Ferret Nutritional Needs:
Feeding your ferret a proper diet is extremely important. Ferrets are strict carnivores and should be fed a high protein diet (at least 34%), high fat (at least 20%) high quality chicken or lamb based dry ferret diet. Chicken or lamb should be listed in some form (poultry, lamb or poultry meal) as the number one ingredient in the list of ingredients on the back of the bag. You should also look for food that is naturally preserved with vitamin E and has no artificial colors.
Ferrets have very short digestive tracts, so they need a food that contains easily digestible meat protein. Foods that list grain or corn as the first ingredient should not be used. Grocery store kitten or cat foods are not adequate. If you are feeding your ferret grocery store kitten or cat food, please switch to a commercial ferret food or kitten food brand and give your ferret a fatty acid supplement daily. Your ferret is not getting the proper nutrients with grocery store cat or kitten food. Grocery store foods contain too much fiber and not enough quality animal protein. This food can also contribute to stones in the kidneys and bladder, malnutrition, dull coats and other health problems for your ferret. It's never too late to make the switch (especially if your ferret has been diagnosed with insulinomas).
Many now feel that supplementing your ferret's regular chow diet with natural meat is the best way to provide proper nutrition. You can do this by either giving your ferret some cooked chicken (this can include skin, fat, chicken livers, chicken hearts), or some raw chicken that has been frozen and thawed (the freezing process can kill some bacteria and parasites). Some people even recommend allowing ferrets to chew on the soft ends of bones as well. Bone marrow contains a lot of nutrients (including calcium) ferrets need. Chicken baby food can also be a form of meat supplement (but not for extended periods or as a regular diet).
For a natural, high protein, high calorie recipe for ferrets, you can visit http://www.trifl.org for "Bob's Chicken Gravy". This meal supplement or replacement has worked very well for sick ferrets and ferrets with insulinomas. It can also be used as a supplement or "treat" for ferrets to ensure over all good health.
Note: Please be aware that a raw meat diet could introduce your ferret to internal parasites or disease. If you do want to feed your ferret raw meat, please check with your veterinarian for advice. It is very difficult to feed your ferret a balanced "all natural" diet. It is recommended that you should feed your ferret a balanced ferret food in addition to the real meat. Also, never give your ferret small bones to chew on (especially chicken or turkey bones), as they could splinter and get lodged in your ferret's digestive system (requiring surgery). Your ferret can eat the soft cartilage at the end of large bones or the bone marrow . Ferrets can chew on larger bones that have been softened by boiling.
Ferrets need to be provided with fresh food and water twenty-four hours a day. Normally ferrets will not overeat, which is due to the fact that they require several small meals throughout the day (up to ten in a twenty-four hour period) due to their fast metabolism. Water should be supplied in a heavy bowl that cannot be tipped over, in addition to a cage hanging water bottle. The water and food should be changed out at least twice a day (more if the ferret tampers with the food and floods it with water!). Ferret food can spoil quickly, so keep an eye out for "stashes" of food the ferret may place around the house and under furniture. Eating this food could make them sick if it is more than a few days old.
It is important to note that you should NEVER feed your ferret dog or puppy food. Dog food does not contain taurine, a nutrient that is vital for a ferret's eye and cardiovascular health. Dog food contains more vegetable protein and less animal protein. Because of their short digestive tract, ferrets cannot properly digest vegetable protein. Ferrets also don't have a cecum, the part of the digestive tract used to break down vegetable matter. Vegetable protein is not toxic to your ferret, however a diet rich in vegetable protein and low in animal protein will eventually lead to malnutrition, illness and possibly death. Please keep vegetable and fruit treats to a minimum or preferably not at all. Meat based treats are really a better alternative.
A Special Note About Older Ferrets
If you have a ferret who is over four years old, you may want to consider switching to a lower protein food, because older ferrets can develop kidney failure and a lower protein diet can reduce stress on the kidneys. If your ferret has insulinomas, check with your veterinarian before making the switch.
