Ferrets are highly active animals who love to play and spend quality time with their owners. Your ferret’s day is not complete without a game of tag or chasing you around as he does his hilarious war dance.
However, he needs to have a proper diet that matches his energy levels, or your ferret won’t have enough vitality to be healthy and happy. Even more, it can lead to malnourishment and cause health issues down the road.
Nonetheless, not all food products are appropriate for your ferret. Ferrets are known to have delicate digestive systems, so you must be careful what you feed your beloved pet.
If you understand the dietary needs of your ferret, you can easily design an appropriate meal plan.
What Do Ferrets Eat In The Wild?
Before anything, we must clarify that ferrets are not wild animals. They were bred from the European polecat, scientifically known as Mustela putorius, approximately 2 million years ago and later domesticated as household pets to hunt rabbits and scare away mice and other rodents from farms and crops.
Because of this, human homes have always been a ferret’s true habitat.
If you were to release your ferret into the wild, it would only live a couple of days since it lacks the survival skills to capture prey and create the appropriate shelter to protect itself.
Ferrets are strict carnivores, and they feed on smaller creatures, such as prairie dogs, rabbits, mice, rats, voles, and other critters.
They also hunt snakes, birds, frogs, and other invertebrates. If there is a reduced food supply, ferrets can resort to other animals. Studies on ferret droppings revealed traces of squirrels, horned larks, gophers, cottontails, jackrabbits, and even fish.
A ferret feasts on raw meat, bones, connective tissue, and digested plant-based stomach content.
Like all other members of the weasel family, like stoats and badgers, they obtain their daily caloric intake from meat.
What Does A Ferret Diet Consist Of?
Ferrets have a rapid metabolic rate and must be fed multiple times during the day to suffice their energy levels. Although your ferret sleeps about twelve to eighteen hours a day, he does not do it for consecutive hours.
Most tend to play around an hour or so, feed and then take intermittent naps all day long. Your furry friend will eat approximately every four to five hours and therefore, must have between five to eight meals a day.
Since ferrets are carnivores, their diet must be protein based, specifically animal-based products.
According to the American Ferret Association, a ferret’s diet must have high-protein content, moderate quantities of fat, and low amounts of carbohydrates and fiber. A healthy meal plan for ferrets should be composed of 30 to 40% protein, 15 to 20% fats, and less than 5% of carbs and fibers.
Nowadays, ferret food is available in most pet shops and clinics, and it usually contains the nutritional value necessary to keep your ferret fit and healthy.
However, you should always check the ingredient label and verify that the main ingredient is animal-based protein. It can either be chicken, lamb, or turkey.
You can also provide your ferret home-cooked meals if you prefer fresh and organic food.
The best meat options for your ferret are still chicken, lamb, and turkey. These products contain appropriate protein content, while still providing a great source of vitamins and minerals, like B-complex vitamins, magnesium, and potassium.
You can cook them, but it’s better to give your furry companion raw food because their digestive tract can absorb it easier. Beef and pork are also good alternatives, but some ferrets can experience digestive symptoms, like bloating and discomfort.
You have to be careful with raw pork because it can contain a parasite called Trichinella, which can cause digestive issues, malnourishment, and anemia. If you decide to incorporate pork in your ferret’s diet, it must come from a hygienic and reliable food supplier.
Raw pieces of liver are another excellent choice as they are a great source of iron and appropriate amounts of protein. You can also use it as afternoon snacks or to reward your ferret during training sessions.
Ferrets are not vegetarians, which is why you must never add vegetable protein as their main protein source.
Humans and other animals can break down vegetable protein because they possess a cecum. The cecum is the initial portion of your large intestines, and it is in charge of digesting unprocessed food residue and absorbing the remaining minerals available.
However, ferrets do not have a cecum, and they will not be able to obtain the necessary nutritional value to suffice their daily needs. This can lead to insufficient nutrient absorption, malnourishment, weight loss, and eventual death.
For this reason, vegetable protein is not adequate in a ferret’s diet.
Carbohydrates And Fiber
Fruits, vegetables, and starches can lead to certain health issues if they represent a large portion of your ferret’s diet. Remember that a ferret has a fast metabolism, and food generally passes through his short digestive system in approximately three to four hours.
You must feed your ferret food that can be easily digested, so nutrients are absorbed more efficiently. Complex carbohydrates, fruits, and starches contain great amounts of fiber, which take more time to be digested and slow down your ferret’s digestive system.
Additionally, whole grains, like rice and corn, and bread are health hazards because they can be wedged in your ferret’s intestines accidentally and cause a blockage. This is a life-threatening situation, which requires surgery.
It causes abdominal pain, bloating, vomiting, and your ferret is unable to produce bowel movements (feces). If not treated on time, it is fatal.
