What do Ferrets Eat?

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Ferrets are carnivorous, and they need a diet of meat and animal products. Their food must be rich in proteins and fat with low concentrations of fiber and carbohydrates.

Ferrets also have a high metabolic rate, and you will need to feed them eight to ten times a day. The intestinal tract of the animal is short, and it is not very effective in absorbing nutrients.

Meat-based products will be absorbed quickly to give your ferret enough energy to be active.

Best Food for Ferrets

Below are the foods you should consider feeding your ferrets with to keep them happy and healthy:

1. Meat

Ferrets can consume organs and meat as part of a healthy diet. They can eat all types of meat, including beef, chicken, turkey, or pork. It is generally safe to give ferrets human-grade raw meat, as other kinds of raw meat can harbor harmful parasites.

Most pet owners prefer to cook the meat and eliminate any risks altogether. If you want to give your pet chicken, for example, boil it first and do not add any peanut butter, salt, or vegetable. Only use fresh chicken since the seasoning and salt added to a pre-cooked one will lead to digestive problems.

You should not sustain your ferret solely on meat because they also need the nutrients in the bones and innards. In the wild, ferrets feed on whole animals. They will gladly eat small birds, mice, and rats if you can provide them.

2. Bones and Organs

Ferrets should be provided with raw bones as part of their diet. Bones contain calcium for the animal’s body to function correctly. As the ferret gnaws on the bone, their teeth will also be cleaned of any plaque buildup.

Cooked bones will naturally dry out and splinter, and damage your pet’s mouth, intestines, or stomach. The ferret’s body is also well-adapted to digesting raw meat.

Do not give the pet too many bones to reduce the risk of finding them stashed away in different parts of the house. The bones should be large enough to deter the ferret from attempting to swallow them whole.

Organ meat is especially needed when you are not providing your pet with a lot of whole prey. You should offer chunks of beef kidney, liver, pancreas, and spleen, but ensure that it is from grass-fed beef. Organ meat from lamb, chicken, turkey, and goat is suitable as well.

3. Commercial Dry-Food

You should be very keen when buying commercial food for your ferrets. Watch out for plant fillers like soy and corn, which are indigestible by your pet. Some manufacturers will include these items down on the ingredient list, but if they are added together, they can constitute a significant portion of the diet.

The best ferret food is not cheap, but they are appropriate for your pet. These meals come in different formulas like chicken, quail, and poultry. Beware of meat by-products as they are not easily digested and are low on nutrition.

A good product should have high-quality proteins and fats as the first six ingredients. Watch out for added sugars like fructose and sucrose, as well as for soy meals, corn, and rice gluten. A suitable meal should have at least 40% protein and 20% fat.

You can opt for store-bought treats for your ferret and choose between flavors like chicken, quail, rabbit, or poultry. High-quality treats are made purely of meat protein and have smooth edges to protect the animal’s gums and mouth from damage.

Some treats are also formulated to prevent hairballs from forming or dissolve small ones. Ferrets, like cats, lick themselves when grooming and the hairballs that result can lead to choking.

Ferrets will also welcome homemade treats once in a while. You can give them crumble eggs and hide them in their toys. Quail eggs are also acceptable, but you should remove the top part before giving the pet.

If you live close to a meat market, you can ask for discarded meat cuts or organs that will not be sold to people. Cook the meat to get rid of bacteria and then cut it into bits and freeze some for future use.

Treats should not exceed 10% of your pet’s caloric intake, and you can give them one treat a day. Avoid treats that are packed with carbohydrates and sugars like chocolate, nuts, dairy, rice, and grains.

Food You Should Avoid Feeding to Ferrets

The digestive systems of ferrets are adapted to processing meat, and non-meat products can harm them. Some food to never give your pet include:

Dairy and Dairy Products

Ferrets are lactose-intolerant, and giving them cow’s milk will cause them to get diarrhea and dehydration. The animals lack the lactase enzyme that is needed to break down lactose.

While goat milk is easier to digest, it also contains as much lactose as cow’s milk. Soy milk, on the other hand, can hamper the absorption of calcium from food.

Your ferret should also not consume dairy products like cheese and chocolate.

Fruit and Vegetables

The digestive tract of ferrets cannot digest complex carbohydrates, which is why you should avoid vegetables and fruits. The animal lacks a ‘cecum,’ which is the part of the digestive system in herbivorous animals that releases the bacteria needed to digest complex carbohydrates.

Giving ferrets foods that are high in carbohydrate content will lead to many problems in your pets. The accumulation of plant-based proteins will encourage the development of urinary tract stones. The stones are very painful for ferrets and can even be fatal.

Fruits are high in natural sugars and fiber and are not recommended for ferrets. Fruits like mangoes and bananas will only cause indigestion, and if it is severe, it will lead to gastroenteritis. Other problems include beta-cell disorders that may result in insulinoma and intestinal cancer.

Avoid giving your ferret foods like dates, blueberries, lentils, pears, sweet potato, dried plum, kiwi fruit, oranges, small white beans, spinach, lentils, figs, guavas, green beans, brussels sprouts, and raisins.

Chocolate

Giving your ferret chocolate is a bad idea as it contains sugar and milk. It also has theobromine that leads to abnormal heart rhythms caused by over-excitement.

