Obesity in Ferrets
Obesity is defined as the accumulation of an excessive amount of body fat to the extent that normal bodily movements and activities are compromised. Obesity may increase a ferret’s odds of developing other health problems, such as metabolic disorders, and has become an extremely common and often debilitating problem in pet ferrets.
Obesity is defined as excess amounts of body fat relative to body size; this is also the primary symptom. Other secondary symptoms may include sluggishness, weakness in the rear limbs, and an inability or overall unwillingness to play or exercise.
Pet ferrets usually become obese due to a combination of insufficient physical activity and an increased intake of calories. For example, overeating may occur if owners leave food out continuously or if ferrets are given too many sugary treats (such as raisins). The fact that most pet ferrets are housed in cages that allow minimal exercise also often leads to obesity.
There are no specific medical tests that need to be done in order to diagnose obesity other than simply measuring weight and body fat. Certain areas of the body should be measured for excess fat, such as the abdominal area. A one to five scale can be used to measure body fat: a 1 being “cachetic” (more than 20 percent underweight) and a 5 (more than 40 percent overweight) “obese.”
Note that when diagnosing obesity, it is important to differentiate from other possible causes of weight gain such as pregnancy or seasonal weight gain. (Most ferrets gain weight and develop a thicker coat of hair in the fall, which they lose again in spring.)
Treatment for obesity is a long-term project that requires serious lifestyle and dietary changes. All sweet-tasting or high-fat treats and dietary supplements should be eliminated from the ferret’s diet immediately. If possible, obese ferrets should be let out of their cages to exercise during the day.
Obesity is a preventable disease. Limit the animal’s intake of sweet treats, and if possible, encourage exercise outside of the cage. Ferrets have a higher protein and fat requirement than cats and dogs. For general maintenance of diet in pet ferrets, a high-quality kitten or ferret chow with “animal protein” listed as the first ingredient is recommended. If you are not sure which brands are the best, ask your veterinarian for some recommendations.