Category Archives: Exotics

Best Food for Ferrets

Dr. Susan Brown DVM explains what type of food is best for ferrets and why.

“I have been an exotic animal veterinarian for the past 25 years and I have seen the damage that has been done in a number of species when we moved away from a raw, more natural diet, to processed diets. Two glaring examples are pet rabbits and pet birds. We have seen over the years that feeding a diet that is completely processed has caused innumerable ailments and premature death in both of these groups. When we returned them to foods that are more in tune with their physiology we saw a tremendous reduction in the incidence of specific diseases and we conversely have not seen any new diseases as a result of this change. There are a growing number of animal health professionals as well as pet owners that believe that processed dog and cat diets create disease as well. Changing these pets over to a balanced raw diet has shown incredible benefits.” ~ Dr. Susan Brown DVM.

To maintain optimum health, ferrets require a diet which most closely resembles that which they would get in the wild. They also require some sunlight.

Susan A. Brown, DVM writes: “Ferrets are strict carnivores, meaning they are designed to eat whole prey items, which includes all parts of the killed animal. The only non-meat items they might encounter in their diet would be in the stomach and intestinal tract of their prey, where it is partially digested. This might include small amounts of grains, fruits and vegetables.

Ferrets have a very short gastrointestinal (GI) tract and the flora (the organisms living in the GI tract) are very simple, unlike the flora of animals that eat more vegetation. It takes about 3 to 4 hours for food to go from one end to the other and thus they absorb food rather inefficiently. Ferrets tend to eat several smaller meals and carry any excess to their dens to eat later. Did you ever have a ferret that took food and tucked it away in the corner of the cage, or a piece of furniture? ”

Ferret babies eating rawmeat“A nutritious and balanced diet is the foundation of good health for all creatures including ferrets. Ferrets have been kept in captivity since 300 BC, but it is only in the last 40 years that we have changed their diet from raw foods to commercially processed foods. We have made the change primarily because we, the public, have demanded a uniformly easy to feed and hopefully nutritious food that allows us to successfully keep ferrets in our homes. I think everyone would agree that it is easier to pour little bits of food out of a bag than to go out and find whole prey items to feed. But the question is are we really providing a healthy ferret diet using processed foods?

Is it really possible to take raw food, grind it up, heat it to high temperatures, add ingredients that are not part of the normal diet, add back nutrients altered or destroyed during processing, press it into amusing shapes and have this be the equivalent of the natural diet”? I liken it to the Wonder Bread that I ate as a child. It was highly processed and stripped of many nutrients, then the nutrients were put back in chemically and it was put in an eye-catching package announcing its nutritional value. And didn’t we love that package with the little colorful balloons telling us we were buying a healthy product? And don’t we love the ferret food packages with cute pictures of ferrets everywhere? The food must be good if it has a ferret picture on it…shouldn’t that be the case?”

I have fed my own four dogs ranging in size from 200 pounds to 5 pounds an all raw diet for the past two years and I will never go back to processed. In my own case there were several problems that were cleared up in the “pack” with diet change alone including anal gland disease, skin and allergy problems, ear problems, obesity and gastrointestinal disease. I personally know a number of people who have made the same switch with both dogs and cats and the results are truly remarkable. Most animals experience a dramatic increase in energy level and a reduction in excess body weight. Some pets have been able to stop or reduce medication intake. Of course diet is not a miracle cure for all diseases, but it makes sense that if the body is nourished properly it can cope with disease and utilize needed medications more effectively.

So what should a ferret be eating? Let’s look at ferret gastrointestinal (GI) physiology to find out. Ferrets are strict carnivores, meaning they are designed to eat whole prey items, which includes all parts of the killed animal. The only nonmeat items they might encounter in their diet would be in the stomach and intestinal tract of their prey, where it is partially digested. This might include small amounts of grains, fruits and vegetables. Ferrets have a very short GI tract and the flora (the organisms living in the GI tract) are very simple, unlike animals that eat more vegetation. It takes about 3 to 4 hours for food to go from one end to the other and thus they absorb food rather inefficiently. Ferrets tend to eat several smaller meals and carry any excess to their dens to eat later. Did you ever have a ferret that took food and tucked it away in the corner of the cage, or a chair?

