Ferret Friendly Facts and Advice by Erika Matulich, Ph.D.

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Ferret Feeding FAQ

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Frequently Asked Questions about Feeding Ferrets

© Erika Matulich, Ph.D.

Ferrets have unique nutritional needs that must be met in order for the animals to stay healthy; they do best on a high-protein, high-fat, low-fiber diet. Ferrets fed a poor-quality diet will let you know it, both in their general health and in their eliminations. They do not digest vegetables, grains, or any other form of fiber very well, so they need to get their protein and fat from meat. Food designed especially for ferrets is your best bet.

Look for a ferret food that is a minimum of 32 percent protein and 18 percent fat, and a maximum of 3 percent fiber. The first ingredient should be a high-quality meat, and the other ingredients should not include too many grains.

Ferrets also need a constant supply of fresh water. It's best to provide both a bowl and a water bottle (bottles can get plugged, and bowls can get tipped over or mucked up).

What's better, dry or canned?
Dry food is ideal for everyday feedings. It's economical, less messy than canned, and helps keep your ferret's teeth clean. Canned foods are better when a ferret is ill, severely underweight, recovering from surgery, very old, or has difficulty chewing. Even while your ferret is eating canned food, always offer dry food.

Cans can be stored almost indefinitely, so it's a good idea to keep some around in case your ferret gets sick. Canned food must be fed immediately after opening and thrown away if not eaten within a few hours. If your ferret eats canned food, you should try to brush her teeth every few days.

How often should I feed my ferret?
Ferrets have a very fast metabolism and need to eat every few hours to keep their bodies properly fueled. This means that dry food should be available 24 hours a day. However, ferret food has a high fat content and can quickly become rancid, so provide enough fresh food to last a day or two, then discard the uneaten crumbs. Always wash the bowl before you refill it, as the oily residue can become rancid.

Above all, do not feed your ferret just once or twice a day, as you would a dog or cat. Doing so can cause long-term health problems for him.

How do I switch my ferret to a new food?
Ferrets often stubbornly refuse to eat a new food if you suddenly switch from their old food. The key is to make the switch gradually. For a week or so, mix the new food with the old, so the new food makes up about 1/4 of the mixture. Gradually increase the new food to 1/2, and then 3/4, of the mix, continuing until there is only the new food. This process may take a month or more for a picky ferret. A gradual change keeps digestive disturbances to a minimum.

Is my ferret fat?
Ferrets can increase their weight as much as 40 percent for the winter and lose it all in the summer. If your ferret's weight gain appears seasonal, don't worry about it. In the case of more permanent weight gain, you can allow more playtime each day, take your ferret for walks, get a bigger cage, or get your ferret a buddy to play with. You may also want to try a specialty senior ferret diet that has reduced protein and fat but still meets ferrets' nutritional needs. Cut back on treats, but do not restrict the amount of food you feed—your ferret needs it to keep up with metabolic requirements.

Does my ferret need a supplement?
A premium ferret diet should provide the appropriate nutrition for your pet without the need for vitamin supplements. However, an ill or older ferret might need a boost from a vitamin or nutritional supplement. Also, many ferrets benefit from the addition of EFAs (essential fatty acids) to their diet and very much enjoy EFAs as a treat. With ferret vitamin supplements, more is not better. Vitamin A toxicity is a particular problem for ferrets. Ask your veterinarian if you're unsure about supplements.

Should I give my ferret treats?
Supplements like Linatone or Ferretone, which provide essential fatty acids, make a healthy treat when given in moderation. Ferrets also enjoy other treats; treats that some or all of my gang like include mushrooms, sugar snap peas, grapes, raisins, dates, Kix cereal, bananas, and turkey baby food on Granny Smith apples.

But there are several dangers to look out for when giving treats. First, since ferrets have difficulty digesting fiber and getting nutrition from nonmeat-based foods, fruits and vegetables are "junk food" for them. A ferret who fills up on these will eat less of her nutritious ferret food. Ferrets should get only limited quantities of fruits, vegetables, cereal-based products, and sweets. Treats should make up no more than 10 percent of the diet; five raisins a day is what I feed to each ferret—or five pieces of cereal, or a few peas.

Also, the sugar content in many treats can lead to dental problems, so if you feed sweets you'll have to brush your ferret's teeth more often. Never feed your ferret chocolate, black licorice, or onions—they are potentially toxic. Finally, some treats can cause a life-threatening intestinal blockage; never feed a ferret nuts, and give only small chunks of raw fruits or vegetables.

Controlling odor: Diet makes a difference

Animal waste causes odors. You can control both the strength of the smell and the amount of your ferret's waste with a proper diet. Preservatives, artificial colors and flavors, and low-quality fats (such as beef tallow) will produce extra-stinky eliminations. Foods high in vegetable fiber, cereal grains, water, and other fillers will result in unnecessarily large stool volumes, as the ferret has to eat much more food to get adequate nutrition.