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  1. 1. Ferrets
  2. 2. General Information  Order Carnivora, Family Mustelidae  Three species European polecat, Siberian polecat and black footed ferret  Related to martens, fishers, otters, wolverines, weasels, mi nk, badger and skunks  Obligate carnivores designed to kill and eat whole prey  Tend to eat small meals throughout the day and will hide “cache” excess food in their dens or other hiding places
  3. 3. Digestive Anatomy and Physiology  Designed for hunting, killing and eating prey  Primary carnivore  Digestive physiology matches their required diet
  4. 4. Salivary Secretions  Unlike herbivores and omnivores they do not have enzymes in their saliva  Ferret saliva is used primarily as a lubricant
  5. 5. Carbohydrates, Proteins and Fats  Ferrets have no dietary carbohydrate requirement  They have a very high need for dietary protein and fat  Taste buds on the ferrets tongue can detect ( taste) amino acids in proteins  They can also taste sweet, sour, salt and bitter
  6. 6. Teeth and Jaws  Teeth and jaws are not designed to chew food  They are designed to cut chunks and saliva is used to lubricate for swallowing  Jaw is a hinge that prevents side to side chewing  Bottom teeth fit inside upper teeth ( like a scissor) so they cannot move side to side  Commonly fed extruded diets predispose ferrets to dental disease
  7. 7. Ingestion of Food  Binocular vision  Broad auditory range, extremely olfactory specialization  Excellent predators  Very large bite force  Dental formula I3/3 C1/1 PM3/3 M1/2
  8. 8. Stomach  Very simple stomach  Special muscles can close the entrance and exit of the stomach  Powerful acids are secreted by the stomach to digest the proteins and fats of their prey
  9. 9. Pancreas  Large for their body size, makes enzymes for digestion of animal tissue and buffers to neutralize the stomach acids  Insulinomas ( tumors) that secrete too much insulin are thought to be a result of the high carbohydrate kibble diet fed to many pet ferrets
  10. 10. Liver  Very large ( proportionally much larger than our liver per our body size)  Large surface area of the liver is used to convert proteins to sugars  Also produces a large amount of bile salts to help digest fats
  11. 11. Intestine  Short and simple  No ceacum  Animal tissue liquifies as it is digested so the intestine is not highly developed in this strict carnivore  Surrounded by a highly developed lymphatic system that protects from bacterial infection from the diet and helps transport digested fats  Meals go through the GI tract in about 4 hours
  12. 12. Digestive System Notes  Very short intestinal tract, lacks a cecum and ileocolic valve  Under vagal and sacral innervation  Gut flora is simple, GI upset or diarrhea after antibiotic use is rare  Do have ability to vomit but don’t usually vomit  Prolonged fasting greater than 3-6 hours is not required or recommended  Ferrets with insulinomas become hypoglycemic much faster, even less than 3 hours, and require special pre-operative care
  13. 13. Nutrition  In the wild mostly small and medium sized mammals, small amount of birds, reptile, amphibians, insects worms and fish  Due to their inefficient GI system, ferrets require a very concentrated diet high in protein and fat, low in fiber and carbohydrates  fat, when metabolized, releases twice as much energy as proteins and therefore should be the main source of calories in the ferrets diet
  14. 14. Dry Kibble for Ferrets  Not the correct diet for ferrets but easier for owners  Majority contain a higher level of grains which are required for kibble shape and stability  Heating and processing can potentially make them less digestible
  15. 15. The Perils of Dry Kibble  Urolithiasis- due to diets high in plant protein  Insulinomas- related to carbohydrates in dry kibble  Excessive dental wear- dry kibble leads to excessive dental wear and tartar
  16. 16. Feeding whole prey or raw diet  Potential risks of raw diets, such as bacterial ( Salmonella)  Parasitic contamination which can be zoonotic  Risk of breakdown of diet due to mishandling of diet, ( not refrigerated etc)
  17. 17. Keys to a Proper Ferret Diet  Kibble ( Dry or Semi Moist) - Crude protein of >35% on a dry matter basis - Crude fat> 20% on a dry matter basis - Limited amounts of fiber and carbohydrates - First 2-3 macro ingredient animal origin, ex chicken, egg, fish meal - Limited grains, (small amounts which may represent carbohydrates found in gut contents of prey species
  18. 18. Treats/Supplemental foods  Good - Treats with animal proteins as primary ingredients - Cooked or fresh raw organ and muscle meat - Raw or cooked chicken - Crickets or mealworms from reliable source - Prey items such as mice and small frogs
  19. 19. Treats/Supplements  BAD Most commercial treats - They contain plant based ingredients as well as sweeteners - Raisins or excessive fruit
  20. 20. Water  Unlimited, clean, fresh  Require about three times as much water as dry matter intake  Use a bowl and sipper bottle  May play in bowl so use heavy crockery  Do not put supplements or additives in water as it can reduce consumption
  21. 21. Fiber  Small amounts are essential to the health of the ferrets GI tract  Helps flush hair out of the system and prevent hairballs  Firms up stool and helps with elimination
  22. 22. Health Issues  Relatively free of health problems in early years of life  Live 6-10 years on average
  23. 23. Aleutian Disease Virus  Parvovirus  Chronic, incurable  Nervous system disorders, organ failure, chronic wasting  Infected ferrets must be quarantined  May be misinterpreted as a dietary problem
  24. 24. Dental Disease  About 90% of pet ferrets, ranging from mild gingivitis to extreme periodontal disease  Can lead to organ disease and life threatening infections  Teeth are not penetrating tissue so they are not being cleaned leading to tartar buildup  Require tooth brushing and dental cleanings
  25. 25. Insulinoma  Pancreatic tumor releasing too much insulin  Linked to consumption of carbohydrates in extruded kibble diets  Need to be surgically removed  Symptoms result of hypoglycemia ( low blood sugar)
  26. 26. THE END