Pet Education Ferrets
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Diseases Influenced by Diet
Veterinarian, Author, Internationally recognized expert on ferrets
Judith A. Bell, DVM, PhD
Feeding and Nutrition
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Bladder stones

Ferrets fed generic cat foods containing mainly plant protein are particularly susceptible to bladder stones. Digestion of protein produces chemical compounds that must be excreted in the urine. The products formed from the digestion of plant proteins make the urine alkaline. Magnesium salts form struvite crystals in alkaline urine, and stones form when crystals accumulate and stick together. These cause complete obstruction and death in untreated male ferrets, and chronic problems with partial obstruction in females.

Eating meat protein makes the urine more acidic, and reduces the likelihood of bladder stones forming. Urinary tract infections increase susceptibility to stones. Ferrets with bladder infections should be fed the best quality meat protein possible.

Respiratory infections

Ferrets with upper respiratory infections (colds) cannot breathe well through their noses and often eat poorly. They can't smell the food and it's hard to swallow with blocked nostrils. The ferret's nose must first be cleaned so that he can breathe. Then add water to his favorite pellets, microwave for 10-15 seconds to soften the food, stir it well, and give it to the ferret warm. Heating makes the odor stronger and the softer texture is often accepted by sick ferrets. Mixing with chicken broth instead of water also increases palatability.

Insulinomas

Poor nutrition does not cause insulinomas, but incorrect feeding can aggravate the condition and induce episodes of severe, life-threatening hypoglycemia. Ferrets with insulin-producing tumors have low blood sugar most of the time. To keep blood sugar as stable as possible, the ferret should eat high protein, high fat foods frequently.

Ferrets with insulin problems should not be fed high sugar snacks, unless their blood sugar becomes so low that they must have sugar to bring them out of a hypoglycemic attack. Nutri-Cal® or Doctors Foster & Smith Vitacal® are ideal to give in such an event because theyare high in fat as well as sugar, and contain protein. The fat and protein take longer to digest, and the ferret's blood sugar will be stable for several hours. If pure sugar such as honey or corn syrup is given, another food high in fat and protein should be given as soon as the ferret can eat, or a worse attack of hypoglycemia is likely to occur in less than an hour.

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