Making the Switch – Step 2

Step 2: Introducing Your Ferret to Raw Soup

Remove the Kibble:

First it is important to remove your ferret’s kibble a few hours before offering the raw soup (See Warning above). It is best to remove the kibble about 3-4 hours (the average length of the ferret digestive tract) ahead of time. This allows the kibble to exit their digestive tract to avoid upset stomachs, and also ensures that they are feeling hungry when you offer them the new soup.

NOTE: If your ferret has insulinoma, please watch them carefully for signs of hypoglycemia and remove kibble at about 2-3 hours (instead of 3-4). [If your ferret or has shown ANY signs of illness or odd behavior, they should be seen by a vet. If your ferret has been on kibble for 2 or more years, or has an unknown history (e.g. rescued/adopted ferrets) is a good idea to test your ferret’s Blood Glucose before starting a switch as many ferrets can have early insulinoma that has not yet begun to show symptoms.]

If after an hour trial of soup feeding your insulinomic ferret has not eaten a substantial meal of raw, give them their kibble back (and make sure they eat some!) to avoid sending them into a life-threatening crash. We highly advise using a Mentor to switch ferrets with insulinoma if you are new to switching ferrets, as their transition can be much trickier since keeping Blood Glucose up is so vital.

Taste the Soup (them not you):

Each ferret may take to the soup differently, but be persistent and they will eventually eat it. Put a little soup on your finger and let your ferrets sniff it. If they lick it and like it, then offer them a small dish of the soup. If they take to the soup quickly, remove all kibble and begin feeding them a diet of just the soup – you just made a big step on the way to a raw diet!

If they do not take to it right away don’t worry! MOST ferrets will NOT take to raw right away. This is a new strange food, and for some time they may be convinced that you are trying to poison them. Dab a little soup onto your ferret’s nose for them to lick it off. Sit on the floor where they play, and every time your ferret runs by pick them up and dab another drop of soup on their nose. (The “Grab N’ Dab” method). Do this for as much time as you can each day, preferably repeating the process at each meal time. If that does not work, try using the “Scruff N’ Sample” (“scruff N stuff”) approach. Continue this until they will willingly lick the soup off of your finger.

Once you know how to make your first batch of raw soup, please read through the following pages to prepare for the next step:

Tasting the Soup:

The first step is to get your ferret used to the taste of raw soup. It is very important that this is done in a way that does not over-stress your ferret and create a negative association with the soup and/or hand feeding. As they get used to the taste, your ferret will gradually start to lick the raw soup willingly, at which point you can progress to finger feeding. How long this phase takes can very from ferret to ferret, and also depends on how much time you are able to invest each feeding session.

It is helpful to start on a weekend when you have minimal other obligations. Imagine that you just rescued a ferret and don’t have any food they are imprinted on/will accept – what will you do, how will you get them to eat? With a committed weekend and your patient determination, most ferrets can reach the point of willingly licking soup from your finger or a spoon by the end of 1-2 days. One of our head Admin, Heather, has been in rescue for many years and switches all of her rescues over cold-turkey (pun intended) just this way, with great success. If you don’t have a weekend to commit to finger feeding your ferrets all day don’t worry, your ferrets will still complete the switch, it just takes a little more time.

Before each feeding session, be sure to remove all kibble and any treats/snacks 1-2 hours ahead of time. Hunger is a great motivator for convincing your ferret to try a new food. Additionally, some ferrets (anecdotally) develop stomach upset when consuming raw and kibble together so it can be helpful to separate their raw and kibble meals by a few hours.

WARNING: If your ferret has insulinoma, or has an unknown health history (e.g. is over 3 years old or unknown age, and previously on a kibble diet or worse, or otherwise at risk for insulinoma) monitor them closely for any signs of hypoglycemia (weakness, stumbling, drooling, staring into space, hind-limb weakness, lethargy, tremors, seizures), and do not remove the kibble more than 1 hour before offering them raw soup.

We generally recommend starting with the Grab N Dab method for introducing soup, using the Scruff N Sample method for the slivers stage when you may need to plop slivers of meat into your ferret’s mouth. However, sometimes gently dabbing some soup into your ferret’s mouth can encourage them to taste it if they are resistant to the Grab N Dab method. Both methods of hand feeding are acceptable, but take care to not let it become a power struggle.

  • Tip: You can use a little bit of salmon or fish oil (up to 1 tsp total over the course of a week), and/or whole raw egg (1 chicken egg per ferret per week) to entice them to try to raw at first. Ferretone is not recommended as it contains BHT, which is a carcinogen. However, if you have a ferret who is already imprinted on Ferretone and not yet used to fish/salmon oil, you can mix fish/salmon oil with the Ferretone and gradually wean the Ferretone out for particularly picky ferrets.

Grab N Dab:

Grab N’ Dab is a fantastic way to get your ferret to start tasting raw soup, and with enough repetition is very effective. Sit on the floor with your ferrets in a small room, and every time they walk within reach pick them up and dab a little soup on their nose/lips, and then set them back down. Continue doing this repeatedly until they start to lick the soup off of their nose. (Remember, the first several times it is VERY NORMAL for them to act like you just tried to poison them). When they start to lick the soup off of your lips, and then your finger, you are ready to move on to the next step.

Scruff N Sample:

Scruff N’ Sample is another way to get your ferret to taste raw soup. Remember that hand feeding should NEVER become a power struggle or your ferret will develop a negative association with raw food and see it as a “punishment.” Sit on the floor with your ferret in your lap, and gently hold them by the scruff. Use your free hand to gently dab some soup on/in their mouth, then immediately release the scruff. Be sure to give your ferret a lot of verbal praise and loving scritches/massages as they “eat” the soup. Continue to repeatedly dab soup on/in their mouth until they start to willingly lick the soup off of their lips, and then your finger.

