Force-Feeding Duck Soup

Okay, so your ferret is sick and won’t eat. You have to force it to eat*, or it will die. By now you have seen the vet, maybe gotten it a water shot and some meds. But the ferret won’t get better if it doesn?t eat. When a ferret is very sick and/or dehydrated, they often won’t eat or drink on their own. They will fight you at first, but usually after a couple days, they’ll be eating on their own (or at least not fighting so badly). Once the ferret is recovered, usually you’ll find (a) it now really likes your duck soup and (b) it thinks you’re a really nice person. You’d think they’d hate you for forcing them to eat, but it doesn’t work that way. They know you’re trying to help.

According to one of my vets, a ferret needs to eat at least 60cc of some kind of duck soup** each day just to keep going. (She was referring to the canned A/D available from the vet, but it also works for the other duck soup mixtures.) I measured out 60cc to see how much that really is, and it turned out to be a Gerber baby food jar full to the very top (to where you can?t fit any more in). So when I have sick ferrets, I make sure they eat *at least* one whole baby food jar’s worth of duck soup every day. More is better. 60cc will just keep them alive. They won’t gain much weight (if any) on that, but they won’t die, either (well, not from malnutrition — something else might get them).

For a sick ferret, a little bit every 2, 3 or 4 hours is best. At the very minimum you should feed them 3 times a day. The sicker they are, the more often they should be fed. I’m lucky in that I can take sick ferrets to work with me. I put them in a carrier under my desk and just feed them every 2 or 3 hours.

The vet said a ferret’s stomach can hold at least 18cc of food per feeding. It won’t pop their tummy if you force them to swallow 18cc worth of food. I found that comforting to know. In actuality, a ferret on the mend may very well eat much more than that! But if they’re sick, you really don’t want to over-stress their system, so frequent small meals are better.

If they refuse to eat on their own, you need a syringe without the needle to squirt the food into their mouth. The easiest ones to use hold 6-10 cc. The mixture needs to be very smooth, moist and warm (but not so hot it burns the mouth). What you do is suck up the goo into the syringe, scruff the ferret and squirt a little into the back of the mouth near the back tooth. Don’t squirt it right down their throat and drown them, but put it back far enough that they have no choice but to swallow it.

Your ferret may very well put up a pretty big fight at first. Just remember they *have* to eat. Your vet will tell you when you should force feed, and probably will have recommendations on what to feed and how much. You and your vet can discuss just how long to force feed before giving up. (Remember, giving up means the ferret dies. Sometimes they can’t be saved, but I give it at least a week, unless the ferret is in severe pain.)

So you squirt a little, let them swallow (and some ferrets will spit a little out, too) and just keep at it until the required amount has been swallowed. You’ll get better as you do it. It takes a few minutes, but you won’t have to do it forever, and it’s worth it if it saves the ferret’s life.

Usually what happens is that you have to really force them to eat for the first few days, then they’ll start eating from the syringe willingly, then they’ll eat from your finger or a spoon, and then finally they?ll eat right from the bowl. Some ferrets do this more quickly than others, but so far, every ferret I’ve force-fed has eventually decided duck soup is just wonderful.

One caution: if your ferret starts to feel better, do not discontinue the supplemental feedings right away. Keep it up at least a week after they seem healed. I’ve had ferrets relapse when I stopped feeding them too soon.

If your ferret eats a lot at one sitting, 3 times a day will be okay (just make sure that it adds up to one whole baby food jar). If you’re just supplementing and they’re back on their regular food, twice a day usually is fine and you don?t have to feed as much. Be warned: sometimes it takes a very long time for them to get back on their regular food. Do not despair — when they feel well enough, they will start eating. There might be that one odd ferret who never eats on their own again, but so far all the ferrets I’ve treated have eventually started eating their regular food.

*NOTE: if your ferret has a blockage, you should not force it to eat, but take it to the vet immediately. **See Duck Soup article

Barb Carlson

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