Feeding your ferret is not at all like the dogs or cats. There are fewer options available and special dietary requirements. Do the right thing, you will have the possibility of a healthy and happy companion and disease small and expensive veterinary bills.
Ferrets are true carnivores. They were bred for hunting and are designed to eat freshly killed small whole animals. That being said, it is not practical (or legal) to feed our pets whole live prey. What we can hope to do is provide food that is safe, nutritious and suitable for their unique digestion.
What do ferrets eat?
Ferrets need a diet high in animal protein and fat with very little carbohydrate. In fact, Ferrets are unable to digest plant fibres at all, so unlike most domesticated species fibre does not benefit them.
Ferrets’ digestive systems are also comparatively short, with a transit time of only 3-4 hours (from mouth to faeces production). This means their food must be highly digestible. The only grains or plant matter they are designed to eat would be partially digested in the intestines of their prey. On this note however, many ferret owners do not feed plant based carbohydrates at all so they can reduce how much they predispose their ferrets to the cancer “insulinoma”.
Cooked foods, particularly cooked bones, should also be avoided as cooking and processing changes the structure of food and its digestibility. Don’t be too worried about food poisoning though as Ferrets have been shown to be relatively resistant. Raw foods such as egg and meat are therefore fine, however, Ferrets are not scavengers, so you need to ensure any meat provided for your Ferret is fresh and fit for human consumption.
How to feed your ferret?
Ferrets should ideally eat 2 to 4 small meals each day. Dry foods can be left out, but meat should always be removed it if is not consumed within an hour. This may vary depending on your ferrets age.
You should also be aware that Ferrets have a habit of stashing any excess food. This can lead to a smelly surprise if they decide to hide food items in your couch. To avoid this you should offer food for 30-60 minutes then remove any leftovers.
Alternatively, you can provide your Ferret with a ‘hide’ for extra food, a controlled space for them to stockpile food that is easy for you to check and clean regularly. This might be a cosy plastic box with a small hole cut in it.
Ferrets are natural hunters, so providing them with opportunities to express their natural behaviour through hiding food will help with their development. You can also use food to promote game play and reduce boredom. For example, using treat balls with kitten biscuits or simply place food in various places around the room.
For more advice on securing your home for a ferret visitor checkout out our guide to Ferret Proofing Your Home.
What happens if your ferret eats the wrong foods?
Insulinomas, a form of cancer in ferrets, are more common in countries where ferret diets are highly processed and high in carbohydrates when compared with countries where ferrets eat primarily raw diets. The current belief is that high carbohydrate foods means that their pancreas has to over produce insulin to maintain a level blood sugar level. Overtime this constant stimulus leads to cells becoming cancerous (insulinoma). Ferrets with insulinoma struggle to maintain their blood sugar levels and are prone to blood glucose crashes and seizures. species of animal, an optimum diet is more likely to promote better overall health.
Ferrets that are fed unsuitable diets are also more likely to develop skin disease, bladder stones, gastroenteritis and experience poor growth and dental disease. Ferret teeth are also designed for cutting and tearing meat, so large, hard biscuits and soft canned foods can also accelerate dental disease.