Because of the short GI tract and the poor absorption of nutrients, ferrets require a diet that is highly concentrated with FAT as the main source of calories (energy) and highly digestible MEAT-BASED PROTEIN. This would match the basic composition of a prey animal not excluding the essential vitamins and minerals it also contains. Ferrets should never be fed carbohydrates (such as vegetable, fruit or grains) as the main source of energy in the diet. Ferrets cannot digest fiber, as is found in some vegetable and fruit sources. If there is a significant amount of fiber in the diet it serves to lower the nutritional value of the food.

As mentioned, ferrets need a highly digestible meat-based protein in the diet. Vegetable protein is poorly utilized. In the presence of excess vegetable protein the ferret can suffer from such diseases as bladder stones, poor coat and skin quality, eosinophilic gastroenteritis (wasting, diarrhea, ulcerations of the skin and ear tips and swollen feet) poor growth of kits and decreased reproduction. Dog food and vegetarian-type pet foods are completely inappropriate for use in ferrets because of the high level of vegetable protein and fiber. The bottom line is that ferrets use fat for energy not carbohydrates and they need a highly digestible meat-based protein not vegetable protein.”

“On an almost total diet of raw whole carcass meat being fed only in the morning and living under natural light outside away from all the pollutants and chemicals found in a house the health of my ferrets is perfect.”

In December 1995, the British Journal of Small Animal Practice published a paper contending that processed pet food (kibble and canned food) suppresses the immune system and leads to liver, kidney, heart and other diseases. Dr. Kollath, of the Karolinska Hospital in Stockholm, headed a study done on animals. When young animals were fed cooked and processed foods they initially appeared to be healthy. However, as the animals reached adulthood, they began to age more quickly than normal and also developed chronic degenerative disease symptoms. A control group of animals raised on raw foods aged less quickly and were free of degenerative disease. For a return to health, pets require a diet which strengthens the immune system and most closely resembles that which they would get in the wild. It’s really easy to do. Learn more about raw food for carnivores

The Truth About Micro (Tea Cup) Pigs

This Little Piggy…May Not Be so Little After All.

The Truth About Micro (Tea Cup) Pigs.


Those cute little micro pot-bellied pigs (tea cup pigs) that you see may grow up to not be so little after all. There have been recent concerns and complaints from pig owners that they have purchased what they thought was a miniature pot-belly pig only to find out in a few months that it grew to be a full-sized pig. Imagine trying to fit that into your house when you only planned to make accommodations for a micro pig about the size of a Jack Russell Terrier.

Zoe Davies from the National Pig Association had this to say about this recent dilemma: “Some individuals have been selling commercial weaners or rare breed mixes as micros. There are also throwbacks in any breeding program. Meaning, a micro pig’s great grandparents may have been average-sized pigs, and so there’s no guarantee that a supposed micro pig won’t grow to normal size.”

Full-sized pigs can be quite destructive and difficult to handle. While pigs are very smart, and can be litter box trained and some say trained easier than a dog or cat, this very keenness of the pig also can make them quite a challenging handful. Now imagine that little handful becoming a 200-800 pound porker.

Also commonly called “tea cup pigs” when they first became popular because people saw photos advertising that these pigs could actually fit in a tea cup, these little porkers can break down the entire dining room table if they become regular farm sized pigs.

Pigs are very social, highly intelligent, and for these very reasons, make  good, trainable household pets just as a dog or cat – with a few distinct differences. Over the years, various breeders have tried to create pigs that retain all of the adorable qualities of a piglet without reaching the potential half ton mass of a full grown adult hog. Among the most popular “miniature” is the Vietnamese pot-bellied pig, a delightfully spry porcine that tops the scales at a manageable 300 pounds. When legitimate breeders talk about miniature pigs, they’re talking about this 300-lb variety. Pot-bellied pigs are surprisingly diverse, and, although extremely rare, adults have been reported as small as 20 pounds (most pig breeders would say an adult pig that size is extremely malnourished). This huge size range prompted many breeders to attempt to create even smaller pig breeds, selecting from only the smallest stock. Enter the teacup pig.
A teacup pig (or a micro pig, nano pig, or any of a half dozen variations of “small”) is supposedly a tiny pig breed. Some breeders claim that their pigs only reach up to 30 pounds in weight. Combined with the intelligence and sociability that pigs possess, it would seem that teacup pigs should make a perfect pet. There is only one problem: there’s no such thing as a teacup pig as a breed.
To be clear, there are pigs that are unusually small and it is possible to selectively breed smaller and smaller pigs. There can be adult pigs that are truly tiny. Even so there is no currently recognized breed of teacup pigs. The “teacup” classification refers to size, not to a particular breed. Because there is no established “pure” teacup breed, the size of the parent is not a good predictor of the size of the offspring. That size rage of 20 to 300 pounds is a pretty unpredictable range.

