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Ferret Natural Health Care and Optimum Diet

Ferrets have been kept in captivity since 300 BC, but it is only in the last 40 years that we have changed their diet from raw foods to commercially processed foods. It's very important that you feed your ferret the right foods. Ferret medical problems can be helped with proper nutrition and natural treatments. Ferrets are extremely sensitive to stress which affects their equilibrium and suppresses their immune system which in turn renders them susceptible to health problems such as adrenal disease, cancer, viral disease, insulinoma, influenza, skin an dental problems.

Ferret Mental and Physical Care

Ferret wearing a jacket Very important to the inquisitive and lively ferret's emotional and mental health is the daily companionship of their human care-givers. Providing adequate mental stimulation is essential. To mentally stimulate a ferret, invent new games, modify the environment (put a blanket on the floor, combine several of their toys, etc.), rotate toys, hide small treats that require tracking to locate, take the ferret outside on a leash, etc.

During the one-on-one interaction time, check the physical health of the ferret to detect and treat problems early. During a body massage, check for tumors or parasites, look in the mouth for discolored teeth or red gums, check for ears and eyes for problems, etc. Commercial ferret breeders have found that fresh home-prepared food is the best.

Susan A. Brown, DVM writes "Ferrets should not be caged 24 hours a day. Like all animals they need exercise to develop strong bones and muscles as well as for healthy mental activity. Ferrets have the physiology of a predatory hunter and will play intensely for an hour or so and then sleep deeply for several hours. Although ferrets are nocturnal by nature, they will adjust their activity schedule to yours without much fuss.

The home cage should be a minimum size of 24”x24” x18” high for up to two ferrets. The cage can be multilevel, but avoid steep ramps because ferrets are not natural climbers and could fall and injure themselves. Aquariums are not suitable cages for ferrets because of inadequate air circulation. Make sure the cage is made of a material that will be easy to clean and deodorize and is indestructible to the ferret digging in the corners. The cage floor can be solid, but should waterproof and easy to clean or made of wire mesh with squares no larger than 1/4” to prevent foot injuries.

Ferret careFerrets should be allowed in a supervised, ferret-proofed exercise area a minimum of two hours a day. This exercise period can be all at once or divided up into two or three play periods. Ferrets in the wild would spend a good deal of time in burrows underground, eating, sleeping and hunting. Think like a ferret, get down on your hands and knees and protect your pet from areas that might be attractive to him/her to dig or burrow into.

Make sure you block off all escape routes and remove toxic substances such as plants, household cleaners, insecticides and rodenticides. Protect the carpeting from digging with heavy plastic carpet protectors. Keep your pet from burrowing into the bottom of your furniture or mattresses by covering these areas with a solid piece of thin plywood or Plexiglas. The burrowing is not only damaging to the furniture, but the ferret can eat the foam rubber inside and develop a fatal intestinal obstruction. Recliner chairs should be removed because ferrets like to climb into the chairs to sleep and then when the chair is moved, the ferret can be crushed.

Sleeping Area –" In the wild, ferrets would sleep in a dark, warm, dry nest underground. We need to simulate this same environment by providing sleeping material in which a ferret can feel safe. A sleeping area can be as simple as a soft towel, old shirt or cut off trouser leg or blouse sleeve. There are now a wide variety of sleeping paraphernalia for ferrets sold at pet stores such as cloth tubes, tents and hammocks. Occasionally a ferret will chew on cloth, but this is usually baby behavior and most ferrets grow out of it. If your pet does chew on cloth, remove the item from the cage and use a small cardboard or wooden box with clean straw or hay for a sleeping area. After the ferret matures try the cloth sleeping materials again." - Susan A. Brown, DVM

Immune System Role in Healthy Ferrets

Ferrets are extremely sensitive to stress which affects their equilibrium and suppresses their immune system which in turn renders them susceptible to health problems such as adrenal disease, cancer, viral disease, insulinoma, influenza, skin an dental problems. "Most of the chronic diseases we commonly see in animals have an immune basis" Dr. Will Falconer, DVM

"My name is Karen and I have a small 4 year old female, 3lb ferret named (Moxy) in the summer of 2008 she had all the symptoms of renal cancer. Moxy began losing hair on her tail.I am so pleased. My ferret had a growth under skin sitting above rib cage and kept growing a common Adrenal issues with ferrets but, this immune support supplement seemed to be helping.

