Fatty acid supplements are often given to ferrets who develop a dry haircoat or dry skin. This dryness may be due to a dry environment, adrenal gland disease, or a lack of sufficient fatty acids in the diet, which is more commonly seen in ferrets eating a dry diet. If your ferret has persistent dry or itchy skin, consult with your veterinarian.
Small amounts of fatty acid supplements are safe to give, however, overuse can lead to obesity and malnutrition. Ferrets love the taste of these supplements, so overfeeding them can become easy to do. Consider that one teaspoon of a supplement such as Linotone or Ferrotone would provide 20% of the daily calorie requirement of a ferret. This means the ferret will be receiving 1/5 of her diet as a sweet, fatty meal, instead of the high protein that she requires.
Ferrets do develop hairballs, and hairball treatments are often given to help move the hair through the digestive system. Hairball treatments are laxatives that either include high fiber ingredients or a petroleum jelly with a sweetener, such as molasses. The ferrets enjoy the sweet taste of the molasses, but do not need the extra sugar it contains. Again, small amounts may be given, but if the ferret has a more severe hairball problem, try using plain petroleum jelly (Vaseline). This may be applied to the ferret's paw, and the ferret will lick it off. It may also be mixed with the food, or it may be mixed with another flavoring, such as a little fish oil or meat baby food. If your ferret is shedding excessively, contact your veterinarian, since this could be a sign of illness.
For ferrets being fed a premium ferret diet, vitamin supplements are generally not necessary. If, however, the ferret is ill or not eating well for some other reason, a vitamin supplement may be appropriate. Contact your veterinarian to determine what supplement may be best for your ferret.
Treats and snacks
Ferrets enjoy treats, and we like to give them treats, but that does not mean they should have them. Treats have their place as training aids or to encourage a ferret to come out from hiding, but they can cause serious health problems, especially if the wrong type of treat is given.
Health problems associated with inappropriate treats
Sugary snacks, such as raisins, may cause obesity, tooth decay, and aggravation of hypoglycemia caused by insulinomas.
High carbohydrate treats, such as cookies, cereal, and bread may lead to diseases of the pancreas. Some researchers believe that the high carbohydrate diets fed to the ferrets in the U.S. are the reason for the high incidence of insulinomas in this country, and may contribute to the development of diabetes mellitus as well.
Dairy products, though enjoyed by many ferrets can cause diarrhea.
Foods high in cereal grains, especially corn, may contribute to the formation of bladder stones.
Too many treats of any kind can cause malnutrition. Remember that a ferret is a very small animal, so even a few treats can quickly make up a large portion of her food for a day. The total amount of supplements and snacks should not be more than 10% of the daily caloric intake.
Good treat choices
If you want to give your ferret a treat, consider one from the following list:
- Eggs or egg products
- Freeze dried muscle or organ meat (available as cat and dog treats)
- Baby food meats without any added carbohydrate
- Raw fruit or vegetables (less than 1 tsp per day, cut into 1/4" squares or smaller)
- Semi-moist meat or liver snacks (check the label carefully, some snacks contain large amounts of carbohydrates)