Like any of us, ferrets enjoy munching. They are hungry little creatures with fast metabolisms so it is natural that they will probably enjoy snacking quite a bit. Unfortunately, due to this and their genetic makeup, ferrets are prone to becoming overweight and experiencing diabetes and other metabolic diseases.
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Why are metabolic illnesses so common?
This question can be boiled down, in short, to two things: unfortunate events and poor husbandry. Sometimes ferrets develop issues after surgeries or other traumatic treatments that increase their blood sugar levels rapidly, resulting in hyperglycemia.
Other times, ferrets are not properly cared for and, as a result, end up suffering from diseases. Even the best intending ferret parents can sometimes accidentally cause their pet to develop such disorders.
In general, though, scientists believe that ferrets do not randomly develop metabolic disorders. They have to somehow be triggered, usually through blood sugar irregularities.
The most common type of metabolic issue suffered by ferrets is diabetes. There are two types that your pet could potentially suffer from: type one which involves an absolute shortage of insulin in the body and type two that is characterized by a resistance to insulin and its effects.
Both types of diabetes prevents the pancreas from converting the glucose ingested in food into usable or storable energy, resulting in the levels of glucose in the bloodstream to rise higher and higher. This can impact organ and muscle function, creating a spectrum of severity that can range from just feeling kind of bad to being non-functioning and unresponsive.
This deficiency of insulin will also impact how the body processes proteins, carbs, and fats, making it difficult for your pet’s body to utilize the food it eats.
Symptoms of diabetes in ferrets can be listed as:
- Changes in muscle mass
- Excessive thirst
- Sudden weight loss
- High blood sugar levels
If your pet has potentially developed such a disorder, your vet will likely perform a variety of tests. These may include blood work, urine sampling, and testing for kidney and liver enzymes. All of these are relatively minimally invasive and will give them an idea of how your ferret’s body is functioning.
If they detect a blood sugar level over 100, they may be inclined to believe your pet is more than likely a victim of the disease. However, some ferrets do run higher normally so they will probably go off of your routine check up data to help customize the treatment plan and diagnosis for your unique pet and situation.
Your vet may be especially concerned if your pet has recently had pancreatic surgery or if the animal is overweight, as both of these increase the risk of such disorders developing.
In general, the treatment for diabetes in ferrets is to monitor their blood sugar and ensure they are getting a healthy diet. Most ferrets can live satisfying, healthy lives despite their disorder and do not have significant complications
Ferrets who do experience a more severe form of the disorder may need insulin treatments to help keep them healthy. This is especially true in those who have recently had pancreatic surgery, but these treatments are typically temporary and will be discontinued once their pancreas is back to its usual level of functioning.
The best thing you can do to help keep your pet from developing diabetes is to take steps to help prevent it from ever forming. This is easy if you ensure your pet has plenty of healthy food choices and receives a lot of playtime outside of his cage.
Ferrets are carnivores, meaning they are predisposed to eat only meat. They do not need crackers, cookies, fruit, or vegetables. They are more than fine eating just raw or cooked, unseasoned meat or a high quality, grain free commercial ferret or cat food.
Be wary if you use commercial products, as many of these contain grains and fillers that can make your pet sick. Read the labels and try to find one that is minimal in ingredients aside from meats and meat proteins. Your ferret simply does not need much else!
Additionally, ferrets should be out of their cage for an absolute minimum of at least four hours per day, though preferably more if possible. During this time, it is a good idea to employ different enrichment activities to help keep them moving and active.
Ferrets are generally sleepy animals so getting them active is a great way to keep them from becoming obese. Preventing obesity is the number one step you can take to help ensure your pet is healthy and diabetes free.
Does diabetes sometimes resolve itself? In ferrets, diabetes does frequently resolve itself on its own. Ferrets are surprisingly resilient animals and can bounce back from most things. This is especially true if you change their diet and playtime schedules to support a more active lifestyle; if they are eating well and moving a lot, chances are their bodies will begin to feel better too. This is not to say that you should not take your pet to the vet, though. Ferrets with suspected diabetes should visit a medical professional to ensure that their treatment plan is effective and beneficial for their overall health.
Can I feed my ferret table scraps? Kind of. Ferrets can have meats that are unseasoned but anything else should be avoided. Sauces and breadings cannot be digested effectively, leading to empty calories that do not benefit the animal being stored as fat. Fruits and vegetables are high in fiber, which ferrets also cannot digest. In general, meats are the way to go. Just be sure any meats are of high quality and parasite free, especially if they are from wild game sources like deer or buffalo. Your vet can advise you on which commercial products they recommend if you wish to forgo the risk and opt for a premade food plan, as well.
Diabetes is quite common in ferrets but absolutely does not have to be. Obesity and poor dietary habits make up the majority of cases, for the most part. To prevent this, feed your pet a healthy, high quality diet and take them to regular vet check ups. This paired with plenty of playtime will keep them happy and healthy for years to come!