I also added PhytoPlankton and gradually increasing the amount - WOW these two products together had amazing impact on my ferret's health. Moxy has much more energy now and her tumor is shrinking quickly. The rescue lady we got our ferrets from deals with a lot of sick ferrets. I gave her a bottle of Marine PhytoPlankton. She has been using it for a ferret with bladder issues and has been very pleased with it. I told her the story behind the Marine PhytoPlankton Product, how it came about. She may begin trying it with her cancer ferrets. She currently uses Melatonin for the adrenal ferrets." Karen Callahan, Illinois

"A concern regarding the feeding of high carbohydrate foods to ferrets is the stress that may be created in the beta cells of the pancreas. Unfortunately, insulinoma, which is a cancer of the beta cells, is extremely common in ferrets over two years of age in the U.S. The main function of the beta cell is to respond to increases in glucose in the blood stream by producing insulin to control it... It has been disturbing to note that in the past in countries where ferrets were fed a raw carnivore-type diet insulinoma was a rare occurrence but now in these same countries where processed diets are becoming popular, cases of insulinoma are on the rise. Regardless, do we need to be feeding our ferrets diets laced with inappropriate materials? " Susan A. Brown, DVM

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Optimum Ferret Diet - The Raw Diet

Ferret diet To maintain optimum health, ferrets require a diet which most closely resembles that which they would get in the wild. They also require some sunlight.

Susan A. Brown, DVM writes: "Ferrets are strict carnivores, meaning they are designed to eat whole prey items, which includes all parts of the killed animal. The only non-meat items they might encounter in their diet would be in the stomach and intestinal tract of their prey, where it is partially digested. This might include small amounts of grains, fruits and vegetables.

Ferrets have a very short gastrointestinal (GI) tract and the flora (the organisms living in the GI tract) are very simple, unlike the flora of animals that eat more vegetation. It takes about 3 to 4 hours for food to go from one end to the other and thus they absorb food rather inefficiently. Ferrets tend to eat several smaller meals and carry any excess to their dens to eat later. Did you ever have a ferret that took food and tucked it away in the corner of the cage, or a piece of furniture? "

Ferret babies eating rawmeat"A nutritious and balanced diet is the foundation of good health for all creatures including ferrets. Ferrets have been kept in captivity since 300 BC, but it is only in the last 40 years that we have changed their diet from raw foods to commercially processed foods. We have made the change primarily because we, the public, have demanded a uniformly easy to feed and hopefully nutritious food that allows us to successfully keep ferrets in our homes. I think everyone would agree that it is easier to pour little bits of food out of a bag than to go out and find whole prey items to feed. But the question is are we really providing a healthy ferret diet using processed foods?

Is it really possible to take raw food, grind it up, heat it to high temperatures, add ingredients that are not part of the normal diet, add back nutrients altered or destroyed during processing, press it into amusing shapes and have this be the equivalent of the natural diet”? I liken it to the Wonder Bread that I ate as a child. It was highly processed and stripped of many nutrients, then the nutrients were put back in chemically and it was put in an eye-catching package announcing its nutritional value. And didn't we love that package with the little colorful balloons telling us we were buying a healthy product? And don't we love the ferret food packages with cute pictures of ferrets everywhere? The food must be good if it has a ferret picture on it…shouldn't that be the case?"

Ferret diet book I have been an exotic animal veterinarian for the past 25 years and I have seen the damage that has been done in a number of species when we moved away from a raw, more natural diet, to processed diets. Two glaring examples are pet rabbits and pet birds. We have seen over the years that feeding a diet that is completely processed has caused innumerable ailments and premature death in both of these groups. When we returned them to foods that are more in tune with their physiology we saw a tremendous reduction in the incidence of specific diseases and we conversely have not seen any new diseases as a result of this change. There are a growing number of animal health professionals as well as pet owners that believe that processed dog and cat diets create disease as well. Changing these pets over to a balanced raw diet has shown incredible benefits.

