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Feeding Your Ferret

The nutrition you provide your ferret is hugely important – food provides the building blocks for everything that happens in your ferret’s body.

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On average, a ferret will eat 5-7% of their bodyweight in food every day. This is just a guide, however, as during growth, pregnancy, lactation or periods of high exercise they will need to eat more. Conversely, older ferrets may well need less than this, so monitoring your ferret’s weight and changing the diet accordingly is important throughout their life.

What Food Shall I Feed?

All ferrets are obligate carnivores – this means they need animal protein to survive. They also require high amounts of fats, higher than other common pets such as cats and dogs. Many ferret owner choose to provide this nutrition via pelleted ferret food, which should contain a meat source such as chicken or lamb as the main ingredient (not fish). If you have a choice, smooth, small chunks are easier for your ferret to eat than more angular pellets and ideally a pelleted food will contain 32-38% animal protein – don’t be afraid to check the back of the bag and make sure you are getting what your ferret needs. 

Another option for providing the protein your ferret needs is with kitten food. This has high protein, and is a suitable base diet for ferrets, although they will need extra fatty acid supplements as kitten food does not provide enough of these for ferrets. Cat food has less protein content than kitten food, so kitten food is much more suitable. Dog food has far too many carbohydrates in and is just not suitable for the ferret digestive system. 

You can top up your ferret’s protein, and provide a bit of fun, using supplementary cooked meat sources such as pieces of chicken, cat treats and cooked egg as treats. This is great for them, and offering a variety of food from a young age will make your ferret much more open to a range of foods – starting an older ferret on a new food can be difficult, if not impossible.

How Often?

Ferrets have a very high metabolic rate, and a short digestive tract. This means they process their food very quickly, and need to eat little and often. Ideally ferrets will eat 6-8 times per day. This can be difficult to manage with discreet feeds, so leaving pellets out for your ferret throughout the day will allow them to eat at will. Don’t be afraid to hide the food or make it a little difficult to get to – mental stimulation is great for ferrets and there is nothing wrong with making them think!

Home-cooked Diets?

There is no reason you cannot cook your ferret fresh meat meals at home, rather than purchase commercial ferret pellets, so long as they are getting enough protein and fats. To avoid the risk of disease, cooking meat thoroughly before offering it to your ferret is recommended. 

There are disadvantages however. Ferrets need to eat 6-8 times per day due to their high metabolic rate, and leaving meat in their cage might be messy. Pellets also help keep your ferret’s teeth clean, an advantage not seen with home-made diets.

How Much Food?

How much a ferret needs to eat depends on: 

  • Age 
  • Weight 
  • Activity level 
  • Reproductive status 
  • Health status 
  • Base diet 

Usually free-feeding is best for ferrets, but you may find you need to restrict their daily intake if they are becoming overweight.

How Should I Feed Kits?

Baby ferrets, or kits, will nurse from their mother for approximately six weeks, but they can be offered small amounts of food soaked until soft with warm water or broth from three weeks old. 

Over a week, gradually decrease the amount of added liquid, until you are offering the kits only solid pellets alongside their mother’s milk. During this time replace any uneaten damp food with fresh after a few hours – young kits may start to toilet in the damp food otherwise, which can harm toilet training and will also affect your gill’s food consumption as she won’t eat soiled food unless forced. As your gill’s milk dries up, your young kits should be ready to move onto a dry diet. 

As well as the base pellet diet offer a variety of safe foods to kits to try, as ferrets who are not exposed to a range of food types when young are much more likely to outright reject those food items when older.

Food To Avoid

Ferrets are well designed to digest fats and protein, but struggle with carbohydrates. A lot of sugar has also been potentially implicated in the development of insulinomas in ferrets. This means sugar is off the menu.

  • Vegetables – especially hard vegetables such as carrot, which can also block their digestive tract, and avocado. which is poisonous to ferrets 
  • Fruit – These are very high in sugar. Grapes/raisins are also toxic to ferrets. 
  • Dairy – As well as being high in sugar, ferrets lack the enzyme required to digest dairy products.
  • Sugary treats – If you want to give treats use ferret or cat treats, or use fresh meat or cooked egg. Some meat-based dog treats may be suitable, but many are carbohydrate heavy and can upset ferret digestion. 
  • Chocolate – As well as being high sugar, chocolate is toxic to ferrets. 

Other items that should also be avoided in ferrets are: 

  • Cooked bones – These can splinter and seriously damage your ferret’s digestive tract.
  • Dog and adult cat food – These do not contain enough protein for ferrets.
  • Xylitol – This sugar-substitute is also toxic for ferrets, so don’t assume something ‘low-sugar’ is safe for ferrets.

 

Changing Their Diet

Ferrets can be very fussy where food is concerned, and if they don’t identify a food type as edible early on, it can be difficult to get them to take to it. Changing a ferret’s diet should always be done slowly and carefully – add a little more of the new food item, and take away a little more of anything you want to replace, every day. This slow transition can take several weeks, but patience will be worth it. Ferrets can be very stubborn and cannot be starved into eating something they don’t want.