Because of this, it is best to maintain carbs at a minimum, or simply eliminate them from your ferret’s meals for safety.
Overall, your ferret’s diet should always be based on animal protein and reduced amounts of carbs. Chicken and lamb provide the best quality in protein, but beef, pork, and liver are excellent alternatives.
What Do Baby Ferrets Eat?
Ferrets usually reach sexual maturity when they are about six to eight months of age, and from this point forward, are able to reproduce. If your female ferret (jill) becomes pregnant, you must make certain modifications in her diet.
She requires high-quality ferret food and higher amounts of protein intake to maintain her health during pregnancy.
Protein intake is increased to 45 to 50% and must supplemented with raw chicken and liver. Additionally, water must be available constantly to reduce the chances of dehydration.
Your ferret’s pregnancy generally lasts approximately 42 days, and she can have a litter composed from five to seven baby ferrets. Baby ferrets are commonly known as kits and are blind, deaf, and extremely vulnerable from birth.
They must stay with their mother for the first six weeks since kits can only be fed with milk until they are three weeks old. Even more, your jill’s diet must have enough protein for adequate nursing.
When the kits are three weeks old, you can introduce them to baby ferret food, but they still need to nurse.
Kits also require high-quality ferret food and proper amounts of protein for optimum growth and health resilience. Since their teeth are still growing, you should soak their food to moisten it up and make it easier to chew.
Raw meat is also a great option if you are unable to find baby ferret food. However, it is best to only feed them lamb, chicken, and liver while they are still young.
Once the kits are six to seven weeks old, you can start weaning them from their mother and incorporate normal ferret food or home-cooked meals. Remember that fats are also important in a ferret’s diet, while avoiding carbs and fiber.
What Do Ferrets Drink?
Ferrets must have water available to them all day long. Due to their quick metabolism, they tend to dehydrate easily and compensate it by drinking water continuously. For this reason, your ferret drinks water about 20 to 25 times a day to keep itself hydrated. Proper dehydration allows for pain-free bowel movements.
You can provide your ferret water in bottles or bowls. However, it is recommended to place a water bottle inside their cages for hygiene issues and comfortable.
The bowls can be used when your ferret is playing in your home, ideally a bowl of water in any room where he is allowed to explore. You should also change the water twice per day to keep it fresh and clean.
Your ferret does not need any other kinds of liquid to keep it healthy. Certain soups, like duck soup, are appropriate because they contain meat.
However, you should never give your ferret sodas, sugar drinks, or juices because they have sugar and have no nutritional value to them,
Certain Food Products To Take Into Consideration
Eggs are an excellent afternoon snack for your ferret. It is a great source of protein and other nutrients, like vitamin A, Vitamin D, iron, and potassium. They can also make your ferret’s fur and skin shinier and healthier.
Boiled eggs are a lovely treat for ferrets, but raw eggs are also a great choice. Though, they should never substitute a meat-based meal since they do not possess the same nutritional value as chicken or lamb does. Even more, you should always give it to them in moderation because it can lead to weight gain.
If your local pet store does not provide high-quality ferret food, you can use certain types of cat food as long as they are ferret-friendly.
First of all, they must have chicken or lamb as the first ingredient. Protein should always be the main source of energy. It’s also best to select dry cat food because it promotes healthy teeth and is easily digested.
Wet canned food and vegetable-based cat food are not recommended because they have far less nutritional value and can cause certain health issues, like diarrhea and vomiting. You should also avoid fruits and vegetable treats.
If you decide to feed your ferret with cat food, you must add a fatty acid supplement, like omega-3 fatty acids, for adequate nutrient absorption. These are available in most pet shops as pastes or pellets.
Black-footed ferrets can feed on fish in the wild, but it is not part of their diet by nature. Tuna and salmon contain proper amounts of protein and fat, which can be beneficial for your ferret. However, most ferret owners advise not to feed them fish because it intensifies their musky scent.
When ferrets eat fish, their feces and urine are more pungent since it contains more ammonia. Their tangy smell is also more potent and hard-hitting, so it’s recommended to avoid feeding your ferret fish, and select other meat options, like lamb or turkey.
All dairy products, such as milk, yogurt, and cheese, are prohibited in a ferret’s diet. When ferrets are nursed by their mothers, they can only feed on milk.
Afterward, they become lactose intolerant and any dairy consumption can lead to digestive symptoms and dehydration.
Lactose-free milk is not a good choice either because they replace the lactose with sugar, which is also harmful. Thus, it is best to avoid any type of dairy product.
Although mealworms do not produce any secondary effect in ferrets, they do not provide sufficient nutrients to incorporate them into their diet. You can use employ them as rewards or treats, but they do not substitute an adequate meal.
A healthy ferret is a happy ferret.