I have fed my own four dogs ranging in size from 200 pounds to 5 pounds an all raw diet for the past two years and I will never go back to processed. In my own case there were several problems that were cleared up in the “pack” with diet change alone including anal gland disease, skin and chronic allergy problems, ear problems, obesity and gastrointestinal disease. I personally know a number of people who have made the same switch with both dogs and cats and the results are truly remarkable. Most animals experience a dramatic increase in energy level and a reduction in excess body weight. Some pets have been able to stop or reduce medication intake. Of course diet is not a miracle cure for all diseases, but it makes sense that if the body is nourished properly it can cope with disease and utilize needed medications more effectively.

So what should a ferret be eating? Let's look at ferret gastrointestinal (GI) physiology to find out. Ferrets are strict carnivores, meaning they are designed to eat whole prey items, which includes all parts of the killed animal. The only non meat items they might encounter in their diet would be in the stomach and intestinal tract of their prey, where it is partially digested. This might include small amounts of grains, fruits and vegetables. Ferrets have a very short GI tract and the flora (the organisms living in the GI tract) are very simple, unlike animals that eat more vegetation. It takes about 3 to 4 hours for food to go from one end to the other and thus they absorb food rather inefficiently. Ferrets tend to eat several smaller meals and carry any excess to their dens to eat later. Did you ever have a ferret that took food and tucked it away in the corner of the cage, or a chair?

Because of the short GI tract and the poor absorption of nutrients, ferrets require a diet that is highly concentrated with FAT as the main source of calories (energy) and highly digestible MEAT-BASED PROTEIN. This would match the basic composition of a prey animal not excluding the essential vitamins and minerals it also contains. Ferrets should never be fed carbohydrates (such as vegetable, fruit or grains) as the main source of energy in the diet. Ferrets cannot digest fiber, as is found in some vegetable and fruit sources. If there is a significant amount of fiber in the diet it serves to lower the nutritional value of the food.

As mentioned, ferrets need a highly digestible meat-based protein in the diet. Vegetable protein is poorly utilized. In the presence of excess vegetable protein the ferret can suffer from such diseases as bladder stones, poor coat and skin quality, eosinophilic gastroenteritis (wasting, diarrhea, ulcerations of the skin and ear tips and swollen feet) poor growth of kits and decreased reproduction. Dog food and vegetarian-type pet foods are completely inappropriate for use in ferrets because of the high level of vegetable protein and fiber. The bottom line is that ferrets use fat for energy not carbohydrates and they need a highly digestible meat-based protein not vegetable protein." Dr. Susan Brown, DVM

"On an almost total diet of raw whole carcass meat being fed only in the morning and living under natural light outside away from all the pollutants and chemicals found in a house the health of my ferrets is perfect."

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Why Ferret Processed Food is a Big No-no

If you decide to make a change, you may find that adult ferrets can be very particular and will resist change. This is because ferrets develop most of their taste preferences by four months of age but they will change if given no choice. We do not believe that it is necessary to “wean” a ferret off of a less digestible and gradually introduce him to a more digestible diet. We just change “cold turkey”. If you keep offering the old diet, there may never be a change to the new diet because they will go back to the original diet.

It will probably be necessary to let your pet get hungry before he/she makes a change. Temporarily coating a new food with a fatty acid supplement or vegetable or fish oil as an enticement may help. However, be aware that ferrets that have insulinomas should not be fasted for more than 6 hours. These little guys may take a bit more time to change over the diet. If your ferret is currently being treated for any illness, consult your veterinarian first before making any changes.

Although there have been tremendous strides made in the quality of dry ferret diets in the last 25 years, we have yet to see one that we believe is completely appropriate for ferrets. Let's take a look at the composition of these diets and compare that to what we know of ferret nutrition. We have discussed that ferrets are carnivores and need a high protein, high fat diet with minimal carbohydrates.

To use numbers, a dry ferret diet should contain at least 30 – 40 % crude protein and 15 –20% fat. The protein should be of animal origin and highly digestible. Unfortunately, pet food labels do not indicate digestibility of the components and the protein percent you read may contain both animal and plant sources of protein. In addition, grains, such as corn, wheat or rice, are used not only to increase protein but as a “filler” and as a means of binding the final product together. Ingredients on a pet food label are given in order of their amount in the diet, starting with the largest. For ferrets, the first three ingredients should be meat-based.

