Lactation Failure and Nursing Sickness in Ferrets

Summary Information

Diseases / List of Miscellaneous / Metabolic / Multifactorial Diseases / Disease summary
Alternative Names
Disease Agents
  • Failure of milk production, even with kits attempting to suckle. (B232.11.w11, B628.11.w11)
  • There are many causes of lactation failure, for example:
  • Nursing sickness is possibly associated with diets rich in polyunsaturated fats, with associated peroxidative stress. (B627.10.w10, J195.11.w2)
    • Possibly more common in jills bred very early in the breeding season. (B271.35.w35)
Infectious Agent(s) --
Non-infectious Agent(s) --
Physical Agent(s) --
General Description
Clinical signs
In Ferrets
  • Failure of lactation. (B271.35.w35)
  • Mastitis may be present. See: Bacterial Mastitis in Rabbits and Ferrets. (B628.11.w11)
  • The kits will cry and keep trying to suckle. (B232.11.w11)
    • Note: if this is not noticed quickly the kits will die. (B232.11.w11, B271.35.w35)
    • The kits may become thin. (B232.11.w11)
  • If the jill is unwell, the kits may wander away from their mother. (B232.11.w11)
  • The jill may be restless. (B232.11.w11)
  • Sometimes dehydration of the jill. (B232.11.w11)
  • Nursing sickness: Anorexia, weight loss, weakness and incoordination. (B501.12.w12, B627.10.w10, J4.173.w4)
    • May progress to coma and death. (B627.10.w10, J4.173.w4)
    • Clinical pathology: May be haemolytic anaemia. (J195.11.w2)

In nursing sickness:

  • Liver may be yellow and greasy. (B627.10.w10, J195.11.w2)
Further Information

Failure of lactation may occur soon after the kits are born, when the jill fails to produce milk initially (B271.35.w35) or if she is ill (B602.5.w5), or later during lactation (nursing sickness). (B627.10.w10)

In Ferrets

Treatment for the Jill

  • An analgesic such as flunixin meglumine 0.1 mL can be given. (B232.11.w11)
  • A small dose of oxytocin intramuscularly may encourage milk flow. (B232.11.w11)
  • If the jill becomes ill, treats such Nutrical can be given, and watered down food. (B628.11.w11)
  • Whilst the jill is being treated, the kits should stay with their mother, but the kits need to be watched carefully. (B232.11.w11)
  • In nursing sickness: vitamin E supplementation (10 mg per day) may be beneficial. (J195.11.w2)

Treatment for the kits

  • If the jill cannot produce milk, then fostering out the kits is the best solution, or hand rearing if necessary. (B232.11.w11)
  • Ensuring the kits are warm (B628.11.w11) and a small amount of glucose solution is given to each kit. (B232.11.w11)
  • Kits can be added to small litters to increase the size of the litter and encourage lactation. (B232.11.w11)
  • If the kits are struggling to lactate, they can be supplemented with moist food and a milk replacer. (B232.11.w11)
    • Feeding four times daily is recommended. (B232.11.w11)
  • Increase access to water for the jill and in cases of dehydration, fluid therapy will be required. (B232.11.w11)
  • With nursing sickness, foster the kits to another jill. (J195.11.w2)
  • The jill should be left in a quiet place until she has bonded with her kits, especially if this is her first litter. (B232.11.w11, B628.11.w11)
  • Ensure water is always available. (J195.11.w2)
  • Ensure a good diet during pregnancy and lactation.
  • A high calorie supplement may be given to the jill. (B232.11.w11)
    • 30% fat should be reached by two to three weeks post parturition. (B232.11.w11, B628.11.w11)
    • Sufficient protein should be given to the jill. (B628.11.w11)
    • The jill should be able to reach both food and water. (B628.11.w11)
    • Ensure the diet of the jill has sufficient vitamin E and is not high in polyunsaturated fatty acids. (J195.11.w2)
  • Ensure the kits have access to food and water from as early as two weeks. (B627.10.w10)
  • See: Rearing of Mammals - Parent Rearing
Associated Techniques
Host taxa groups /species
Author Bridget Fry BSc, RVN (V.w143)

Return to top of page