A Note on Vaseline Petroleum Jelly
It is commonly thought that Vaseline affects nutrient absorption, and it certainly may if used improperly. However, this should never deter you from using Vaseline if your ferret has ingested something or is showing symptoms of a blockage.
The intestinal lining replaces itself at a very rapid rate. [This is why patients on chemotherapy have GI symptoms (nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain). Chemo is designed to destroy any and ALL rapidly reproducing cells, because aggressive cancer cells are rapidly dividing. As a result, non-cancerous, but rapidly dividing cells get destroyed along with the cancer cells., hence wiping out the gut lining, bone marrow, etc.] The intestinal lining is completely replaced every 2-6 days (time varies by age and location in the intestinal tract), and the natural mucous layer that coats the intestines is replaced within hours. Because the intestinal lining is constantly replacing itself, the coating of Vaseline likely lasts far less than commonly thought, and certainly lasts far less than the intestinal lining itself. Even drugs that are specifically formulated to coat the intestinal wall do not last very long – you have to take them every couple of hours to get a lasting effect. While Vaseline is indeed thought to coat the intestines, it will not last long enough to cause any sort of significant nutrient deficiency UNLESS fed frequently.
With this in mind, using Vaseline frequently is NOT advised. Long term, repeated use may pose a risk of significant nutrient deficiencies due to decreased absorption, which can take months to manifest.
When is Vaseline OK to use?
Please recognize that both of these uses are temporary; Vaseline should NOT be used on a regular basis for any long-term period.
When feeding Vaseline: Some ferrets like the taste of Vaseline and will eat it willingly, but others do not. If your ferret dislikes Vaseline, you can mix the Vaseline in a roughly 1:1 ratio with Salmon Oil to create a tasty, homemade laxative that is a much safer alternative to the sugary laxatives commonly sold for pets, and that can be used for Blockages.
You should never hesitate to use Vaseline as part of the Blockage Protocol. If your ferret has ingested a foreign body, or is showing signs of having a blockage this is an EMERGENCY. Blockages are life or death – even if your ferret is not yet in a critical condition, they can become critically ill very quickly.
Vaseline (petroleum jelly/petrolatum) is the main ingredient in most pet laxatives. These laxatives consist of Petrolatum (Vaseline), Mineral Oil (no longer recommended for ingestion in animals or humans), sugar (molasses, malt syrup, etc), and flavors. Some even include Cod Liver Oil which poses a risk for Vitamin A toxicity.
Rather than using a product with so many additional, unsafe ingredients, many vets recommend the use of plain Vaseline (100% Petroleum Jelly) as a laxative instead. While less common than in pets, many medical practitioners also use Vaseline as a laxative for humans.
– 1/2-1 tsp of Vaseline may be used 1-2 times a week max. during heavy shedding in ferrets who have difficulties with hairballs. However, if possible we preferentially recommend using Raw Eggs for hairball prevention.
– It may also be used acutely if your ferret is showing signs of constipation.
Note that there is very little research available on Vaseline. We know that it is NOT absorbed in the intestines, but rather passes straight through. We also know that it has been used as a laxative in both pets and humans for many decades. What we do not know however, exactly how often or how long it can be fed safely. As such it should be reserved for use on an as-needed basis only.
Bloor, W. (1913). On fat absorption. II. Absorption of fat-like substances other than fats. J. Biol. Chem. 15:105-117
Creamer, B., Shorter, R., Bamforth, J. (1961). The turnover and shedding of epithelial cells Part I The turnover in the gastro-intestinal tract B. Gut. 2: 110-116.
Lehr, C., Poelma, G., Jinginger, H., Tukker, J. (1991). An estimate of turnover time of intestinal mucous gel layer in the rat in situ loop.International Journal of Pharmaceutics. 70 (3): 235-240.
Tavares, C., Kimbrel, J., Protus, B., Grauer, P. (2014). Petroleum jelly (Vaseline Balls) for the treatment of constipation: A survey of hospice and palliative care practitioners. American Journal of Hospice & Palliative Medicine. 31 (8): 797-803.
Williams, J., Duckworth, C., Burkitt, M., Watson, A., Campbell, B., Prtichard, D. (2015). Epithelial cell shedding and barrier function: A matter of life and death at the small intestinal villus tip. Veterinary Pathology. 52 (3): 445-455.