Message Number: SG259 | New FHL Archives Search
From: "Church, Robert Ray (UMC-Student)"
Date: 2002-07-12 19:25:32 UTC
Subject: Bob C: Vitamin A and CD-8
To: <>
Cc: "Church, Robert Ray (UMC-Student)" <>
Message-ID: <>

8. What are some good sources of Vitamin A?

You mean sources other than liquid vitamins or paste supplements, used as d=
irected, supervised by your veterinarian? Ferrets are primary, obligate ca=
rnivores, so the best =91natural=92 sources would be from the fats within t=
he carcasses of small prey animals. Vitamin A is stored in the liver, foun=
d in large amounts within the bone marrow (30-50% fat), and found in lesser=
amounts in adipose tissue (50-80% fat) and the brain (40-50% fat). Whole =
roasting chickens, including skin and giblets, would be a great source and =
what I use. I just boil a whole chicken and feed it, skin, muscle, bones, =
and broth, to my ferrets. Once it is cooked, it can be smashed with a potat=
o masher into an easily handled form. Cooking chicken prior to feeding wou=
ld not be a problem in this instance because Vitamin A is heat resistant an=
d normal cooking times and temperatures do not significantly denature the m=

The big chunks of fat you cut off your meats would contain good amounts of =
Vitamin A, although not as much as liver. Chicken livers would be a fair s=
ource, but because they are generally obtained from young chickens, the sto=
red amounts of retinol would vary. A better source would be beef liver, wh=
ich comes from comparatively older animals, but some ferret owners report t=
heir ferrets walk away from it. One trick I=92ve found is that ferrets who=
wouldn=92t touch a chunk of beef liver, will happily lick it from a finger=
after it has been blended to the consistency of a liquid.

Fish are loaded with Vitamin A, cod liver oil being an outstanding, if repu=
gnant, source. My sick ferrets will happily lick a drop of cod liver oil o=
ff my finger, which I then have to steam clean to get rid of the odor (the =
finger, not the ferret). Oily fish are rich in Vitamin A, and your ferrets=
will eat them if you feed it at a young enough age. However, some fish (b=
ullheads, carp, herring, ocean smelt) contain an enzyme (thiaminase) that c=
an destroy thiamine, and others (cod) have compounds (TMAO) that interfere =
with iron metabolism, so you have to be careful. If you have any doubts, c=
ook the fish, which denatures the interfering compounds, but generally leav=
es most of the Vitamin A intact.

Outside of some of the fish oils, one of the better sources of Vitamin A is=
butterfat, found in the heavy cream skimmed from the top of whole milk. S=
ome ferret owners adopting malnourished ferrets have heard me recommend tha=
t they find a source of raw, homemade butter, and LIGHTLY drizzle or spray =
some on kibble to naturally boost vitamin and fat intake. I will also mix =
a bit of raw butter into chicken baby food. Most ferrets, even those with =
severe olfactory imprinting, will readily lick melted butter, and you can e=
scape most of the side effects of =93lactose intolerance=94 this way (see b=
elow for an explanation of the quotation marks).

Carrots, yellow, and leafy green vegetables are full of a Vitamin A precurs=
ors called carotenes. They readily convert various carotenes to retinol, r=
etinal, and other compounds to various degrees, but without published dose =
information, I think other sources of Vitamin A would be preferable. Raw c=
arrots are far more dangerous for ferrets than most people understand; cons=
idering the ability of ferrets to digest vegetable cellulose, you might as =
well feed them rubber erasers. Cooked carrots may not cause as many blocka=
ges as raw ones, but they are still shot out the back end four hours later,=
little digested. A few licks of baby carrot food would probably not cause=
problems and might satisfy a particular ferret=92s compulsion for carrots.=
None-the-less, you are probably just feeding them fart food.

Heavy cream is not as good a source as butterfat, but it still has a signif=
icant amount of Vitamin A. Many people report ferrets eating heavy cream d=
evelop symptoms of lactose intolerance, as evidenced by diarrhea, but I hav=
e always doubted that diagnosis. The reason lactose intolerance will cause=
diarrhea is because undigested lactose accumulates in the bowel, exerting =
an osmotic effect. Water is then drawn into the gut, which stimulates peri=
stalsis and results in diarrhea. There are two reasons I doubt the accurac=
y of most reports of lactose intolerance. First, the condition requires th=
e accumulation of lactose in the bowel. Ferrets have very rapid bowel tran=
sit times (about 4 hours), which minimizes lactose accumulation. Second, h=
eavy cream is NOT milk, even though it may have originated there, and only =
has minimal lactose (the composition of heavy cream is standardized at roug=
hly 58% water, 37% fat, 2.75% carbohydrate, 2.25% protein). I suspect--at =
least in some cases--diarrhea is caused by overfeeding fat to the ferret. =
Fats require emulsification in bile to be digested. If the ferret eats so =
much fat that they empty their gall bladder, additional, undigested fat wou=
ld also cause an osmotic effect and diarrhea, mimicking lactose intolerance=
. Chug down a tall glass of olive oil and you will see what I mean. Feedin=
g smaller amounts of heavy cream a few times during the day should solve th=
e problem. Smaller, frequent feedings are better for the ferret, anyway.

None of these suggestions address the problem of ferrets that are so olfact=
ory imprinted on their food that they refuse to eat anything besides the dr=
y, extruded food they have been eating all their lives. If you are worried=
about their Vitamin A levels, then you may have to supplement those ferret=
s using liquid vitamins, nutritional pastes (nutrical), by spraying a bit o=
f raw butter on the food, or by resorting to giving a bit of heavy cream ev=
ery couple of days.