A ferret is an obligate carnivore, which means they are meant to eat meat and only meat.
They were bred for hunting and are designed to eat freshly killed small whole animals.
As Ferrets are carnivores, they are not designed to digest grains, vegetables, and or other fillers.
Unfortunately these are used in the processing of many ferret diets.
High quality kitten food is often better suited to meet the needs of ferrets compared to the ferret foods available.
More and more ferret owners are wondering if a more natural diet such as whole prey, or raw is a better way to meet the needs of their ferret and rightly so.
Feeding a ferret is not like feeding a dog or a cat.
There are fewer options available and some extra dietary needs.
Get it right and you will have a healthy and happy companion with less likelihood of illness and expensive Vet bills.
A ferret’s digestive system is short, it only takes 3 – 4 hours (from mouth to production of feces).
This means their food has got to be highly digestible.
The only grains or plant matter they are designed to eat is what already have been partially digested in the intestines of their prey.
The stomach PH of raw fed ferrets is lower than ferrets fed on commercial food, enabling them to break down bone and reduce the risk of food poisoning, as due to the lower PH and thus higher acidity of the stomach bacteria has less chance to form colonies that would normally cause for your ferret to get ill
Don’t ever give cooked or otherwise processed bones as there can splinter and in turn cause internal damage.
As fresh meat contains more moisture compared to commercial ferret food, you will find that he/she will drink less, so don’t panic
Ferrets have a habit of hiding their food.
To avoid a smelly surprise offer food for 30-60 minutes and remove any leftovers (which you can feed at the next meal time), or you can give your ferret a hiding place for extra food (if you so wish), a space for them to stockpile food that is easy for you to check up on and clean regularly.
This can be a plastic box with a small hole cut in it for example
As ferrets are natural hunters, give him/ her the chance to express their natural behaviour by hiding food, this will keep them entertained, stimulates their brain and in turn help with their development, for example, place food in different places around the room so he/ she has to search..
Whole prey and PMR diets are the most natural diets for the pet ferret.
These diets are becoming more popular, especially due to massive concerns over the safety of ingredients used in pet food manufacturing as a result of the amount of recalls.
Whole prey is primarily made up of smaller prey like mice and chicks, rats, guinea pigs, quail, and rabbit.
PMR, consisting of raw meat, bones and offal
Food imprinted, maybe you heard of this maybe you haven’t.
Most ferrets become food imprinted by the time they’re about 9 months old (For some it can be as earlier as 6 months old).
Is this a left over preservation instinct?
Maybe, but it doesn’t serve them very well when trying to switch them to a different diet.
Some ferrets seem to be more easily imprinted than others.
Some elderly ferrets switch overnight as where with others you’ll be fighting for months.
Others if not being fed a protein regularly will have to be switched to that protein as you would when you first start to transition every time you feed it again.
This imprinting is one of the reasons you’ll need to feed more than just 3 different proteins (to cover nutrients missed from one protein to the next and prevent imprinting) also suggested is to introduce as many as you can, this makes it much easier when for some reason you have to change suppliers.
Basic Requirements for a Ferret Diet
High protein: 75%-80% muscle meat (this should include 15%- 25% heart) Meats that are ideal are red and dark meats from chicken or turkey, kangaroo, beef, goat, pork, lamb etc
Animal based protein: must be high quality and highly digestible
High fat (at least 20%) Ferrets require meats that are higher in fat, like duck, pork, lamb, beef You can feed leaner proteins such as rabbit, wild game, but it is important to make sure there is enough fat in the diet to get the right balance.
Bone: 10% – 15% such as such as. Chicken wings, chicken feet, chicken necks, duck wings, duck feet Cornish hen, quail, and rabbit
Other Organ meat: 5%, such as kidney, spleen, testicles, brain, eyes
Work up slowly towards a minimum of 4-5 protein sources to get the nutritional requirements needed for a fully balanced diet, 50% of the meat has got to be red meats (wild duck, goose, beef, goat, lamb, pork, wild game), as most of the bone sources suitable for ferrets are classed as white meat (chicken, turkey, farmed duck, Cornish hen, quail, farmed rabbit), it is best to use red meat to obtain the additional muscle meat ratio in the diet.
When the diet mostly consists of farmed meats, you’ll have to supplement the diet with Omega 3.
As ferrets generally don’t eat fish, you can use a good fish oil supplement, which makes it easier to keep track of how much they have received through their diet, without having to worry about giving other supplements (Krill or Salmon oil are good omega 3 supplements to use).
How much to feed
Weight your ferret regularly, if he/she starts to get too fat you might have to reduce the fat content of the diet or feed less, if he/ she too skinny or losing weight you might need to increase fat content, or feed more if it wants more.
Adults: Roughly 10% of the body weight, divided over 2 – 4 meals a day however you might notice that some ferrets eat less in summer (and slim down) and more in winter ( fatten up).
Older ferrets, especially those with pancreatic problems, require continual access to food
Kits: Roughly 20% of the body weight divided over 4 – 6 meals a day.
Unlike cats, ferrets cannot bring up hairballs naturally without a bit of help from Mother Nature, and when left the hairs can stick together and form obstructions, this is where Eggs are great to add to their diet.