There is now quite a lot of discussion, confusion and concern putting the micro or pot-belly pig industry in an uproar. There are many people questioning the very proof of miniature pigs stating that they do not really exist. We tried to get to the bottom of this confusion and went right to the most authoritative sources we could find on the matter and asked: ” Is there such a thing as a miniature pot-bellied pig?” The answer below is directly from the North American Potbellied Pig Association and offers the best explanation as to the confusion regarding this increasingly popular exotic pet.

micro pigs in a hat

MICRO, MICRO-MINI, TEACUP, POCKET PIG, DESIGNER, APARTMENT PIG… These are all marketing terms people use to describe pigs. And that is ALL they are. There are several breeds of pigs which will be discussed in greater detail, but micro mini teacup pigs do NOT exist. All pigs grow, all pigs grow at different rates, so some will grow faster than others. Scientists haven’t been able to produce pigs smaller than 60lbs in extremely restricted conditions, a breeder won’t be able to do any better than that with any consistency. There are smaller pigs out there and we realize that, however, they are the exception, not the rule. (Not to mention, their overall health and well-being is a matter of debate amongst the pig community) Please don’t be fooled by a fancy name, most pigs you see in homes are derived from a potbellied pig. Their lineage has evolved into other claimed breeds, but even that doesn’t make it a real breed. A registry doesn’t make a breed. Someone from the scientific community must do independent research and establish a breeding stock to qualify a new breed and until that is done, an actual breed will NOT be recognized by NAPPA as anything other than a cross-breed. Much like the pigs we see today, most are a crossbreed of pigs,  because most people do not have the ancestry of their specific pig to link them to the original potbellies imported to the US. And that’s okay. We just wanted to make it a point to discuss smaller pigs and how people who have those type of pigs glamorize them and others run out to get a pig only to be disappointed that their pig reaches weights in excess of 100lbs. We do not want to see anymore pigs needing to be re-homed because someone told them the pig would be 20lbs fully grown. This is NOT going to happen 98% of the time.

But how about those who do have smaller pigs? There is no one that can produce healthy pigs under 60lbs with consistency that we are aware of. There are piglets or baby pigs that others may be pass off as older pigs. That is despicable practices and blatant lies. There may be smaller pigs, but are they healthy? We do not know. Because it is so uncommon, we have our doubts, but since we are not privy to their medical history or their overall well-being/health, we can only hope they are. Having a pig that stays on the smaller side doesn’t make your pig better. These smaller pigs typically have health issues and do not live to be 15-20 years old like healthy pigs do. Obesity is the other side of the equation and can produce an equally unhealthy pig. There is a HUGE grey area in between though. Starving a pig will NOT make it the size of a chihuahua, and if you starve enough to stunt the growth, you will not be graced with your pigs presence for the normal lifespan of a pig. That we DO know. If you overfeed and do not balance activity with appropriate feed portions, your pig will also lead a miserably obese and unhealthy life with the arthritis that is sure to plaque your pig with achy joints and even poorer eyesight. Don’t do either of these things to your pig. Have a happy, healthy pig. We can help you do that here at NAPPA.
These are just a few of the examples of “MINI” pigs circulating through the internet. Dedicate some time to really research what having a pig is like if you are considering adding a pig to your family. Because that is what they are…family. If you can’t treat them as such, do not get a pig. ~ NORTH AMERICAN POTBELLIED PIG ASSOCIATION.

Although commercial pigs are known for their fast growth and good feed conversion ratio, they don’t reach full adult size until six years. Most production pigs are slaughtered long before then (the best size for a barbecue pig is about 100-lbs), so people rarely see just how big a pig can get. Pot-bellied pigs can become sexually mature after 3 months. At this point, they are relatively small. A new pig enthusiast, attracted to pet pigs from images of teacup pigs frolicking around a living room, could be fooled if they thought the size of the parents was a decent predictor of the size of their new pet. The most unscrupulous breeders mislead their customers further by advising them to underfeed their pigs, stunting their growth and leaving them permanently malnourished.

full grown micro pigThese pets can and do get big. Take a look at the growth of Paris Hilton’s teacup pig, Princess Pigelette in less than a year. What started as probably a few week old piglet for her is still years away from being fully grown, and is clearly a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig. I’d hate to see the teacup that little hog fits in.

