What Do Ferrets Eat? Here’s What To Feed Them
If you’re a new and upcoming ferret owner, you’ve probably asked yourself the question: “what do ferrets eat”? Ferrets have a varied and colorful diet that includes many do’s and dont’s, and this article will break it down in detail.
Ferrets are true carnivores; they depend on eating meat to survive. So there’s a no-brainer: always include meat in your ferret’s everyday diet. That’s a handy little fact to know, and you can read 10 other interesting facts about ferrets here.
Another important thing to keep in mind is that ferrets have a short-lasting digestive system. It only takes about 3 hours for food to pass through their mouth and be excreted out, compared to 5 or 6 hours for a cat. As such, it’s important to feed your ferret several times throughout the day. We’ll get to the exact number of times to feed him/her in a bit.
The Ferret Diet
Feeding a ferret is not as simple as feeding other animals; ferrets need a special diet. As mentioned before, ferrets are carnivores and absolutely need meat. But why is that the case? Let’s get into the science to help you understand your ferret better.
Animal proteins and fats are staples in the ferret diet because the ferret has been domesticated for over 2,000 years, and throughout most of that time, it has been extremely skilled at hunting. Ferrets have a build and nature that make them well-equipped to track down other small animals such as rodents, moles, and rabbits. It’s no surprise that ferrets today have razor sharp teeth and they need animal meat in their diet.
Ferrets have evolved to be nourished by animal protein and fat, but there are also many things they absolutely need to avoid for the sake of their health. And this is where it gets tricky in feeding a ferret and why you have to be careful.
(On a sidenote, most domestic ferrets no longer recognize other small animals as prey, so they would not know to eat and devour a mouse or a bird. So it’s best to feed them cooked and packaged food, rather than the wild food they used to live on.)
As for what you should avoid feeding your ferret, complex carbohydrates are a big one. Ferrets are not able to digest fibres so it can cause significant digestive problems to them. That’s not to say you should eliminate fibres from their diet completely, as some of it is necessary for digestion, but please try to keep it to a minimum. Simple carbohydrates, such as sugar, are a little better for ferrets as they are a source of energy and are easily digestible. But the main source of energy for ferrets should come from fats.
For a maintaining a healthy nutrient balance in your ferret’s diet, follow the nutrient breakdown below. You can also read a more detailed explanation of a ferret’s macronutrient breakdown.
– Keep the protein to between 30% and 40% of their diet. At least a minimum of 30% protein is necessary. It’d acceptable to go slightly above 40%, but less acceptable to go below 30%.
– Keep the fats to at least 18%, with a healthy range being from 18% to 25%. Ferrets depend heavily on fats for energy, so it should be their main energy source over carbohydrates. Fats have a higher calorie density, so ferrets can thrive on them at a lower amount than protein.
– Keep the fibers at a maximum of 3%. Ferrets are unable to digest fibers so consuming them will cause health problems. A good rule of thumb is to not give them more than 3% fiber in their diet. If you don’t measure nutrients precisely, then consider not feeding them fibers at all, as it’s not a good scenario if they consume too much of it. Ferrets don’t absolutely need fiber to survive, as they can still get their nutrients from the rest of the foods you’ll read about in this article.
Foods to Eat
So what do ferrets eat? They should eat a high supply of protein and fat, with moderate simple carbohydrates, and very little fibres. Here is a list of the foods you should feed your ferret:
Pelleted food – This is dry and easily storable, which makes it ideal for feeding ferrets. Kibbles are a great example. You can buy them from some pet stores. They’re also available to buy online, for which I’ll leave a link at the end of this article.
Cat food – This is one exception where a ferret and another animal can eat an identical food. Cat food works great for ferrets, and is much easier to find.
Cooked meat – Chicken, beef, pork, turkey, etc. Lightly cook them and feed them to your ferret in a simple form.
Vitamin and mineral supplements – When wild ferrets eat other animals, they eat the meat, bones, and fur, which gives them wholesome nutrition not found in simple cooked pieces of meat. So it’s advised to regularly give them supplements along with the cooked meat to balance their nutrition.
Raw egg yolks – Eggs are a great food to add to a ferret’s diet because they’re high in protein, fat, and energy, and they contain no carbs. You can feed them egg yolks directly in a bowl or use it in a recipe that I’ll suggest in this article.
Foods to Avoid
And what do ferrets not eat? You should avoid feeling them sugar, complex carbohydrates, non-nutritious food, and junk food. Here is a list:
Grains – Ferrets are unable to digest fibrous food, so avoid these at all costs! Rice, oats, bread, etc. should be kept out of a ferret’s diet.
Fruits and vegetables – Ferrets also can’t digest plant-based food as they lack the organ that digests it, a cecum. So vegetables should be avoided, and most of a ferret’s non-protein and fat nutrition should come from supplements or pellets. Fruits contain both sugar and fiber, so they’re a no-no.
Junk foods – A lot of junk food is high in sugar and starch and can cause problems for ferrets, and some can even be downright toxic, like chocolate. So avoid chocolates, potato chips, fried snacks, ice-cream, soda, coffee, cakes, pizza, etc.
Dairy products – Ferrets are lactose intolerant.
Dog food – This is worth a mention, since when some pet owners hear that cat food is good for ferrets, they might be inclined to feed them any other animal’s food out of misinformation or laziness. But this should be avoided as ferrets have very different nutritional needs than most other animals, including dogs. Cat food is a rare exception to the rule.
Ferret Food Chart
Here is a food chart that summarizes what your ferret can and can’t eat. You may save this chart on your computer or print it out so you can look at it whenever. It gives an overview of what ferrets eat, what they don’t eat, how to feed them, and some important tips to keep in mind.
