Ferrets are a domesticated animal that can be kept as pets. They have been bred for centuries to keep people company.
Ferrets love to play and interact with their humans, but they also need the right diet in order to stay healthy.
Many ferret owners want to treat their pets by feeding human food and goodies and one question that often arises is that of ferrets and chocolate and whether they can eat it.
Chocolate and chocolate based products should never be fed to ferrets. It presents a real danger to ferrets and just a small amount of chocolate can make a ferret seriously ill or, worse still, can be fatal. Never feed chocolate based items to ferrets.
Chocolate can kill a ferret
Chocolate contains theobromine and caffeine. Theobromine is also found in cocoa beans, tea leaves, or chocolate.
It is further broken down by the body to ethylamine and finally methylxanthines which are then eliminated through the urine.
Methylxanthines are responsible for the stimulant effects in humans and animals. It is a known fact that chocolate can be toxic for many types of pets.
With ferrets the danger of their being poisoned through ingestion of chocolate or chocolates is much greater because they metabolise methylxanthines at a slower rate than most animals leading to prolonged exposure and toxicity.
Theobromine poisoning in dogs is reported to lead to vomiting, diarrhea, and heart palpitations and in some cases can prove fatal also.
But, chocolate poisoning in a ferret causes much more severe effects; as the methylxanthines are metabolized slowly by ferrets it leads to cardiac failure within 24 hours of ingestion and can be fatal.
There is no specific antidote for theobromine poisoning.
Some of the symptoms that can be seen in a ferret which has consumed chocolate are restlessness, twitching, panting, seizures followed by coma and sometimes death within 24 hours if treatment is not started immediately.
How much chocolate will make a ferret ill?
Just how much chocolate a ferret can eat before becoming ill varies between different ferrets.
Young, old or sick ferrets are much more susceptible to chocolate poisoning than healthy adult ones.
The safest option is to keep all chocolate products well away from your ferrets.
Symptoms of chocolate poisoning in a ferret
As mentioned above, the symptoms associated with this type of poisoning can appear rapidly and progress rapidly also.
Theobromine is very toxic and causes a number of unpleasant effects in animals that are reported to include;
hyperactivity followed by jitteriness
increased activity in the central nervous system causing seizures and cardiac failure
excessive panting, vomiting, diarrhea
coma followed by death within 24 hours
When a ferret eats just a small amount of chocolate, it is not uncommon for them to experience vomiting or diarrhea.
But as methylxanthines become more concentrated in their bodies they can progress to panting and seizures. If you notice your pet experiencing any of these symptoms then see a vet immediately and tell them what has happened so that they can provide treatment as soon as possible.
Chocolate poisoning is an emergency situation and demands immediate attention from a professional pet care provider who will know how best to deal with this type of poisoning.
Feeding your ferret human food or chocolate – the facts
It is important that you think about what you are sharing with your pet before giving them any food, not just chocolate or anything that contains caffeine.
A few simple rules for feeding ferrets;
Sugar causes tooth decay so do not feed sugary snacks or drinks to your pet unless they have their teeth regularly cleaned by a veterinarian
Do not give your ferret any cooked bones as these can splinter when chewed or and lead to choking or internal injuries.
Do not feed them any pips or stones as these can cause blockages in the digestive tract and lead to costly medical intervention (or even death)
List all treats given to your ferret so that you and your veterinarian are aware of what has been eaten when symptoms appear – a good idea is to keep a log book, it’s like having an instant diary at hand!
It is important that you do not attempt to treat your ferret for chocolate poisoning yourself; make sure that you seek veterinary help immediately if you notice any of the early warning signs.
You should know somewhere that will be able to see your pet quickly and have the necessary experience in treating this type of poisoning.
What to do if you suspect your ferret has eaten chocolate
If you have access to an emergency veterinary clinic or know of one that is open 24/7, the best place for treatment is at this location.
A veterinarian should be contacted and they will tell you what to do next; it would be extremely unwise for a layperson to attempt any actions that could make matters worse.
It should be obvious that ferrets and chocolate do not go together and you must never feed chocolate to ferrets.
If your ferret does manage to eat chocolate then it is better to be safe than sorry as the effects can be extremely dangerous for your pet.
The best action you can take if they eat some chocolate is to see a veterinarian straight away so that treatment can be started in time.