates in it, that’s a problem. If the stool is bulkier because you’ve got a lot of proteins that are indigestible or a lot of, let’s say, fur in the diet instead of fiber, that’s just taking up space in the diet. But if the bulk is coming from carbohydrates, then yes, [this is a concern].
[Less defecation] is not usually an issue. If there’s enough food going into the animal, if it’s being fed free-choice, that could just mean that the utilization of that food is so efficient that the level of poop can go way down. As long as they’re pooping regularly, as long as they’re not straining to poop and as long as there’s not something unusual happening, size or volume of a small size is not going to be a concern of mine.
PR: That can be a tricky question because ferrets will go to the bathroom [about] every 2 1/2 hours. They have short digestive systems and it appears that they’re going to the bathroom a lot. If you see massive quantities of stool, that’s usually an indication that they’re eating a lot of food to get their nutritional requirement and there’s probably a fair amount of carbohydrate in that food. You want to take a look at that. A good quality stool is darker in nature [because] it’s synthesizing the proteins well. Sometimes they might have a little more or a little less, but overall there’s a [consistency], it would be at the owner’s discretion at that point. If all of a sudden you’re seeing the ferret have a very loose stool or an off-color stool, it’s not necessarily nutritional. A ferret may have been exposed to different bacterial or viral disorders that are causing their lower gut to have some issues. That would be of concern and you would want to seek medical help.
SW: Excess defecation is a good indicator of too much filler in a diet. Too little defecation is cause for concern also; a blocked intestine can cause death very quickly.
TW: Any time that you change food, there’s going to be a change in the stools. The only exception to that is if you’re switching within the same family of products. But when a ferret is changed from a high-meat protein diet to one that has more vegetable in it, you’re going to see an increase in volume. Almost always you’ll see a less of a form stool; it will be looser, more water. If the diet is the proper diet, that should only last a week to 10 days. If after that period they’re still loose, then that’s not the best food for the ferret. You will never see a constipated ferret unless there is a blockage. By definition, they have a wetter stool. The stool is a good indication of the health of that animal. If you see a change, watch it. It doesn’t mean that just because you saw a change that day there’s something wrong; watch it for a little while. If it doesn’t change back, then you need to get some help.
AP: My answer to that is yes. To me, it really means that the ferret is not able to use or absorb the food, so you’ve got to look at the ingredients. You look at the vegetable protein and, of course, they’re going to have more waste because you’re wasting more food. So, when you look at a bag and it has more ingredients they can’t use, that [will cause] more waste.
GS: Because ferrets have a rapid gastrointestinal transit time of three to four hours, they require a diet made from high-quality, easily digestible animal protein sources. When a ferret is fed a premium diet consistently, their droppings also should be consistent. If noticeable changes occur, the pet owner should consult with their veterinarian.
JF: That depends on how much feces you want to deal with.
KJ: Stool appearance is a signal as to how any pet is doing. Color, consistency, frequency and smell all are clues to whether you have a good dietary fit.
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Meet The Panelists
Each ferret-food manufacturer representative is identified by his or her initials.
KS: Kathy Schneider, technical services manager for Central Avian & Small Animal, a division of Kaytee Products Inc.
LG: Lucas Gillis, supervisor, office manager at Wysong Corp.
MM: Michael Massey, president of Pretty Bird International Inc.
PR: Peter Reid, president of Marshall Pet Products Inc.
SW: Stefan Wawrzynski, operations director for Brisky Pet Products.
TW: Tom Willard, Ph.D., president of Totally Ferret/Performance Foods Inc.
AP: April Pietroiacovo, ferret specialist at Totally Ferret.
GS: Gail Shepherd, senior marketing manager at ZuPreem, a division of Premium Nutritional Products Inc.
JF: Jack Fallenstein, owner of Triple F Farms Inc.
KJ: Ken Johnson, national accounts manager at D & D Commodities Ltd.