Ferrets are our fun, furry friends known for their mischievous antics and seemingly endless appetites. Often, it’s difficult to keep the bowl full at any time since they eat so often.
So, what do you do if your ferret suddenly stops eating?
Ferrets may refuse to eat for several reasons, including personal preference, stress, or illness. Because they usually eat approximately every 4 hours, a ferret refusing food can become a grave problem if ignored.
This article will dive into the reasons why a ferret might stop eating, and what is your best course of action. Read on to find out!
Why might your ferret refuse food? (3 reasons)
Ferrets are typically voracious, but there are some reasons why they may refuse food. Some are fairly benign, while others may be cause for concern.
#1 Personal Preference
Like humans, ferrets have personal preferences when it comes to their food, and those preferences may change over time.
A food they once loved may suddenly become unappealing, causing them to turn up their nose at it. Before tossing it out, try adding an enticing topper to the meal.
Since they’re obligate carnivores, kitten food is a quick and easy solution that often inspires them to eat once again.
Soup broth, chicken, and beef, in particular, can also help make a lackluster meal more tantalizing.
Generally, ferrets will not refuse food to the point of starvation. If they get hungry enough, they will eventually succumb and eat.
For this reason, you can try to wait out a finicky ferret and see if they come around.
Otherwise, some of the above tactics may be just what is needed to get your ferret back on track ASAP.
Another similarity between humans and ferrets is how stress can affect our appetites.
A human that is stressed may under-eat or forgo eating entirely. This is the same for ferrets. A stressed ferret may limit how much they are eating or refuse their food completely.
Causes of stress include:
- Negative interactions
- Intermittent/ongoing loud noises
- Environment changes
- Recent vet visit
- Recent bath
Think about what may have triggered your ferret’s stress so you can address the cause.
Did you recently move to a new place? Is there construction or unusual noises outside of your home? Have you recently had guests that overstimulated or frightened your ferret friend?
Try to identify and correct the cause of the stress. Environmental changes caused by moving are especially difficult for ferrets at first.
Try setting up their enclosure as similar to their original setup as possible to lessen the effect of the move.
If noise is the culprit, consider moving the cage to another area of the room or house where things are quieter.
White noise or low, soothing music can help mitigate the effects of jarring construction or sudden bangs and booms as well.
A ferret may refuse to eat when suffering discomfort or from illness. If your ferret is rejecting food for an extended period of time, you should make an appointment with their vet to have them examined to determine if your ferret is ill.
Illnesses may include:
- Cardiac or heart disease and failure
- Bacterial, viral, and infectious diseases
- Gastrointestinal and metabolic diseases (e.g., kidney and liver diseases)
- Psychological problems (e.g., stress or environmental factors)
- Toxic problems (e.g., allergies or ingestion of toxic materials)
- Neurological problems
Many illnesses are treatable if diagnosed early. Contact your vet immediately if you are concerned that your ferret may be coping with an undiagnosed illness.
What to do if my ferret is not eating?
So, your ferret stopped eating, and you’ve tried enticing new flavors, toppers, and other treats to no avail.
The environment has been stable with no major changes, so you’re ruling out stress as the cause of the impromptu hunger strike.
There are still a few more tricks we can use before carting them off to the vet’s office.
Try hand feeding.
If you have nurtured a strong bond with your ferret, they may feel more inclined to eat directly from your hand versus the bowl.
Try offering a few kibbles from your palm to see if they are willing to take them.
Place food in their bed.
We know you’re not supposed to eat and get crumbs in the bed, and so does your ferret!
Ferrets that aren’t interested in eating may actually eat kibble out of their bed or hammock simply to get it out from where they want to lay down. If other tactics fail, it’s worth a try!
If all else fails, you can force feed your ferret, but it should be discussed with the vet first.
Fill a syringe with something nutritious– a room temperature soup or high-calorie liquid or paste diet. Allow the ferret to lick the tip of the syringe.
At this juncture, your ferret might be interested in accepting food from the syringe. If not, a more hands-on approach will be warranted.
Be careful when force-feeding, as you may need to do this to protect your ferret’s health and possibly save their life, but you also risk harming them if you’re too rough or hasty with them.
Hold them firmly by the scruff of their neck and cradle their body on your forearm. Their head should be elevated while their hindquarters are tucked snugly between your elbow and torso. You want them secure but not squished.
Gently wiggle the syringe against their teeth, and they will likely open up a tad in response. This is all you need to get the tip inside the mouth.
You’re aiming for the roof of their mouth halfway in. Squeeze a small portion of the food into the ferret’s mouth and wait for them to swallow before proceeding.
Repeat administering food in this fashion until the syringe is emptied.
Make sure to offer soothing words, compliments, and praise while you do this. Your ferret may be alarmed, but they will benefit significantly if your presence is calming for them.
What happens if a ferret doesn’t eat?
A ferret that does not eat will lose a dangerous amount of weight. This will lead to organ failure and possibly death.
Newborn and senior ferrets are especially susceptible to sudden changes in their diets. They may not survive long if they are not monitored carefully and provided nutrition immediately.
The condition may be further exacerbated by dehydration, as a ferret that refuses water and food will deteriorate much faster than a ferret that is at least drinking water.
Make sure fresh food and water are available at all times, and if no tactic seems to be making a difference in solving the problem, consult the vet immediately to identify and address the underlying cause of the behavior.
How will the vet help my ferret?
The vet will examine your ferret to see if any physical signs of discomfort may be causing your ferret to not eat. Your ferret may have an injury or wound that makes them too uncomfortable to eat.
They will also ask you questions about changes to your ferret’s environment and what their activity was before the time in which they started to refuse food.
You will want to share with your vet any information that may be useful, such as if your ferret has displayed other unusual behaviors before or during the period of time in which they are refusing food.
It is important to share as much about your ferret’s behavior to aid in a proper diagnosis.
Your vet may decide to perform one or several diagnostic procedures to establish what might be the cause of the sudden behavioral change.
A diagnostic procedure may include:
- Dental exam
- Urine analysis
- Examination of history
The vet’s recommendation will address the cause of the sudden anorexia and may vary depending on why your ferret stopped eating in the first place.
If the cause is illness or injury, the treatment may incorporate antibiotics or medication to help manage symptoms and get them back to normal.
Your vet will prescribe what is needed and provide specific treatment and care instructions to help your ferret recover.
If the vet finds the cause to be psychological or your ferret is otherwise healthy, it may be more difficult to treat.
However, by examining the ferret’s environment and making positive changes to accommodate them, they will likely rebound before long and resume normal living.
In the meantime, syringe force-feeding will still help your ferret receive all the nutrition they need to survive while you and your vet manage the situation and encourage the ferret to resume eating again.
Higher calorie diets are often required regardless of the underlying reason, as they help the ferret recover weight lost during the period they refused to eat.
Schedule a follow-up appointment with your vet to monitor the situation as it hopefully improves over the following weeks. Keep the environment safe and stress-free to prevent your ferret from relapsing.
Healthy ferrets will constantly eat, so it is often not a good sign if your ferret stops eating.
Ferrets that refuse food must be monitored carefully. You may have some success inspiring them to resume eating by changing what they’re offered, removing environmental stressors, and visiting the vet or trying syringe force-feeding in the most dire circumstances.
With a thoughtful approach and a little effort, it shouldn’t be long before you help your ferret overcome the problem and resume healthy living once again.