Processed dry foods are heated during production and in the process nutrients can be destroyed or altered and then have to be replaced artificially. In addition, other additives may be used to keep the food from spoiling. To add insult to injury, several of the diets have dried fruits and vegetables in them. Ferrets do not need these items and in addition the dried form can make it nearly impossible for the ferret to process. We have already had one case of a ferret that needed emergency surgery to remove a piece of dried carrot blocking his intestine that he consumed in a “ferret diet”. Clearly, these diets are packaged to appeal to human consumers and may have little to do with appropriate ferret nutrition.

Beware of Ferret Treat Food

Home base business opportunity The worst examples of processed diets are the ferret treat foods. Nine out of ten ferret-specific treat foods we examined had no meat products whatsoever and were comprised entirely of sweeteners and grains, with some fruits and vegetables thrown in. This is not only not healthy it is downright dangerous.

In addition, people who use treats often use too many because it is emotionally appealing to watch a ferret enjoy a snack. So if the pet enjoys one treat why not give him five or six? In an animal with such a small body size, five or six treats might make up a good portion of his food for the day. Of course ferrets love the treats because they are attracted to sweets, but that does not mean it is good for them? Many people like chocolate, but if they ate chocolate as 25% of their diet, they would have some serious health problems including diabetes! Again, the packaging is for the human and as long as we keep buying it, companies will keep making it.

  • Ferrets are strict carnivores, meaning they are designed to eat whole prey items, which includes all parts of the killed animal.
  • Because of the short GI tract and the poor absorption of nutrients, ferrets require a diet that is highly concentrated with FAT as the main source of calories (energy) and highly digestible MEAT-BASED PROTEIN.
  • The bottom line is that ferrets use fat for energy not carbohydrates and they need a highly digestible meat-based protein not vegetable protein. The most appropriate diet for a ferret would be whole prey foods such as rats, mice or chicks. The worst examples of processed diets are the ferret treat foods.

Note from Shirley: Temperament and Behavioral Problems, Cancer, Epileptic fits, Heart disease, Digestive disorders, Skin disorders, Bone and joint disorders and more can be a sign of nutritional deficiency. Domesticated animals (including ferrets and rodents) may suffer from minerals and vitamin deficiency. Domesticated ferrets, like our domesticated dogs and cats, are prone to suffer from minerals and trace mineral deficiency which makes them prone to diseases. A good source of naturally occurring trace minerals and vitamins for ferrets and other pets are:

  • Montmorillonite Clay : It has helped cows with scours and pneumonia. Veterinarians use it on dogs, cats, horses, etc... for various afflictions including injuries and infections. Pets are helped, too.
  • Immune Support - According to veterinarians, the powerful and proprietary blend of ingredients work together to activate and enhance the immune system's ability to respond to the many pathogens may pets come into contact with.
  • Magnesium chloride is nothing short of a miracle mineral in its healing effect on a wide range of diseases as well as in its ability to rejuvenate the aging body.
  • Seaweed and edible Sea Vegetables have been acknowledged as a detoxifyer, a balanced nourishment and a miraculous healing plant. Ocean algae are the richest natural source of minerals, trace minerals and rear earth elements.
  • Bee Pollen contains all the essential components of life. The percentage of rejuvenating elements in bee pollen remarkably exceeds those present in brewer's yeast and wheat germ. Bee pollen corrects the deficient or unbalanced nutrition, common in the customs of our present-day civilization of consuming incomplete foods.
  • Flax oil: holistic veterinarians are beginning to recommend to their clients that they supplement their animals diet with a daily dose of flaxseed oil and other nutrients for optimum health and vitality. Suzie Zeeman gives flax oil to her ferrets. She says that their fur looks shinny and thick, and feels soft and smooth since on flax oil."
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Natural Ferret Health Care with Homeopathy

Jack’s Story: Homeopathy and one Ferret

Jack’s owner lives in Eugene, Oregon. She is a nurse and uses a homeopathic physician for herself.

"Jack was severely scalded over the bottom almost half of his body with immediate hair loss. He was also burned on his chest and front legs with about 80% of his hair sloughing over the next week. He was a goopy little guy with severe fluid loss.

He was taken to the emergency vet within 15 minutes after being removed from the hot water. He spent the night there and was given a shot of antibiotic and started on oral antibiotics. He ate okay after three or four days but I had to start him on subcutaneous fluids at day three due to noticeable dehydration from several fluid and protein loss thru the large burned areas.

