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!

1. When a ferret is not eating adequately, supplementing his dry kibble with soup every four hours will help prevent nutritional deficiencies and prevent a rapid decline into interrupted diet syndrome. This is also an ideal way to disguise necessary medications. Always check with your vet to be sure that mixing a medication with soup will not affect the drug or it's ability to be absorbed. Many drugs should not be mixed with Ferretone (oil based) type products for that reason.

2. Your ferret is more likely to eat from your hand than from his food bowl. He may also drink more water if your hand is held under the surface of the water. Come to think of it, you might have to dance around and sing songs while offering any sort of chow when critter is feeling puny…be creative and loving, using any cajoling you can think up! Your hard work should make eating a "special" event for the ferret and might lead to greater success. :)

3. Place a few kibbles in the ferrets bedding. Some ferrets will eat them just to get them out of the bed!

4. If the ferret will not eat dry food at all, a vet visit is in order. But no matter what the veterinary advice, you're going to be responsible for the nursing. Remember ferrets have very fast metabolisms and can decline quickly!

5. Some ferrets will eat readily from a syringe when they will not eat from a bowl. Try allowing the ferret to lick the tip of the syringe before continuing. This level of food refusal is serious, except for feedings within 12 hours following a surgery. Your vet should be informed of the ferret's condition. In most cases, your vet can prescribe medications to combat inflammation and stimulate your ferret's appetite. If your ferret has not yet been to the vet and is totally refusing food, a vet visit is now an emergency need. Some vets may recommend that your ferret remain at the clinic at this stage. But it is very important to realize the limitations of a veterinary clinic. Few clinics have the staff or budget to keep someone at the clinic 24 hours per day. Most clinics close before 8pm. Some (but not all - ask) will have a tech or a vet that checks on surgical and critical patients around midnight. The next patient check is usually when the clinic staff arrives the next morning. The midnight to morning time span is too long for a seriously ill ferret to go without eating. Ferrets with advanced insulinoma could easily seizure and die in this period. You should take your ferret home for the night to continue with a 4-hour feeding schedule, even if you must return the ferret to the clinic the next morning if you work during the day. If your ferret will remain at the clinic, provide a supply of the soup your ferret is accustomed to eating.

6. If your ferret will not eat soup voluntarily it is necessary to "force-feed" the soup. At this point it may be impossible or excessively stressful to feed 25ml in one feeding. Feeding smaller amounts every two hours or even every hour may be necessary. At least two feedings between 1-pm and 8am are needed. When feeding has reached this state, the ferret is in critical condition. If you are providing all the supportive care at home, it is important to keep your vet informed of the ferret's condition. Generally speaking, most ferrets will either show some improvement within 10 days or will simply give up the will to live. Whether or not recovery is possible depends largely on the underlying cause of the ferret's decline.

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.

  • Kibble: You can certainly make mushie our of your critters' regular chow. Figure your critter eats at least 20 kibbles at a sitting, at least 5 times per day. So take 100 kibbles and add enough water to cover, then leave sit overnight. In the morning, mash up the soaked kibble and PRESTO - instant mushie! But note how much larger in volume the kibble has become! You guessed it - critter should eat that entire dish o' mushie, as you've only mushed up a regular day's chow. If critter has lost weight, then you'll have to give even more. The sheer volume of mushie that needs to get into the critter often surprises people…just keep at it with frequent feedings, even every hour if critter is having a hard time keeping up with the volume.

  • Chicken Baby Food: We often use plain chicken baby food. It's pureed chicken and water - but don't try to make it yourself, critters like that which goes through the canning process best.  :)  When you open the jar, there's space at the top. We always fill this space with a healthy few inches of Nutrical (Nutristat, Ferrevite - the nutritional paste, not Ferretone, the oil supplement) to power pack the mushie with extra nutrition. Then once again, that jar becomes what you should get into critter in one day!

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. :)

Finishing Up

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