What should I do if my ferret stops eating?!?
There are several possible reasons your critter has stopped eating, such as stress (variety of underlying causes) or illness (mild to serious).Whatever the cause, you must take IMMEDIATE action!
Supportive Care: Feeding a Sick Ferret
Ferrets have exacting metabolisms. You rarely see an obese ferret, no matter how chubby and fluffy an individual may be. This is because ferrets have a strict mechanism which tells them when to eat and how much. When a ferret becomes stressed or ill, this mechanism can't overwhelm the situation and the critter can stop eating. It's actually labeled anorexia, although of course the reasons a ferret would stop eating are nothing like the reasons behind human anorexia.
Because ferrets have such a regular time-to-eat clock, if you will, they can't survive for long off chow without help from a hooman bean. :) Sometimes this help is relatively easy to administer, while other times you'll be required to provide round-the-clock, hammock-side care. To further complicate the ferret's problem of anorexia, when a ferret goes off regular chow, gastric ulcers can be soon to follow. Gastric ulcers can be fatal in the extreme, and the pain they cause will usually inhibit the ferret from getting back to regular chow on his own.
It's vitally important for ferret owners to make sure their critters are eating normally each and every day, as well as to take immediate action if ever a critter does stop eating normally. Vet care is also called for whenever ulcers appear. The obvious signs of gastric ulcers are teeth grinding (sounds like critter is trying to crunch something when his mouth is empty) and/or blood in the stool (black, tarry stool indicates stomach ulcers, while brighter, red blood indicates lower G.I ulcers). The better prepared you are when your critters are healthy, the better able you'll be to help them through any illness that causes them to stop eating. Don't assume that a vet will be able to "fix" your ferret, for your ferret's recovery from serious troubles is often almost entirely up to you!
Stages of Feeding and "Force-feeding"
Convincing a sick ferret to eat can be a daunting task. It is best, in most cases, to coax your ferret to eat his normal dry kibble. Keep a close eye on the amount your ferret eats. If necessary, count the kibbles you place in his cage so that you can accurately determine his voluntary food intake. A minimum daily intake of a good quality ferret is 1/8 of a cup per day, on average. Large, healthy ferrets may eat as much as one-cup per day. Each ferret's intake requirement is different, depending upon age and activity, as well as the nutritional quality of the food. Ferrets will eat more of a lower quality food in order to consume the necessary nutrients.
It's always a good idea to be prepared. Get your ferret accustomed to a "mushie" (soft food or liquid diet) while he's healthy! If a ferret receives soup or a mush of softened food as a treat when he's healthy, he will be much more receptive to eating it when he's ill. Few ferrets instantly like soup. Allow the ferret to lick it from your finger to become accustomed to the taste. Repeatedly offer it until your ferret decided it's an ok treat, using whatever trickery you can think up! :) Give soup as a treat at least once every week or two for a healthy ferret will help critter understand mushie is good when he goes off chow!
Syringe Feeding Technique
A large oral medication syringe is preferred for force feedings. We always have excellent feeding syringes on hand at the shelter if you find yourself without one in the middle of the night. :) Extreme care should be exercised when syringe feeding a ferret so that soup is not inhaled into the lungs, which can lead to fatal pneumonia. We routinely welcome ferret owners to our shelter when their ferret has stopped eating and must be force-fed for a quick, hands-on demonstration of how it's done!
Grasp the ferret's scruff with one hand. Let the ferret's body rest on your forearm, head elevated, with his hindquarters tucked between your elbow and torso.
Rest the tip of the syringes against his teeth at the side of his mouth. A gentle wiggle should cause him to open his mouth slightly or even chew on the end of the syringe. You can then insert the tip into his mouth, aim for the roof, about halfway into the mouth. · Squeeze ever so gently a small amount of the mush into the mouth. · Wait until he swallows before continuing. · Be patient, speak soothingly and offer some gentle head rubs between bites to remind your ferret he isn't being tortured.
There are so many different varieties of mushie that can be used to nurse a sick ferret back to health. We don't care for the commercially available "Duck Soup" mixes, as they don't have enough nutritional information on the label for us to decide how much is enough, etc. So we'll give you some of our tried-and-true, easy to follow guidelines for your best chance of success.
And don't forget to increase the amount that your critter is eating. If he's been off chow, he might well have lost weight and could be in a deficit - so he'll need even more food. Remember, if critter can't eat enough in one sitting, try more frequent feedings of smaller amounts. A ferrets tummy can only hold about 10cc at a time when he's been off chow, so slow and steady will win the race!
When your ferret's appetite declines, watch for dehydration. If he's not eating, he might not be drinking either. Grasping your ferret's scruff and releasing it can determine a dehydrated condition. The skin should quickly return to it's normal position. If a "fold" of skin remains for several seconds before returning to normal, the ferret needs additional fluids.
Severe dehydration may require subcutaneous or intravenous injections from your vet. If your ferret will need sub-q (subcutaneous, or under the skin) fluids for an extended length of time, your vet may be able to teach you how to give the injections at home to ease the nursing schedule. Additionally, we always have fluids ready to go at the shelter, again if you're in need in the middle of the night. :)
Note: should your vet prescribe medications to help soothe the tummy or to combat ulcers, remember to ALWAYS give antibiotics for the complete length of time prescribed by the vet. When antibiotics are discontinued too soon, the bacteria develop a resistance to the antibiotics so that in the future the drug won't be as effective.
When your ferret just won't eat for any reason, helping him back to speed can be a daunting challenge indeed. But don't give up! No matter what caused your critter to stop eating, the support is the same. Following these techniques will help you help your ferret back to health. But again, remember that you should always consult a well-experienced ferret vet when your ferret stops eating for any reason - and the sooner, the better! Ferrets can become so helpless when they're sick; their metabolism is so fast they can rocket downhill in a matter of two days when they go off chow. Be ever so patient with your ferret, consult a veterinarian, contact the shelter or ferret friends who've nursed one of their ferrets before to ask for help - all are keys to seeing your critter back to vigorous happiness