What do ferrets eat?
Feeding your ferret is not the same as feeding a cat or dog. You don’t have many ‘ready to eat’ options available, but you also need to get the dietary requirements right to have a healthy and happy companion.
Ferrets are true carnivores and their digestive system is designed to eat (small) whole animals. Of course it’s not practical to feed while live prey to your pet, but you can feed him food that is nutritious and safe for his digestive system.
So the question is … what do ferrets eat?
Ferrets sadly cannot digest plant fiber and you need to feed them a diet rich in animal protein and fat with very little carbohydrates. If you talk about the digestive system, ferrets have a considerably short digestive tract and it takes only 3 to 4 hours for their food to exit the body after feeding. This means the food you feed your pet should be easily digestible and free of plant carbohydrates.
What can’t my ferrets eat?
Cooked bones should be avoided because cooking would change the chemical structure of food as well as its digestibility. In addition, foods that contain complex carbohydrates such as vegetables, dairy and fruits should also be avoided because your pet’s digestive system cannot assimilate them.
How often should I feed my ferret?
Ideally ferrets need 2 to 4 small meals each day. However this may vary depending on the age of your pet. For example, younger ferrets are more active and require frequent feeding. You may have to feed them 5 to 6 times a day.
Interestingly older ferrets love free access to food and they might even stash excess food in small spaces under your furniture or couch. If you don’t want to find a smelly surprise the next time you clean your furniture, remove any leftovers once your ferret stops eating.
Of course, it is perfectly OK to provide a little extra food to your ferret in a controlled environment (for example the cage) that is easier for you to monitor and clean. You can even place a small plastic box in the cage and check how your pet uses these treats.
What happens if I feed the wrong food?
Well feeding a diet rich in complex carbohydrates or foods that are processed can cause Insulinomas in ferrets. The condition basically is a form of cancer and starts with over production of insulin by the pancreas.
Ferrets that have trouble maintaining insulin levels are more likely to suffer from sudden blood glucose crashes, seizures and other serious medical conditions. To promote good dental health, you should avoid giving large (hard) biscuits and soft, gummy and sugary canned food to your pet.
What about whole prey or raw meat diets?
Most owners are reluctant to feed whole carcasses to ferrets and this is one reason why they prefer formulated diet. You can feed raw meat and raw eggs to your pet and ferrets love eating the entire animal including stomach contents and bones.
To prevent nutritional deficiencies, you can easily supplement raw meat diet with premium kitten food. As a general rule, the food you feed your ferret should be 10-15% meaty bones, 5% liver, brain and kidneys, 25% heart and the remaining can be muscle meat.
If you decide to go for raw meat diet, you can provide variety of meat to your ferret including poultry, lamb, cattle and more.
How much should I feed my ferret?
A ferret on a raw diet will eat 10% of its body weight every day. What’s important to note here is that some animals eat less during summers and become fat in winter. If this is the first time you’re keeping a ferret, weigh your pet routinely and if they start getting fat, you will have to reduce the fat content of the diet. Sometimes you might even have to restrict the food.
Watch out for the Hairballs!
Like cats, ferrets can also get hairballs and you can make use of the special treats designed by pet food manufacturers to prevent the problem from developing. There are a number of packaged diets that can take care of the nutritional needs of your ferret.
The diet you choose should ideally contain 32-40% animal protein and 20% fat on caloric basis. Also, steer away from packaged food that uses soy or corn syrup to increase the protein content and bind the food.
If you cannot provide raw diet or specialized ferret food, the last best thing for your ferret is high quality kitten food. Remember, you need to feed premium kitten food, and not adult cat food.
Variety is the Key
Ferret treats can include raw and cooked eggs as well as small chicken pieces. Liver softened in hot water also makes an excellent treat. Young ferrets tend to love certain foods and it’s important that you start a balanced diet early and make your pet used to a variety of flavor.
Surprisingly, ferrets try to starve themselves if they don’t like the food. Of course, you just can’t let them get away with this behavior so make sure your pet is used to dry kitten food, different types of meat, and meaty bones early on to remain healthy.