Do you feed your ferrets any oil or vitamin supplements, such as Ferretone? Do you offer salmon oil or perhaps a different oil instead?
Oils provide ferrets with many essential nutrients, and offer obvious skin and coat benefits. There is nothing quite like a fuzzy so soft and cuddly their fur feels like fleece. But do you know what else lurks in Ferretone?
Sure, ferrets love it. Ferrets love most oily, greasy things as fats are an important energy source for their high metabolisms. And certainly Ferretone comes in handy in a number of training and grooming situations. But is it the best choice for an oil supplement for your ferret?
Ferretone is a commercially-available oil and vitamin supplement made by 8-in-1 Pet Products, and the ingredients are as follows: Soybean oil, cod liver oil, lecithin, wheat germ oil, vitamin A supplement, vitamin D3 supplement, vitamin E supplement, pyridoxine hydrochloride, biotin, mono and diglycerides, BHT and propyl paraben (as preservatives).
As obligate carnivores, plant oils, while offering some benefits, aren’t as easily absorbed as animal oils. Ferretone is mostly soybean oil and knowing how prone to endocrine issues ferrets are, I strongly suggest avoiding soy products for ferrets entirely. Soy contains estrogen analogues that have been recently reported to negatively impact human development, and have been linked to early puberty in children, even. It isn’t a far stretch then to assume that genistein, one of the estrogen-mimicking isoflavones in soy, could be partly responsible for the high incidence of adrenal gland disease seen in American ferrets these days.
Beyond the soy issue, Ferretone offers no vitamin or nutrient that isn’t already in your ferret’s diet (especially if you feed a balanced raw diet such as one via my consultation services!) and in fact by feeding too much Ferretone, your ferret could potentially reach toxic levels of many of the nutrients in the product, especially if you feed a raw diet or soup that includes liver! Lastly, Ferretone is preserved with two controversial chemicals, BHT and propyl paraben, that have been linked to several issues including hyperactivity in children and certain cancers. Both are still poorly understood in terms of safety but because parabens have been found in human breast tumor tissue, it is reasonable to be cautious about its use. Again, because it is involved in the endocrine system in some way, my suggestion would be to steer clear simply because there are a lot of unknowns about the product and how safe it truly is, especially on an animal prone to endocrine-related hyperplasia and cancer.
Many pet owners want to provide a source of Omega-3s to their ferrets and this is of course an important nutrient for all life, ferrets included. “Essential fatty acids” (EFAs) is a broad term for those fatty acids that are required in the diet as the body is unable to synthesize them, but the body needs them to perform certain functions. Most people have a general understanding that Omega-6 fatty acids are fairly abundant in foods, whereas the less-abundant Omega-3s are generally supplemented. However, I think it is important to go over the role each EFA has in the body, and sources in which to find each.
Omega-3s: There are a number of fatty acid chains that are considered Omega-3s, including alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Omega-3s are known to have anti-inflammatory properties and for this can be useful in the treatment of arthritis or other joint pain disorders, irritable bowel disease or syndrome, and various other chronic pain issues. They are also instrumental in mood and mental development, and because of this make a difference in the behavior and social intelligence level of a companion animal, such as a ferret. A study linked supplementing puppies with DHA to increasing their train-ability which is interesting in that it suggests the willingness to be trained and work with a human is part of a broader social intelligence. Omega-3s may also have benefits that involve cardiovascular function and health. Sources of omega-3s include cold water fish (such as salmon, sardine, mackeral, and halibut) and grass-fed meats and grass-fed eggs.
Omega-6s: Again, there are a number of fatty acid chains that are grouped under Omega-6’s, the most commonly talked about being Linoleic acid and Arachidonic acid. Omega-6s are required in the diet to some degree, but oftentimes not to the degree that they are present in modern processed diets, both for pets and for humans. Kibbled diets, Ferretone, etc contain high levels of Omega-6s in comparison to the amount of Omega-3s that are contained therein. Diets high in Omega-6s have been linked to inflammation, arthritis, certain mental disorders, and certain cancers (including breast and prostate, both endocrine-related.) Foods high in Omega-6s include vegetable oils (except flax, hemp, and chia oils,) as well as many nuts, seeds, factory-farmed meats, poultry, and eggs, and grains.
Ideally, a diet should have an 3:6 ratio of at least 1:4, but as close to 1:1 as possible. Omega-3s are beneficial and counterbalance the negative effects that excess Omega-6s may have over time.
My suggestion would be to include a variety of animal-based oils for your ferrets, either mixed into their food or as a treat. Salmon oil is easily found at most pet supply stores, as well as various other fish oils. Be sure to steer clear of cod liver oil or other fish liver oils as these contain high levels of vitamin A. Vitamin A excess in humans is easily excreted out via urine, but in carnivores, Vitamin A is stored in the liver and kidneys and can build up over time, creating toxicity. Vitamin A is best administered in carefully calculated amounts once weekly, through a liver or other organ meal. Another animal-based oil option that is gaining popularity is emu oil, found in the popular Totally Ferret Vivify. Emu oil has been lauded by natural health enthusiasts as having multiple health benefits including having topical anti-inflammatory, anti-aging, and wound-healing benefits. As a dietary supplement, it has been suggested it can assist with inflammation of the bowel due to poor digestion, IBD/IBS, and colitis. It is also a rich source of oleic acid, an Omega-9 fatty acid. Omega-9s are not considered to be EFAs (essential fatty acids,) but having a dietary supply of them is still a wise idea.
As an interesting and perhaps significant note, extra virgin olive oil, which is high in oleic acid, has been shown to prevent and treat infections of helicobactor pylori in humans (a common stomach infection that can cause ulcers.) Ferrets suffer from a similar strain of ulcer-causing helicobactor, h. mustelae, and it is under study whether olive oil has the same effect on ferrets suffering from ulcers and gastritis caused by h. mustelae infection. Emu oil, because it has a high oleic acid content, likely has similar effects.
I understand most ferrents use Ferretone as a treat, tool to keep ferrets still for grooming, nail trimming, and photo ops, as well as to improve skin & coat. When feeding an appropriate diet, the vitamins and minerals contained therein are pretty much overkill, and because Ferretone is soy-based and contains several questionable preservatives, I strongly suggest getting your ferrets onto some healthier oil supplements instead. I personally use EVOO when trimming nails (the ferrets love it, and because it is plant-based, I don’t worry so much if it gets all over me in the process. Personal preference there!) In their meals weekly, they get a variety of other oils, generally fish-based, for omega-3 supplementation. Emu oil, while expensive, is still an occasional inclusion because of its many benefits. I do, however, have one cat who simply cannot tolerate fish, even fish oils, and so for her omega-3 supplementation, I offer flax oil. However, be wary when using flax with your pets, because flax is actually a fairly common allergen in many pets. The Omega-3s in flax are also more difficult to assimilate than animal-based sources, so only use flax as a last resort.
Do you still have questions about oil supplements and what benefits they may have for your ferrets? Leave me a comment or drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org!