Message Number: YG3115 | New FHL Archives Search
From: RRC
Date: 2001-05-01 20:57:00 UTC
Subject: Re: Pig ears

Three people sent this to me to ask to comment on the post. Since I am
in extreme need of a brain break, here goes:

> I am wondering if I can give my ferret pigs ear to munch on? A
> friend gives it to her ferret but is there anything in it that can
> harm them? Can it help clean their teeth?

The pig ears I've seen locally are dehydrated pig ear cartilage. Some
seem to be lightly sprayed with an oil to increase palatability. They
are generally smoked to add in preservation, but the primary mode of
preservation is dehydration.

Cartilage is a good food, not complete by any means, but no worse than
what ferrets get when chewing on cheweasels. They are probably close to
100% protein, by dry weight (This isn't really true; all types of
cartilage incorporates some simple sugars, but lets not quibble about
biochemistry). As a chewing object, they are not so bad IF your ferrets
decide chewing them is fun. All mine do is hide them; not one has ever
been chewed (when given AS SOLD).

There is a danger with the pig ear cartilage AS IT IS SOLD. It is quite
dry to prevent mold and bacterial growth, which makes it hard for the
ferret to digest because of their rapid bowel transit times. A pig's ear
is more or less the same as a human ear; it is pliable and springy just
like ours, except I think the cartilage is thinner in some areas when
compared to human. The ear bought at the store is stiff and hard because
it is the cartilage equivalent of jerky. It takes time to rehydrate the
cartilage and it is just not in the ferret's stomach long enough to
rehydrate enough to promote good digestion. Fresh cartilage is a
different matter and digests quite rapidly, without major problems.
Thus, there is a possibility that larger swallowed chunks could lodge in
the esophagus, stomach or intestines, possibly causing blockages or even
the remote chance of poking through something. I have actually been told
of a couple of cases of blockages by pieces of pig ear cartilage.

Because of this danger, a lot of people argue giving the pig ear
cartilage is bad for ferrets. It probably is somewhat, if served AS
SOLD. However, I give it all the time, but not the way I buy it. Two or
three times a month, I boil 3 or 4 pig ears in plain water until the
cartilage is soft and mushy. I boil it for maybe an hour, but if it
starts falling apart, it has been too long; you want it to flex about
how much your ear flexes. I use kitchen shears to cut the cartilage into
approximately 1-1 1/2 inch by 1/2 inch strips, then place them in a
saucepan and cover with chicken broth. I bring the broth to a boil, boil
it for about 10 minutes, then let it cool. I pour off the broth and lay
the cartilage on a tilted cookie sheet to drain (don't waste the broth;
ferrets love it!). The cartilage may stick, so I lightly dust the sheet
with a vegetable spray beforehand. They WILL stick to each other, so
keep them separated on the sheet (keep boiling until they dissolve and
dehydrate to a cream, and you make a pretty good wood glue. Add some of
those cow hooves you see next to the pig ears, and the resulting glue is
quite strong). After a couple of hours at room temperature, the
cartilage is fully rehydrated, fairly dry, and now smells like the
chicken my ferrets think is good to eat. I simply store it in a
disposable Gladware container in my refrigerator so the pieces don't dry
out. All my ferrets love them, and I've never found one hidden away or uneaten.

Giving your ferrets cartilage is not an adequate solution to preventing
dental problems, but it does help a little AND it will not harm or wear
down the teeth. I think ferrets are a lot like dogs in that they simply
like to chew things (so do humans, and so much so that buying penny gum
paid for construction of a baseball field and hired a club to play
there). Providing something inexpensive and not harmful to the body is a
good way to meet that need. While dehydrated pigs ear may not harm a dog
because of the size and speed of their gastrointestinal tract, there is
some danger to ferrets. However, if properly prepared, the cartilage can
be an excellent treat which could help satisfy a ferret's need for
chewing (this is especially true in those ferrets which seem to LOVE
chewing rubber; I've "cured" three rubber chewers with daily cartilage
treats). In any case, they are a hell of a lot cheaper than shelling out
the bucks for a comparative volume of cheweasels.

Bob C