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Ferrets: Digestive System, Nutritional Needs, and Tips

Tanya is the owner of multiple animals, including two ferrets. She has studied animal health and is a dedicated volunteer at a shelter.

Do you understand your ferret's digestive system?

Do you understand your ferret's digestive system?

Ferret Digesting System

Ferrets are small animals with an extremely fast metabolism. As carnivores, they require a high-protein diet with very low carbs and sugars. For such a small animal, their stomachs are quite large and their intestines are intricate, even though they are very short.

Having a good understanding of how their digestive systems work will help you keep your ferret as healthy and happy as possible.


The Stomach

The ferret has a basic and simple stomach. For a small stomach, it can hold quite a bit: 80% of the ferret's meal is held in the stomach cavity.

The acids in the stomach break down food quickly, taking about three hours. However, although ferrets are able to break down simple carbohydrates, they cannot break down complex carbohydrates very well. The lipids and glucose stimulate the stomach to begin to release acids and start the digestion process.


Small Intestine

After the food breaks down, it is pushed down into the small intestine. This is actually made up of three different parts.

First is the duodenum. The food comes here first and mixes with more digestive juices. The liver and pancreas secrete fluid here to help continue to aid the digestion of the food.

The next two parts are the jejunum and ileum. They work together and absorb all the nutrients from the food.

Large Intestine

The small intestine then pushes what is left into the large intestine. The large intestine is made of the colon and rectum. Here it collects all the waste, creates stool and sends it down to the rectum. Unlike humans and some other animals, a ferret does not have a cecum or ileocolic.

The Pancreas and Gallbladder

There are other main organs that help with digestion: the pancreas and gallbladder. The pancreas secretes enzymes into the small intestine that break down the fat, protein and carbohydrates.

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The liver does two main things. It creates and secretes bile and it also cleans and filters the blood coming from the small intestine. Ferrets (as well as humans!) need these secretions to digest properly.


What Are a Ferret's Nutritional Needs?

Good quality food has nothing to do with the brand name that is attached to it. If it has what a ferret needs to stay healthy, then it is good food. This is just a quick overview of what works the best and is the easiest for a ferret to digest.

A ferret's food should contain:

  • 35% to 30% meat protein (not by-products, if possible).
  • 18% to 25% fat (a lower fat content is better for older, slower ferrets. Otherwise, stay to the high side).
  • Low carbohydrates. Keep the fibre to less than 3%.
  • B vitamins, A, D3 and E. You can supplement these, but it is better if it is in the food.
  • Rice or corn as a binding agent. Rice is preferable, as it is easy to digest and corn can be an allergy for some ferrets.

Gastrointestinal Problems

There are a few problems that ferrets can get that affect their digestive systems. If you think your ferret is suffering from one of these, please seek a vet clinic.

  • Gastrointestinal Foreign Bodies (swallowing something they shouldn't that gets stuck)
  • Gastritis (inflammation in the stomach)
  • Proliferative Bowel Disease (prolapse anus)
  • Eosinophilic Gastroenteritis (inflammation in the stomach and intestine)

A Healthy Ferret Is a Happy Ferret

Once you understand the working digestive system of a ferret, you can understand the importance of having certain requirements in the food.

Remember, you don't need to buy the most expensive food on the shelf. Buy the best you can within your budget. As pet parents, we all just want the best for our pets. People hit on hard times and if you need to downgrade for a time, don't feel guilty. Take care of your furry friend with all the love and care you can.

By keeping them healthy and happy, they will be sure to reward you with their love and funny antics for years to come!

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2019 Tanya Huffman


Daniel Reeves on August 26, 2020:

I believe there should be an article on the tongue of the mouth, otherwise, it is a really good resource for science reports etc.

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