So what happens to a teacup pig once it reaches full size? Most owners are expecting a pet roughly equivalent to a small dog, not a highly-intelligent, very social, 300 pound pig. The cost of care is often prohibitive, finding vets can be challenging, and many properties are not zoned for livestock, which still includes specialty pig breeds. Responsible, misguided owners return them to the breeder, but many pet pigs end up abandoned or dumped at local animal shelters, spawning several teacup pig rescue programs to emerge in the last few years to deal with the abandoned teacup pig problem.

” As the director of a 100-acre pig preserve (sanctuary) we have a number of “miniature” pigs here who started life as a teacup pig pet. The vast majority of these so-called teacup pigs are now adults and range anywhere from 120 to well over 300 pounds. Compared to our fully mature farm pigs, who range from 600 to over 1200 pounds, they are truly “miniature: pigs. But potential buyers should not confuse the term “miniature pig” with a small pig. The term “miniature” is relative and is normally used to contrast a smaller breed of pig with a typical commercial pig.
Pig sanctuaries across the US are being inundated with these “teacup pigs” as they quickly outgrow the weight advertised by the unscrupulous breeders. We also are seeing a huge increase in the number and types of birth defects and genetic abnormalities in adult miniature pigs as breeders turn to in-breeding these pigs in an attempt to breed the perfect teacup or micro pig. Sadly, many of these inbred tiny pigs die well before reaching maturity…either from chronic malnutrition from trying to keep them “tiny” to inherited birth defects from inbreeding.” ~The Pig Preserve.

Cataracts and overall poor health in exotic birds.

budgie-birdsThere are several causes either vitamins or metal poisoning. The bird may suffer from a vitamin B deficiency which relates to mostly pantothenic acid, inositol or choline barbitrate. If the skin is a problem that resulted in lost of feathers it might be niaicinamide. Usually bird seeds are quite nutritious, but exception does occur if the seed has been heated to a high temperature or over-processed such that all vitamins are destroyed.

It is noted that the drinking container should be plastic and non metallic. The birds find metals quite toxic to their system. Certain birds might be sensitive to a vitamin deficiency differently so this may explain why one is okay and another is not. The other possibility is that one of the birds have been chewing on the cage and it is high in toxic metals. So the best way to deal with it is to let the bird stay in a cage free from metals and certain lead based or metal based paints.

The Cause of Ferret Tumor Syndrome Finally Discovered

New Scientific Evidence Finally Determines the Cause of Ferret Tumor Syndrome.


I worked with Colorado State University some 14-15 years ago on one of the first studies regarding Ferret Tumor Syndrome (also now known as Endocrine Disorder, Adrenal Disease, Insulinoma) and conducted 12 years of studies and analysis with my own ferret rescue all in an effort to try to find the cause of the 90% tumor rate in domestic ferrets. Finally, about 5-6 years ago, enough information was gathered, and enough study and analysis conducted, for researchers to finally determine the cause of the high incidence of adrenal tumors and insulinomas in pet ferrets. The sad but conclusive evidence points to the fact that ferrets should have never been domesticated in the first place.

I had a ferret rescue for over 12 years because I fell in love with these wonderful furry faces from the first time I met one, and after one of my first three ferrets developed tumors at only 3 1/2 years old, I was determined to find out why so something could be done about it.

Ferrets are highly intelligent (some say every bit as intelligent as dogs and I would agree), can be trained like a dog or cat and are just adorable to have around; so of course, people would want them as pets. However, the love affair of having ferrets as pets has been dropping off dramatically over the years as word got around about how sickly they are and the anguish suffered by their owners when these lovable little creatures would get sick and die at only half their life expectancy. Now that word is getting out that the reason for it all is something that cannot be avoided as long as they are being bred and sold as pets and therefore have to be spayed or neutered, the demand for pet ferrets has drastically reduced. Most pet stores have stopped carrying ferrets altogether so finding one for a pet is getting very difficult; and in some areas, is now impossible.

