In addition to its many benefits for coat and skin health, raw eggs can be used to help prevent “hairballs” (trichobezoars) in ferrets.
What is a “Hairball” (Trichobezoar)?
First we must clarify the use of the term “hairball.” Most pet owners when hearing the word “hairball” think of the hairballs commonly vomited up by cats, and assume that ferrets may do the same. However, ferrets are not well equipped for vomiting, and are unable to vomit excess fur that is ingested – it must pass through the intestinal tract. When the fur becomes trapped, a “hairball,” or more technically – a trichobezoar – forms. This is very dangerous and is a known common cause of intestinal blockages in ferrets, particularly older ferrets.
Hairballs form when ingested hair/fur becomes entrapped within the natural folds of the stomach lining and does not empty with other stomach contents. Over time fat particles in the form of mucous, and bits of undigested food attach the the trapped hairs, in turn trapping more hair/fur. (Of note, trichobezoars are generally about 20-30% fat). Stomach acid partially breaks down some of the clump, causing it to become sticky and often putrid. This leads to matting and clumping of the fur, fat, and food particles resulting in a trichobezoar. Once formed, this mass, a trichobezoar, may cause many problems including stomach and duodenal ulcers, gastritis, loss of appetite, nausea and pain, reduced absorption of nutrients, and intestinal blockage. Some trichobezoars remain lodged in the stomach, some eventually pass through the stomach and become lodged in the narrow small intestine, and some are eventually passed in the stool. However, once formed there is risk of intestinal blockage. Thus, your best method of treatment is prevention. Or, as the old saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Preventing Hairballs (Trichobezoars):
There are two key pieces to preventing bezoar formation:
- Reduce consumption of hair/fur
- Improve the passage of consumed hair/fur
Reducing the Consumption of Hair/Fur:
Ferrets, like cats, are self-groomers. However, unlike most cats and dogs, ferrets do not generally shed year-round. Instead, they undergo a seasonal coat change twice yearly – in the spring and fall. During this seasonal coat change, they will shed their coats (called “blowing their coats”) over the course of a few weeks, prior to regrowing their new seasonal coat. During this period of shedding is when ferrets are most prone to hairball formation due to their increased consumption of fur. You can help your ferret with regular brushing during shedding periods.
IMPORTANT NOTE: while ferrets undergoing a seasonal coat change may shed in odd patterns, or appear to have thin, scruffy, or coarse coats, they should never have bald spots and the fur should regrow normally. If your ferret has fur loss not related to seasonal coat changes, persistent thinning of the coat particularly of the hips/buttocks, between the shoulders, and/or abdomen, or their coat has become persistently more dry and coarse, your ferret should be evaluated by a veterinarian. These are common signs of Adrenal Disease and require evaluation to rule out other underlying medical conditions, and to discuss treatment for Adrenal Disease.
Improving the Passage of Consumed Hair/Fur:
In addition to reducing fur consumption, you can help to maximize your ferret’s ability to pass the fur that they do ingest. One way to do this is through an increase of soluble fiber in the diet. However, this is not a recommended approach in our obligate carnivore friends.
- It used to be common practice to add small amounts of canned pumpkin to a ferret’s diet for this purpose. However, this practice is no longer recommended due to the high glycemic index (aka digestible sugar content!) of pumpkin and concerns for an increased risk of insulinoma.
- As an alternative, psyllium powder is a soluble fiber supplement that, while not carbohydrate free, has a lower risk of spiking blood sugars. We DO NOT recommend the addition of psyllium to any ferret’s diet without the explicit recommendation and dosing of a veterinarian.
Another, healthier way to improve the passage of ingested hair/fur is by feeding a raw diet. Yes, more benefits to feeding your ferret raw! When studied in cats it was found that a wet diet significantly increased stomach emptying time, which is associated with more effective passage of ingested hair (reduces the hair sitting in the stomach and getting stuck in the folds, allowing a trichobezoar to begin forming).
And finally, the reason you came here – raw eggs.
Raw eggs help to improve the passage of ingested hair/fur in two key ways.
Raw egg yolks are a rich source of lecithin. Lecithin acts as an emulsifier, meaning it helps to break apart fat particles that might otherwise clump/get stuck to hair in the GI tract. Thus, dietary lecithin helps to prevent hairball (trichobezoar) formation, and may even help to reduce the size of any formed/forming hairballs. This “secret: has been utilized by kibble companies (most notably Purina) by using soy lecithin in their hairball control kibble formulas. Offering raw egg provides your ferret a safe, natural, Non-plant-based form of dietary lecithin to reduce hairball (trichobezoar) formation.
Raw egg yolks are also an excellent source of choline, which may have help to improve gut motility, thus speeding the passage of any ingested hair/fur. Choline is a precursor for acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that improves gastrointestinal motility. Some sources thus theorize that dietary choline may help to maintain/improve gut motility. However, published research demonstrating this is difficult to find.
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