Onion and Garlic

Garlic has been shown to cause kidney shutdown in ferrets and subsequent death. Onions also cause a fatal condition in the animals called hemolytic anemia, and you should ensure that they are not listed as an ingredient in any commercial ferret food that you buy.

Honey and Sugar

Sugary substances can cause hypoglycemia in ferrets. The artificial sweetener xylitol can also trigger liver failure and seizures in your pet. Generally, keep your ferret away from candy and other sugary items.

How to Feed Your Ferret?

The first step to feeding your ferrets appropriately is sourcing for a suitable diet. Some guidelines to follow include:

Varied and Balanced Diet

Your ferret’s diet should be balanced and nutritious in addition to being varied. Mix up raw meat with store-bought pellets and occasional treats.

Too much lean meat can, for example, provided a lot of proteins but not enough calcium, which is absorbed from bones. The dry food should have a good balance of proteins and fats and low concentrations of fiber and carbohydrates.

You want your ferret to obtain all the nutrients they need to live to their maximum.

Food Dishes

A heavy dish will discourage the ferret from using it as a toy since the animals are quite strong. If you have a lightweight bowl, secure it to the pen to keep it in place.

Do not leave a lot of food in the bowls as the animals prefer multiple small meals instead of one huge one. Wash the dish daily to prevent the growth of bacteria.

Feeding Frequency

A ferret will consume 5-7% of their body weight in food on a daily average. They eat more during growth, pregnancy and lactation, or if they have been overly-active. The animals have an incredibly fast metabolism and will digest food in about two hours.

To keep up, therefore, you will need to feed them about six to eight times a day. It is best to leave food for them to eat in the day as and when they feel like.

Water and Water Bowls

Most pet owners will either use locking dishes and elevated water dishes to provide water for their ferrets. Water bottles are often not recommended since they can make your pet impatient.

Ferrets are active pets, and they will likely not sit and wait as the bottles release drop by drop. If they are not getting enough water, your pet will get dehydrated and ill.

Ferrets also love playing with water bottles as toys, and they have been known to choke on the metal spouts in an attempt to swallow them.

Other pet owners place a tray under the bowl to collect the water that the ferret digs out of the water bowl. The animals love to play in the water, and you should, therefore, avoid big bowls that they can drown in.

How Much do Ferrets Eat?

The amount of food ferrets eat depends on their age, weight, reproductive status, base diet, and activity level. Free-feeding is the recommended feeding method for ferrets, but there is always a chance that your pet will become overweight.

Generally, ferrets eat a lot but are able to burn the calories off in high-energy activities. As long as they are eating and not being very active, they are bound to become fat and even obese. They also tend to gain more weight during winter.

If you notice your ferret becoming overweight, you should restrict feeding times and amounts and encourage more physical stimulation to burn the excess fat off.

What do Ferrets Eat in the Wild?

Wild ferrets are highly adapted to their environment. They hunt at night, have a high ability to smell, and have excellent hearing and sight capabilities. A substantial part of their diet is made of prairie dogs, which are a kind of burrowing rodent.

Ferrets also prey on snakes, rabbits, hedgehogs, rats, possum, hedgehogs, and mice. Being obligate carnivores, ferrets only seek meat in quantities of 50 to 70 grams every day. Ferrets eat whole prey, including the bones. They sometimes consume fish, but they do not especially like the taste.

Do Ferrets Eat Fruits and Vegetables?

Fruits and vegetables are indigestible by ferrets as they are exclusively carnivorous. Fruits and vegetables have complex carbohydrates and sugars that the digestive systems of the animals cannot process.

Giving them these items will only expose them to digestion issues.

Is Tap Water Good for Ferrets?

While ferrets need a lot of water throughout the day, not all water is equal. Tap water may have additives like chlorine that will especially affect sick ferrets.

Distilled water, on the other hand, lack of essential nutrients. Filtered water is recommended because it has all the right nutrients minus the harmful additives.

What do Baby Ferrets Eat?

Baby ferrets will appreciate chunks of fresh meat. If you want to give them dry foods, moisten the pellets for ferrets between 6 to 11 weeks of age. You should then gradually convert to dry food exclusively. Baby ferrets can be given low-lactose milk to support growth.

Can Ferrets Eat Sea Food or Fish?

While seafood will not cause any harm to your pet, it is not part of its natural diet. It is common for ferrets to reject fish. You can, however, keep the odor down by cooking some white fish.

Can Ferret Eat Dog or Cat Food?

Since ferret food can be a bit challenging to find, it is tempting to feed your pet with the more available cat or dog food. These meals lack the high amounts of protein that ferrets need.

Kitten food has more protein and fat content, but you should ensure it is low in carbohydrates to determine if it is suitable for your pet.

Can a Ferret Eat Your Hamster or Mouse?

Ferrets are natural predators and are capable of killing your mouse or hamster. Keep these animals in secured cages to tame the aggression of ferrets.

Conclusion

Ferrets are active pets, and they are becoming more popular to keep. When it comes to their diet, the animals are obligate carnivores, meaning that their bodies are designed to only digest meat.

Their diet should include organ meat, muscle meat, bones, dry pellets, and water. Keep out any carbohydrates and fiber, which generally means no fruits and vegetables.

Updated: June 22, 2020

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