Salmon oil is a highly recommended oil for ferrets. I’ve seen many ferret owners and others in ferret related groups recommend salmon oil over more controversial plant based oils such as coconut oil. Salmon oil, other than the fact it is great for ferrets in terms of being an animal protein based oil, is filled with many nutrients that ferrets can actually make use of! Like for example, the healthy omega essential fatty acids which can only be sourced from diet as the ferret body cannot create them naturally. The omega essential fatty acids help lower inflammation, play a role in brain function, and may help prevent diseases like heart disease and macular degeneration. The oil itself makes a perfect distraction tool for nail clipping, ear cleaning and even vet visits.
Ferrets being obligate carnivores, need animal proteins in order to be able to effeciently metabolize the nutrients. When they are given a product sourced from animal protein, the nutrients are readily available and easily used by their bodies without having to be first broken down or converted before use. This is one reason why salmon oil is ideal when compared to plant based oils such as coconut oil. Salmon oil is a safer alternative to cod liver oil, which contains large amounts of Vitamin A.
What Makes Salmon Oil Great?
Salmon contains short protein molecules called peptides that have been shown to be bioactive and may have important anti-inflammatory properties. Salmon in general is an excellent source of vitamin B12, vitamin D, selenium and a good source of niacin, omega-3 fatty acids, protein, phosphorus and vitamin B6. It is also a good source of choline, pantothenic acid, biotin and potassium. So if you love the oil, why not go for the whole fish! Salmon oil is great for the skin and coat, immune system, cognition, fertility, vision, other nerve-based functions and has also been shown to benifit cardiovascular health by promoting healthy blood vessel function.
Omega-3 fatty acids are a form of polyunsaturated fats, one of four basic types of fats that our ferrets will derive from food. Omega-3 fatty acids are found primarily in cold-water fish such as the salmon whereas the omega-6 fatty acids are found in grains, most plant-based oils, poultry and eggs. There are different types of omega-3 fatty acids: Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexanoic acid (DHA) are key Omega-3 fatty acids which are both found primarily in oily, cold-water fish such as salmon, pollock, tuna and mackerel. EPA or DHA may also be found in small amounts in fresh seaweed but other than that EPA or DHA is rarely found in plant based foods.
There is a third Omega-3, called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) which is found primarily in dark green leafy vegetables, flaxseed oil, and certain vegetable oils. ALA is not readily accessible to animals and would take several enzymatic steps in their metabolism to convert it into a useful configuration like EPA. Cats apparently totally lack one of the metabolic enzymes to utilize ALA. Whether or not this is the same for ferrets, I’m not too sure but we assume they’d be similar in a way. EPA acts as an anti-inflammatory and has shown to be quite useful when It comes to any condition that causes inflammation of the heart, kidneys, skin, and joints. It may ease inflammation due to allergies, and reduce itchy / dry skin, hence why it is often recommended for ferrets with skin issues. (Please note that skin issues are highly likely to be related to nutrition so in order to fix the issue, you need to look at the entire diet if it is from diet.) DHA, the other omega-3 fatty acid in fish oil, is important in brain and eye development in younger animals, so providing pregnant or nursing ferrets with salmon oil can benefit the kits once they’re born.
Farmed or Wild?!
A majority of the salmon oils on the market at the moment seem to be wild. Wild is in fact the most preferred option to choose. According to Grizzly Pet Products, The diet of farmed salmon includes up to 15% vegetable oil, which significantly lowers the Omega-3 content in the resulting salmon oil. For this reason, it takes up to 40% more farmed salmon oil (resulting in 40% more calories) to achieve the same results as wild salmon oil. Keep in mind also that a majority of Atlantic salmon is always farmed as the the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization (NASCO) prohibits commercial wild salmon fishing throughout the North Atlantic ocean.
Is Salmon Oil Safe?
While salmon oil is fairly safe for your ferret, you should avoid using it excessively as there can be some side effects. The recommended amount is about 1/4 tp 1/2 tsp a week, preferably broken up over the week. Excessive treats and oils may throw a balanced diet off, so only use them sparingly. Too much salmon oil may also cause some gastrointestinal discomfort and upset such as diarrhea. Consuming too many omega-3 fatty acids may cause thinning of the blood and if the ferret was taking blood thinning medication this may increase the risk for bleeding out. Salmon oil might also contain environmental toxins (eg. mercury) so when in doubt, message the manufacturer to ensure they regularly test for heavy metals and PCBs. Wild caught Alaskan salmon is considered a low-risk in terms of mercury and environmental toxins.
Salmon oil is an amazing addition to a balanced diet. When used in moderation and sourced from reputable brands that regularly test their products for environmental toxins, it is considered fairly safe and has been proven to be beneficial for ferret overall health. Not only is it good for the skin and coat, but it is also fantastic for pregnant, nursing and rapidly growing ferrets, as well as heart health, eye health and joint health. Salmon oil is preferred over plant based oils when it comes to distracting the ferret for clipping nails or cleaning ears. It may also prove to be super helpful during vet visits if your ferret is used to the fishy taste. If you enjoy the benefits of the oil, do try feeding some raw wild caught salmon once a week to fortnight.