Methods for Switching Food
To avoid a picky eater,
introduce your ferret to different high quality foods at a young
age (ferrets determine their food preferences during the first
six months of life). Gradually getting your ferret used to a
variety of foods really comes in handy, especially if your
regular food is out stock or isn't being produced anymore.
If you are trying to switch your ferret's food, add a very small amount of the new food to the old food, gradually increasing the amount of new food over a period of days or weeks. Your ferret will probably pick out their old food and leave the new behind; however, you are just trying to get him or her used to the smell of the new food first. You can also store a mixture of a small amount of new food with the old food in a zip lock bag. The scent of the old food will rub off on the new food and it won't seem as foreign to your ferret.
We all love giving our ferrets treats! Seeing the love and sheer joy on their little faces when they hear the treat bag crinkle is enough to make you want to give them treats all day! However, treats are just that, treats. Feeding your ferret too many treats or the wrong kinds of treats can lead to serious health problems. Below are some tips for giving your ferret treats:
- Do give your ferret a couple of specifically formulated ferret treats per day (or a couple drops of a fatty acid supplement). The best ferret treats contain a meat base and essential protein, fatty acids, vitamins and minerals (no sugar).
- Don't give your ferret large amounts of fruits and vegetables. This can lead to malnutrition, diarrhea and gastrointestinal blockages. Ferrets have very narrow intestines and cannot digest vegetable matter very well. A small piece of undigested carrot or an apple peel could cause a bowel obstruction and endanger the life of your pet. If you must give your ferret fruit or vegetables as a treat, choose a soft variety and "mash" it up. Only give them a tiny piece once a week or so. Raisins and bananas do contain sugar (bad for teeth), so avoid giving your ferret too much of these fruits. Ferrets have gotten gastrointestinal blockages from eating uncooked carrots. In order to avoid a blockage, please do not feed your ferret uncooked carrots or any hard, uncooked fruits or vegetables.
- Don't give your ferret dairy (unless it is lactose free milk), candy, nuts, rawhide, chocolate, black licorice, soda or sugary or salty snacks. Some of these items can cause serious health problems (even death) for your ferret. Ferrets can not digest nuts or rawhide and they will cause an intestinal blockage. Dairy foods can cause gastrointestinal upset. Don't get into the habit of giving your ferret snacks that contain sugar. Sugar can interfere with blood sugar and the function of the pancreas, especially if the ferret has insulinomas. Sugar also causes tooth decay. Don't ever give your ferret anything that contains caffeine or alcohol (no soda, wine or beer please). Caffeine can cause cardiovascular and other problems for your ferret and possible death. Ferrets can also get very ill or die from an overdose of salt. Don't give your ferret chips or other salty snacks.
- Do give your ferret specific edible chew toys and different brands of ferret or kitten food as a treat. This will help you out as well. By gradually getting your ferret used to another nutritious food, you are giving he or she more meal choices.
- Don't feed your ferret seasoned table scraps. Table scraps can contain too many mixtures (such as salt, pepper, dairy, simple carbohydrates, raw vegetables) for your ferret. Your ferret could suffer from severe gastrointestinal upset.
- Do give your ferret small amounts of hard boiled egg or any cooked egg, shredded cooked chicken (no seasonings) or Second Stage Chicken Baby Food as a treat. If you get your ferret used to the Chicken Baby Food (Second Stage), it will really come in handy if your ferret ever becomes ill and is off regular food. The baby food can be used as a temporary replacement or supplement for regular ferret food in the event of an illness
If you are feeding your ferret a high quality food, supplements are not really necessary (unless they are ill and off their regular feed). Always be aware of the dangers of possible vitamin A toxicity, so for this reason, it is not advisable to give your ferret too much of any supplement, even though they may really enjoy it.
Of course, with any beloved pet, ferret or otherwise, it's best to consult your veterinarian, to insure your pet's health and safety and your peace of mind.