Duck Soup

Duck soup is the general term for any kind of liquid or near-liquid food fed to ferrets when they’re sick, recovering from surgery, or need to gain weight. My duck soup (otherwise known as “chicken goo” or “yum yums”) is not the dry powder sold as Uncle Jim’s Duck Soup. I don’t like that much and neither do my ferrets. I think it would be fine to add it to my style of duck soup, but I don’t think you’ll get nearly as good results using just the Uncle Jim’s powder as you would using my recipe. Also, we’ve found that the poops are much firmer on this type duck soup than when they are fed just chicken or turkey baby food, canned A/D or a mix of those two foods (commonly prescribed by vets for sick ferrets).

There are many recipes for duck soup out there, some with all sorts of additives. I used to add a lot of things to my duck soup, too, but over the years I’ve found that a basic recipe of chicken and maybe a little liver works quite well. It’s well-accepted by most ferrets (or not that hard to convince them to eat it) and it definitely puts on weight. Since it includes all the bones, gristle, fat, skin, marrow, etc. it’s actually fairly nutritious for them, too. We’ve had ferrets who ate nothing but our duck soup do quite well. The only issue is that the soft food causes tartar, which must be removed. [Daily brushing works best.]

The basic idea is to cook chicken (I use chicken legs and thighs) until the bones get soft. I’m lazy — I cook it in a slow cooker for 24 hours. Some people just cook until the chicken is done, then cook the bones longer. Other people use a pressure cooker (15-20 minutes at 15 pounds pressure seems to work well).

The key to getting it very smooth is to cook until the bones crumble, then scoop out the solids and chill until cold (save all the juice and fat separately). For some reason, the cold chicken (and bones, etc.) process into a smoother, more creamy mixture if you have chilled the cooked chicken first.

I use my food processor and process a big scoop of the cold chicken goop in a food processor until it makes a ball (similar to a dough ball if you’ve used machines to make bread). The ball should race around in a circle. Then add the warmed fat and juice slowly, mixing thoroughly between additions, until it is smooth and creamy. I like to keep it pretty thick, but moist enough to pour out like cake batter.

[You can add a little cooked liver at this point, but if you get all the marrow from inside the bones, it doesn’t seem to be necessary. I used to use 1/3 cup cooked beef liver to 3 cups chicken goo but don’t anymore. If you put in too much liver, the ferrets won’t like it as much. On the other hand, ferrets used to having the liver might balk (at least at first) if you leave it out.]

Pour the resulting goo into a big dish and continue processing the rest of the solids until done. Stir the goo in the big dish (thereby evenly distributing bone, marrow, fat, etc.). Spoon into containers and freeze. If you only have one or two ferrets, you want to freeze it in containers small enough that you can use it all before it spoils. I usually get at least 4 days before it starts to smell weird. Spoiled duck soup reeks, so you can trust your nose. I’ve used empty baby food jars or small plastic snack cups. You can also freeze it in ice cube trays, then transfer to a ziplock.

We warm up about a rounded tablespoon of the soup (when cold, it’s a congealed lump but it will go back to a thick liquid after about 10 seconds in the microwave) then add enough water to make a thick broth. The sicker the ferret, the smoother and thinner they want it. If your ferret refuses to eat it due to lumps, you can press it through a metal sieve (not a colander, but a fine metal mesh sieve) with a metal spoon and get the lumps out that way. Be sure to scrape off the goo that collects on the back of the sieve and stir that in. You’ll end up with leftover tiny bone bits (if you have a dog, he will love you if you let him lick out the sieve). Most ferrets want it nice and smooth at first, but as they get used to it, they will often tolerate a few lumps here and there.

Feeding Duck Soup with syringe

How to feed duck soup using a feeding syringe

If you need to force feed your ferret*, definitely use the sieve trick. It will save you a lot of frustration since the bone pieces plug up the feeding syringe. I use a 10cc “O-ring” feeding syringe — it has a special rubber gasket that doesn’t wear out as quickly as a regular syringe. I sometimes trim the nozzle back on the syringe to where it’s a little wider to help avoid clogs. If I’ve cooked the chicken long enough in the first place (so the bone bits are very small), I can sometimes get away without using the sieve if the syringe nozzle has been cut back. [*NOTE: Do NOT force feed an unconscious ferret, or a ferret with a blockage. Blockages will often make the stomach “blow up” like a balloon. Force feeding will only stretch it out more. Blockages are a severe emergency and you should run, not walk, to the emergency vet.]

If a ferret is not eating hard food, they need to eat 60-90cc’s a day to stay alive (1cc=1ml). More is better. [A Gerber baby food jar, filled to the very top is about 60cc.] Usually I start with 20cc every 3 hours. If they want more, by all means let them eat it, but at least 20cc. As they start to get better, starting eating more each time and/or start eating hard food, you can slowly decrease the number of times you give it duck soup.

After a ferret recovers, do not suddenly stop the duck soup; I’ve had ferrets relapse doing that. Continue the feedings (twice a day) for at least a week after they are eating hard food again. It won’t hurt to give them a little every day anyway, since they most probably love the stuff by now. It’s a great treat — protein and fat with no sugar — and will make your life easier the next time they get sick, since they will just dive right in.

If a ferret is eating duck soup (or other soft food) regularly, you need to be sure to brush his teeth. The soft food causes tartar to build up much faster than hard food alone. Tartar can eventually cause serious tooth and gum disease.

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