Supplemental Feeding

“Gourmet” Gruel For the Discriminating Ferret

Following is a heavily edited version of an article originialy written by L. Vanessa Gruden for Paw Printz, January – February, 2000. It updates much of the information that was contained within the original.

Following is FACT’s recipe for supplemental food for ill and elderly ferrets. There are hundreds of differing recipes for “duck soup” to feed ill or convalescing ferrets across the county, some requiring all sorts of exotic ingredients that may be difficult to obtain, be of dubious nutritional value, or are expensive. Following is a basic, easy recipe designed to provide your ferret with the basic nutritional needs (protein, fiber, etc.) found in their regular food when they are ill or recovering from illness.

Please avoid anything that includes a sweetener, particularly if you are dealing with an elderly ferret that may have  blood sugar problems. Ferrets are true carnivores and dealing with an insulinoma seizure is discussed under emergencies.
Basic Ingredient

Regular dry food, your ferret’s choice. (Be aware that fish-based ferret foods will smell nasty heated!)

Additives (not needed, but OK if you have them): Human Infant/Baby Chicken – the type that comes in the glass jar. Beech-Nut is first choice; Gerber second.

Preparation

Grind a small amount of dry food. A coffee grinder works great if you can dedicate one; if you don’t anticipate having to feed for a long time, place the food in a secure plastic bag and wallop the heck out of it with a hammer until it is ground coffee or finer consistency. you can also soak it for a while in water to soften the food first (I’d do that in the refrigerator to avoid breeding bacteria.)

Place one heaping teaspoon of dry grind per ferret in cup. We recommend using sturdy paper cups or coffee mug. Add about twice as much water. Nuke in microwave – heating time will vary on amount being made, from 1 to 2 minutes. The mixture should reach the consistency of thick cream soup; more water can always be added if necessary. Add about one teaspoon of the chicken baby food if desired. Use infant food with care as it can cause loose stools.

You can make up a batch of 1 to 2 cups at a time depending on the number of ferrets and store in a closed container in the refrigerator. You will need to add water and to rewarm as it will turn into the consistency of wall paper paste!

Feeding

Cool slightly. Mixture should be warm, but not excessively hot. If it’s too hot when you poke a finger in, it’s too hot for them. Place in shallow bowl or saucer. We use 2 oz. plastic sauce cups like those used for mayo or salsa found in many restaurants. This is perfectly sized for one healthy ferret’s meal.

You may need to coax your ferret into trying it by letting them lick it off your finger or a spoon. If necessary, use a syringe and gently rub into their mouth and around their gums. You may need to vary the temperature a bit. Some ferrets are rather finicky about their “porridge” being “just right.” Remember, never force-feed or syringe an unconscious animal! Normally they are squeamish about the texture at first, but once they get a taste for this soupy gruel, they love it.

To supplement an otherwise healthy animal, feed once or twice a day. To supplement an ill animal, feed four times per day. The very ill may need a more frequent schedule, such as a small amount every two to three hours. Your efforts will pay off!

Add-Ins – If Needed

If you are using a high-quality dry food, added vitamins are unnecessary.

NutriCal, NutriStat, or similar high calorie paste food supplement – for extra calories.

Forti-Flora or similar probiotic to restore good intestinal bacteria (good health food stores sell refrigerated acidophilus, the “active culture” found in yogurts like Activia) – especially good for recovery from diarrhea or after antibiotic treatment.

Pedialyte or similar electrolyte replacement (avoid Gatorade) – for diarrhea.

Slippery Elm Bark Powder – a native American herb which is an excellent mucilage.  Very soothing for ferrets with mouth ulcers that may have developing from not eating. Available in better health or natural food stores in bulk or capsule form. All you need is a pinch.  For a very ill animal, it can be fed alone for the first 1/2 day, mixed with water, to help soothe the entire digestive system.

Warning!

Your ferret may get “hooked” and refuse to eat anything else. Older animals with sore gums and/or bad teeth may have to live permanently supplemented.  It’s really helpful for ferrets with insulinoma, to monitor eating and ensure they are eating enough.

Note: Our thanks to Ann & Howard Davis of Acme Ferret for their inspiration and initial development of “Lucky Duck Soup.” Thousands of ferrets owe their lives to them!