On day five, he had a temperature of 105 degrees. He was started on another antibiotic. On day seven he quit eating and had lost almost a pound of weight by this time. Jack stopped eating entirely and would choke when given ferret soup. He even choked on Nutri-Cal and blue-green algae given from a syringe. Jack was unable to swallow, his eyes were sunken and he was now one-half his former body weight. His temperature was now up to 106. The vet pronounced that he was dying. Read how Jack became healthy and happy again and showing few signs of his six month battle with death

The following is an overview of just a few of the medical problems that can afflict the pet ferret. Many of these conditions are seen in the ferret over two years of age.

  • How long the condition has been present
  • Ideas you have on why you think your pet is ill
  • It is helpful to jot down some notes about your pet before calling the veterinary office so you don't forget important information.
  • HUMAN INFLUENZA – Ferrets are highly susceptible to the human influenza virus or the “flu”.
  • FATAL ANEMIA OF FEMALE FERRETS
  • FLEAS – Ferrets are susceptible to fleas - Natural Safe Flea Control
  • EPIZOOTIC CATARRHAL ENTERITIS (ECE)
  • ALEUTIAN DISEASE
  • HEART DISEASE
  • SKIN TUMORS
  • ADRENAL DISEASE
  • OTHER NEOPLASIAS

Ferret Knowledgeable Vets are certified in Veterinary Acupuncture and Homeopathy as well as members of the American Holistic V.M.A., International Veterinary Acupuncture Society, and Licensed Medical Professional for Homeopathy. They also use Herbal Therapy and Nutrition as part of their treatment regiment.

Biology and Diseases of the Ferret is a veterinary textbook containing information on ferret health that you won't find anywhere else. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge. Provides information on diseases, history, husbandry, nutrition, physiology, anatomy, and selected uses of this species as an animal model. High-quality halftone illustrations and slides. Previous edition: c1988. For veterinarians, students, and owners

This book is an excellent resource for anyone who would like to learn about the biology of ferrets. There are lots of pictures, both illustrations and photographs of the internal workings of the ferret. It's a great way for anyone interested in ferrets to learn how they work. This book isn't a large one with 330 pages of text and illustration, but the information that it contains is seeping out it's binding. It is very extensive covering everything from ferreting to breeding and the reproductive cycle to common and not so common diseases. With illustrations showing you exactly what everything looks like. This is something every ferret owner should have, and never be without" amazon reviewer

" Ferrets, Rabbits, and Rodents: Clinical Medicine and Surgery is the absolute best resource on the medicine of these species. The book is easy to follow and find specific information as necessary. Most illustrations are quite useful, although in black and white. The book is organized mostly by taxonomic groups. However, the book seems to repeat itself in some chapters as well as in different chapters, and sometimes, finding information may be indexed in more than one place only to find that they are all quite similar pieces of information. I HIGHLY recommend this book, and its is the best amount of information at a very affordable price." amazon reviewer

Ferret Husbandry, Medicine and Surgery
by John H. Lewington

This is a very informative and easy to read book even for beginning ferret owner. It presents a interesting viewpoint of ferret husbandry from a "working ferret" prospective. Many of the health problems, in particular - parasite infestation, facing a "working ferret" are not an issue in the United States. But luckily Austrialia does not have the health problems related to ECE. Neither do they have the Adrenal disease problem that the US has because of so many early spays/neuters sold by the LARGE ferret farms.

Another reason to go to a private breeder for a healthier pet. The different drawings on "ferret" environments are interesting with their pond and burrough landscaping. Much of which would not be practical in the US. The average ferret owner/breeder in the US would be much more concerned about their ferrets excellent ability to find a "wayout" and therefore losing their much loved pet. All in all, I would highly recommend this book to anyone breeding ferrets, running a rescue/shelter.

The Ferret Lovers Club of Texas was formed to provide an educational, informational, and social environment for Texas ferret owners to exchange information about ferret ownership, ferret health care, and other ferret related issues. They do this by:

  • Providing ferret related information to the general public, government officials, and potential ferret owners.
  • Working toward legalization of ferrets in specific cities and townships in the State of Texas.
  • Supporting ferret shelters in the State of Texas through time and monetary donations.
  • Providing ferret "fun matches" and/or shows for members and the general public.
  • Providing a social environment for members.



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