Now let’s get to the fun part. Here are 5 healthy and nutritious recipes that are perfect for feeding your ferret! You can change around a few things and experiment with these.
Cooked chunks of meat
A very simple recipe that should consist of the majority of your ferret’s meals. Though beef is pictured here, I like to use chicken as it contains more nutrients and is easier to chew. But any kind of meat is a good choice. Simply boil or bake the meat until it’s cooked.
Meat soup with vitamins
Make a wholesome and nutritious treat for your ferret by mixing chunks of cooked meat in water, and adding a vitamin supplement to it. Olive oil can serve as a good substitute for a supplement.
Mix 2 raw egg yolks with 1 cup of lactose-free milk to make a smoothie that your ferret will love! You can mix in several things with this smoothie, such as supplements or olive oil.
Cut your meat up into 1/4th inch slices and place them on an oven sheet. Heat the oven at 190°F and let the meat make for at least 8 hours. Flip it once to evenly bake both sides. Cook until the meat is dried out.
These are little treats you can feed your ferret on special occasions such as birthdays. They’re tasty and simple to take. Just take a popcorn cake, and add some sugar-free frosting. Then add some meaty treats on top of it, such as chicken or turkey. That’s it! It agrees with the ferret’s stomach and he will love it.
Need some inspiration? Check out these ferret food recipes you can try at home.
Now here’s an example of how you can implement this diet on a typical day.
Sample Meal Plan
Here is a sample meal plan you can try with your ferret. As you’ll see, it covers all the essential nutrients and it feeds the ferret often to match its fast metabolism and short digestive tract. Another important aspect of this plan is that most of the meals are dry, with a couple exceptions. It’s good to keep your ferrets hydrated but maintain a mostly dry diet. You’ll have to somewhat alter this plan based on your ferret’s exact needs. For example, some ferret owners feed their ferret 8 times a day, and some only 5 times a day. I find that the following plan works best for my ferret.
Meal 1 – 9:00 a.m. : A smoothie with 1 egg yolk and 1 cup of lactose-free milk
Meal 2 – 12:00 p.m. : 1 bowl of dry ferret food
Meal 3 – 3:00 p.m. : 5 pieces of beef or chicken jerky
Meal 4 – 6:00 p.m. : 1 bowl of soup with water, pieces of chicken, and a vitamin supplement
Meal 5 – 8:00 p.m. : 1 bowl of dry cat or ferret food
Meal 6 – 11:00 p.m. : 1 bowl of ferret food pellets
There are other meal plans you can follow. While browsing a forum, I came across this meal plan that looks wholesome and easy to make.
Risks to Watch Out For
Ferrets are at a higher risk of suffering from health problems than most other domestic animals. Part of this is because of their genealogy, but some of it can also be caused by their diet. That’s why as a pet owner, it’s important for you to be informed of the different risk factors that can come about from feeding a ferret the wrong food.
Insulinoma: Insulinoma is a pancreatic cancer that can be caused if a ferret has too many carbs in their diet, so try to avoid this at all costs. A rule of thumb is to always keep the fibers in your ferrets diet at a 3% maximum.
Dental abrasion: Dental abrasion is the wear and tear of the ferret’s teeth. It’s caused by excessive chewing of very dry foods. So don’t keep your ferret’s diet too try; mix some kibble or meat in water to make a soup occasionally.
Diarrhea: Diarrhea can occur in ferrets when they eat something they’re not able to digest, so that includes fibrous carbohydrates and dairy products. Ferrets from pet stores are usually healthier than those from rescue shelters and breeders.
Cardiomyothapy: This is a heart disease that some ferrets have shown to develop, and it can be fatal. It comes from a lack of taurine in the diet. Thankfully, taurine is present in ferrets foods and in animal meat. If your ferret shows signs of cardiomyothapy, please take him to a vet and consider giving him a taurine supplement. Symptoms of cardiomyothapy include coughing, lethargy, breathing problems, swollen abdomen, and weakness.
Dental tartar: Dental tartar can be formed on the teeth if a ferret gets food stuck in his teeth for a long time, especially wet food. So frequently checking your ferret’s dental hygiene is recommended.
Osteodystrophy: Osteodystrophy is the brittling of the bones, and it’s not a big concern for ferrets nowadays, but if your ferret shows signs of it, giving them a vitamin supplement should do the trick.
Read my other article if you’re interested in studying ferrets in more depth.
Here are some tips to consider when feeding your ferret:
– Ferrets imprint on their food when they’re about six months old. This makes it difficult to introduce new foods to an older ferret as they will be resistant to it, so it’s recommended to let your ferret try varied food as early as possible!
– Some ferret owners prefer feeding their ferret a raw natural diet that they are used to in the wild. There’s some validity to this as it can provide them with more nutrients and they won’t need supplements. Foods in a natural ferret diet include frozen rats or pieces of raw liver. However, feeding them live wild prey is a bad idea as it can include germs and diseases. Here is a great discussion that I found about feeding ferrets a natural diet.
– Always keep food in your house at all times, as ferrets get hungry frequently. You don’t want a hungry and agitated ferret in your house.
As promised, here I’ll provide you with links to some ferret food you can buy online. Ferret food is becoming increasingly more available in pet stores as more ferret owners want the specialized food, but some people still have difficulty finding it in their local pet stores. Here is some excellent ferret food you can buy online:
The foods above contain real, protein-rich meat and are design to be ideal for the ferret’s diet. They also contain essential amino acids and taurine. They’re a great replacement for cooked meat and many ferret owners use this food as it’s more convenient than cooking for their ferret.