Remember – at the first sign of stress, stop and give your ferret (and yourself) a break.

They Licked the Soup!

Once your ferret starts to lick the soup willingly off of their nose/your finger, you are ready to move to the next step – finger feeding!

Patience Grasshoppers…

Don’t get discouraged if it takes your ferret a few weeks to get to the stage of willingly licking the soup. Switching your ferret’s diet is all about being more stubborn than them. Patience, persistence, and YOUR determination will be the key factors in your success. Additionally, the more time that you have to commit to sitting down and hand feeding each day, the faster your ferrets will move through the switching process. Above all though, it is YOUR mindset and determination to transition them that will be the final determining factor in your success. Remember that YOU are the adult here, not your ferret. Would you let your human toddler eat a diet of nothing but Fruit Loops and cupcakes just because they throw a fit every time you offer them carrots and broccoli? No, because you know that a diet of sugary treats is unhealthy and will have lasting effects on their health. Ferrets are every bit like spoiled, stubborn toddlers. It is your job to out-stubborn them and teach them how to eat a healthy diet, so that they can live longer, stronger, healthier lives with you.

A Note on Skipping Steps:

Please note that it is perfectly acceptable to try skipping steps. At any point you can try introducing your ferret to a more advanced step (e.g. offering them some chunks when you are cutting stuff up to prepare soup). IF your ferret will accept meat at a more advanced stage of the switch, you can skip ahead to that stage in the switch. Just keep in mind that it is important to monitor how much your ferret is eating to ensure they are ready to progress to the next step – they may be willing to chew on a chunk, but not yet be ready (or have the jaw strength) to eat enough chunks on their own. In this case stepping back half a step, and moving forward more slowly can give them time to catch up. If they wolf down chunks like a pro however, then full steam ahead! 

Finger to Bowl:

If the ferret will eat the soup off of your finger, but not from the bowl there are a few tricks that you can try. First, finger feed them the food. When they are willingly eating it off of your fingers, move you finger closer and closer to a spoon full of the soup, and slowly take your finger away. Keep trying this until they will eat from the spoon. Once they will eat from the spoon, repeat this process with a bowl, lowering the spoon towards a bowl and eventually removing it. This may take several days of hand feeding for stubborn ferrets.

Other tricks to try:

  • Drizzle some salmon oil (or your ferret’s favorite oil) on top of the soup
  • Add an egg to the soup (if they have sloppy poops you may need to cut back on the amount of egg you use)
  • You can also sprinkle some crushed kibble over the soup to help entice them to taste it. (Not a preferred method.)

My Ferret Acts Like Raw is Poison…

When first introducing your ferret to raw soup (or sometimes any new food) it is very common for them to act like you are trying to poison them. Gagging, retching, and head-shaking are all common reactions when first introducing raw soup. This DOES NOT mean that your ferret can’t or won’t be switched. Ferrets imprint on their food between 9-12mo of age (some imprint even earlier). A ferret raised on kibble has to be taught that raw is edible. Your ferret has NO IDEA that raw meat is food.

Introducing Your Ferret to Raw Soup

My Ferret is too Old or too Young to be Switched…

False! Any ferret can be switched to raw with enough patience and determination. We have successfully switched ferrets from kithood to 9 years old. Ferrets can start eating raw meat as early as 4 weeks old, at which age Mamma-ferret will start teaching them to eat real food. They can start eating raw soup at around 4 weeks, and whole chunks and bones as early as 6 weeks.

Albino kits at 6 weeks demolishing a rabbit quarter.

Pic: Heather Downie

All that was left of an entire turkey leg after being left with a litter of 6 week old kits.

Pic: Heather Downie

5 week old kit eating rabbit

Pic: Heather Downie

Albino kits at 4 weeks eating raw soup with Mama Ferret.

Pic: Heather Downie

Poley kits at 4 weeks eating raw soup.

Pic: Heather Downie

Poley kits at 4 weeks eating raw soup.

Pic: Heather Downie

Albino kits at 6 weeks demolishing a rabbit quarter.

Pic: Heather Downie

All that was left of an entire turkey leg after being left with a litter of 6 week old kits.

Pic: Heather Downie

5 week old kit eating rabbit

Pic: Heather Downie

Albino kits at 4 weeks eating raw soup with Mama Ferret.

Pic: Heather Downie

Poley kits at 4 weeks eating raw soup.

Pic: Heather Downie

While it can be more difficult to switch an older ferret due to them being imprinted on their food, and increased health issues in older ferrets, they can always be switched. Ferrets can start eating raw at ANY age of adulthood, no matter how long they have been on kibble. And no matter how old they may be, their health will absolutely benefit from the raw diet including improved muscle mass, improved hydration, cleaner teeth, more stable blood sugars, and overall better health.

Lucy, Sprite, and Jareth – ages 7, 6, and 7 when switched.

Koda and Mousie, switched at 7yo and 8yo.

Logan – 6-7y/o when switched. Pic: Jana Seliger

Kota – switched at 7 years old, is now 13yo!

Sprite – switched at 6yo

Mousie – switched at 8yo

Lucy, Sprite, and Jareth – ages 7, 6, and 7 when switched.

Koda and Mousie, switched at 7yo and 8yo.

Logan – 6-7y/o when switched. Pic: Jana Seliger

Kota – switched at 7 years old, is now 13yo!

Sprite – switched at 6yo

Mousie – switched at 8yo

Feeling Frustrated?

The process of switching often requires taking two steps forward one step back, but slow and steady wins the race. Remember, PATIENCE AND PERSISTENCE are key! As long as YOU are determined to switch your ferret to a raw diet, you will succeed.