Oral Medication and Syringe Feeding of Ferrets (Disease Investigation & Management - Treatment and Care)

Summary Information

Type of technique Health & Management / Disease Investigation & Management / Techniques:
Synonyms and Keywords  
In Feed
  • Palatable medication can be given in food. (J15.24.w5)
Liquid Medications / Syringe feeding
  • Either scruff the ferret, or hold it in dorsal recumbency with the head held in one hand and the body held between the handler's forearm on the same hand and the handler's chest. (J29.6.w3)
  • Place the tip of the syringe containing the medication/liquid food either between the incisors, or on one side just caudal to the canine teeth. (J29.6.w3)
    • Place the medication onto the back of the tongue. (J15.24.w5)
  • Give the medication/liquid food slowly, allowing time for the ferret to swallow. (J29.6.w3)

To give pills, preferably crush the pill, mix it and give as described for liquid medication. (J29.6.w3) If a pill needs to be given whole:

  • Hold the ferret in dorsal recumbency with the head held in one hand and the body held between the handler's forearm on the same hand and the handler's chest. (J29.6.w3)
  • With the restraining hand cupping the ferret's head, place the thumb and index finger of that hand just caudal to the upper canine teeth on either side, causing the ferret's mouth to open. (J29.6.w3)
  • Place the middle finger of the other hand on the lower jaw at the incisors and use pressure to open the jaw. (J29.6.w3)
  • Give the pill either using the index finger to push the pill over the back of the ferret's tongue, or using a cat piller. (J29.6.w3)
Appropriate Use (?)
  • For giving oral medication.
    • Liquid medication is prefered to pills in ferrets. (B602.2.w2)
  • For syringe feeding an anorectic ferret.
  • Manufacturer's data sheet recommendations should be followed as to the recommended route and rate of drug administration.
  • Ferrets have a short gut and rapid gut transit time (3-4 hours). Assisted feeds can be given 4-6 times a day, 10-20 mL at a time. (J29.6.w3) 12 mL at a time 3-4 times a day. (J15.24.w5)
  • Flavouring the medication with e.g. raisin or peanut butter tends to make administration easier. (J15.24.w5)
Complications/ Limitations / Risk
  • If food or liquid medication is given too rapidly, without allowing the ferret to swallow, if may be inhaled. This can result in aspiration pneumonia.
  • Avoid using fish-flavoured bases for medication; these are not palatable for ferrets. (B602.2.w2)
Equipment / Chemicals required and Suppliers
  • Syringe

  • Required medication

  • For feeding, a high-quality diet, high in animal protein and fat, low in carbohydrates and fibre. Suitable foods include: (J29.6.w3)

    • A/D (Hills). (J29.6.w3)

    • Totally Ferret (Performance Foods, Dayton, Ohio, USA). (J29.6.w3)

    • Nutritional Recovery Formula (Iams company, Dayton, Ohio, USA). (J29.6.w3)

  • Short term (less nutritionally balanced):

    • Strained chicken or turkey based baby food. (J29.6.w3)

Expertise level / Ease of Use
  • Procedure should only be undertaken by an individual with appropriate practical experience.
Cost/ Availability
  • Inexpensive unless expensive drugs are being administered.
Legal and Ethical Considerations In some countries there may be legislation restricting the use of this type of technique to licensed veterinarians. For example in the UK: "The Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 (Section 19) provides, subject to a number of exceptions, that only registered members of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons may practice veterinary surgery." (See: LCofC1 - RCVS Guide to Professional Conduct 2000 - Treatment of Animals by Non-Veterinary Surgeons).

Use of Drugs (Medication):

  • Many drugs are not registered for use in ferrets and care should be taken in their use, with proper regard for possible toxic effects. Consideration should be give to relevant legislation regarding the use of drugs.
  • In any country, drugs are unlikely to be specifically licensed for use in non-domestic mammals. 
    • In Europe the prescription cascade must be followed, and the client's informed consent should be obtained, whenever a drug is used which is not licensed for use in a given species. (B284.5.w5)
    • In the UK, guidelines regarding the use of drugs are set out in the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons Guide to Professional Conduct 2000: (see: LCofC1 - RCVS Guide to Professional Conduct 2000 - Choice of Medicinal Products).
Author Dr Debra Bourne MA VetMB PhD MRCVS (V.w5)
References B602.2.w2, J15.24.w5, J29.6.w3

Return to Top of Page