Ferrets have a very delicate and intricate reproductive system, and studies have determined that having them spayed and neutered so they can be sold on the pet market is the cause of all their tumors and hormone-related health complications. This is very sad news for ferret lovers, as this means that ferrets cannot be kept as pets. Keeping them intact and not having them spayed or neutered is not a viable answer for most owners either because a ferret’s reproductive system is such that if they are not bred, the females can develop aplastic anemia caused by too much circulating estrogen and die.

There are very few ferret breeders anymore, and the big commercial ferret mills like Marshall Farms, spay and neuter all of their ferrets for resale before they are 6 weeks old so they can get them into the pet stores while they are still cute and cuddly and easier to sell. If Marshall Farms cared about ferrets at all, they would stop the practice of breeding ferrets and selling them for pets, because as recent studies now indicate, these ferrets will only get sick and die before they reach 3-4 years of age, which is only half of their normal life expectancy. It’s not only cruel and unethical to keep breeding and selling animals you know will only get sick and die before they are middle-aged, but it’s also costly and heartbreaking for the ferret owners who fall in love with these wonderful, happy companions. Marshall Farms should be banned from continuing to breed ferrets on the grounds of animal and pet owner cruelty; after all, how can you continue to knowingly sell sick animals to caring people in good conscience or any conscience at all? Yet Marshall Farms, the largest ferret breeder in the U.S, still continues to pump out sickly animals for unsuspecting animal lovers to purchase. If that wasn’t bad enough, Marshall Farms breeds ferrets and dogs specifically to be tested on and suffer horrible atrocities at the hands of lab experiments for the cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies.

Marshall has been criticized by ferret lovers and animal rights groups over the years for having sick ferrets due to inbreeding, genetic issues, and the practice of spaying and neutering them at too early an age. Other criticisms are directed at the health care and living conditions of Marshall Farms’ pet mills. Some groups have accused large-scale breeders like Marshall of separating ferret kits from their mothers and sending them to pet stores too young; before they are fully weaned. Over the years, ferret purchasers have been warned to look for such signs in ferret kits when purchasing them from pet stores as diarrhea, lethargy, drainage or mucus coming from the eyes or nose, green colored feces, as common signs of a sick kit and to avoid purchasing animals with these symptoms. I have gone to pet stores in the past and seen ferret kits with these symptoms myself, so I know sick animals are in the pet stores and being purchased by people who don’t know any better.

The inhumane pet ferret industry starts with pet mills like Marshall Farms, but it doesn’t end there. Pet stores sell back to Marshall Farms older kits which are not sold after a certain amount of time and they are then euthanized. Due to this practice, as well as Marshall Farms’ expansion into the sale of ferret supplies, accessories, and merchandise, many ferret advocates protest their unethical conflict of interest. In essence, Marshall Farms breeds ferrets and then later kills the ones that don’t sell; animals are just a commodity to them, not a living, breathing creature that feels pain and suffering.

My big question to Marshall Farms and any other ferret mill is this: How can you knowingly sell people sick ferrets that have been proven in 90% of all cases to develop tumors and die well before their time, and still say you care about ferrets? The more I delved into the domestic ferret industry, the more it sickened me to my very core and I vowed to stop supporting the breeding of sick animals and the exploitation of unsuspecting future pet owners by purchasing or supporting the commercial pet industry in any way, shape, or form. Take it from someone who has witnessed the suffering of ferrets over many years: it may be difficult to give up on your hope of having a ferret as a pet because they are so darn cute, but it’s 10 times more difficult to fall in love with them and then watch them suffer the horrors inflicted on them by the commercial pet industry. If you love ferrets, don’t buy one! You are only supporting Marshall Farm’s and other pet mills, breeding of diseased and sick animals whose life expectancy is cut short by domesticating them, and subsidizing the suffering of millions of animals for no good reason except that you want one. Not to mention, you will only get your heart broken when your new fuzzy little friend gets sick and costs you thousands of dollars in vet bills only to die prematurely anyway because there is no cure or surgery to stop endocrine disorders in ferrets. Yes, this means the veterinary profession will also be taking advantage of you and your love for your pet when they start telling you they can surgically remove the tumors and your ferret will be fine. This is not true. In the majority of cases, surgery or medications may prolong your ferret’s life briefly, but the tumors will just recur or develop somewhere else in a matter of months.