Egg yolks provide lecithin and choline which will help your ferret pass digested hair.
How to Switch
While ferrets will often make unhealthy food choices for themselves same as us humans, it is up to us to ensure they are eating food that will keep them in good condition.
A species appropriate diet will keep your ferret from needing costly dental care or developing preventable diseases, so will be cheaper in the long run.
Ideally, get your freezer stocked with some whole baby chicks, mice , rats, guinea pigs, quail, and rabbit and just feed these instead of the processed foods.
Sometimes there are some health problems that will require a swift food change, but in most cases you will need to do it slowly.
Ferrets imprint on their regular food, which means that they will often refuse all other foods, which can lead to gastrointestinal issues including diarrhoea or possibly even gastric ulcers.
When you switch your ferret’s diet, start by adding a very small amount of the new food to the old food, E.G. one part of the new food to nine parts old over a period of two to four weeks.
Depending on how quickly your ferret takes to the new food, slowly increase the amount of new food and decrease the amount of old food until the old food has been completely eliminated from the diet.
Don’t be surprised if you see loose stool during the switch. A few loose stools are part of the detox, as your ferret’s body adjusts to the new food.
However, if the loose stool develops into regular diarrhoea, contact your vet.
The best way towards a fully balanced diet without (too many) complications is to take it slow, as the stomach PH will have to lower (from 3-5PH on kibble/pallets to 1-2PH on raw) increasing the acidity in the stomach, which is needed to digest bone and deal with bacteria.
It’s in this first stage (First 3 to 7 days) where it’s advised to feed just a single protein source, no bone and no offal, for Ferrets it might be easier to start with a mince as minced meat is easier to mix with other foods compared to chunks, but ideally once switched to raw you would want to work towards chunks or whole prey.
A protein that is mostly accepted really well is chicken (Boneless and skinless) or green tripe (Only feed green tripe, as white tripe meant for human consumption has not got the same nutritional value beneficial to your ferret as green tripe has) Pet shops like Pets At Home sells green tripe in the freezer section.
If your ferret is doing well in the first 5 to 7 days (No abnormal stools or stomach upsets) you can start adding a soft bone to the meal (this is the 2nd week), like chicken wings, wing tips, necks etc (no more than 10% – 15% of the full meal allowance, see the Meaty Bone % Chart)
Or you can buy a mince which has ground bone in it, though most minces from raw food suppliers contain a high bone %. (15% – 30% depending on supplier) Make sure you know what that bone% is so you can add boneless meat to the mixture to level it out.
If by the end of the 2nd week your ferret is doing well on a single meat and bone source, it’s time to start introducing a new protein.
Do this in small increments. EG 10% of the meal per day until the end of the week you have replaced the whole meal with the new protein.
Continue adding a new protein source the same way as above until your ferret is eating 4 or 5 different types. (The more variety the better, as each protein source has different beneficial nutrients)
Once you’re feeding about 4 different proteins you can start adding offal (Offal will always be a secreting organ, and Liver has got to make up 5% of the 10% allowance as explained at the beginning of this page)
As Liver is the one organ meat that has to be part of the diet I suggest you start adding this first, however even though it is the most important organ to feed, feeding more than the recommended 5% can cause a vitamin A overdose , so liver will only ever be a total of 5% of their meal.
Don’t start by giving the full amount, as going to fast will result in runny stools.
As with adding a new protein you will want to introduce liver slowly to their diet.
Once your Ferret has been eating the full 5% of liver without any problems, you can start adding another organ (kidney is the easiest to get hold of as you can use supermarket bought, but if you can get hold of other secreting organs that would be great). Again building it up slowly (slow is key)
As Ferrets generally do not eat fish it is recommended to use an Omega 3 supplement like Salmon oil or Krill Oil.
They are full of the best omega 3 fatty acids, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) , which are found in fatty fish, all of which have health benefits like antioxidants and anti-inflammatory, aiding joints and all round mobility.
The last thing to be added, but not least important is eggs.
Eggs are a great addition to your Ferret’s diet as they are full of Vitamin A, Riboflavin, Folate, Vitamin B12, Iron, Selenium, Fatty Acids and when feeding the shell you’ll be adding Calcium on top of Eggs will need to be counted towards the meat allowance and should be fed two or three a week, however if you’ve got an over weight Ferret you might want to give eggs in more moderation, as eggs are a quite fatty protein source.
It can be fed with or without shell. (Think of chicken, duck, goose and quail.eggs)
For more detailed information about eggs see this page
Once you have switched your ferret on to raw minces slowly start giving him/ her larger pieces / chunks, or even whole prey
Balance is important in every diet and unless we completely analyse every bone, meat and organ we feed, we will not know if we are feeding the correct balance, don’t panic though and don’t let this deter you, as once you get more comfortable with raw feeding, you’ll start adding more variation and it’ll all work out in the end without making things complicated.
To be really honest with you, there are not many people that I know of that fully analyse every meat bone and organ they feed to their pet (I sure don’t)
This however is why it is important to feed as much variation as possible (not just protein sources but also different types of organ meats), the more variety you feed, the more balance you create as every protein has its own nutritional value.
This takes me to the next subject.
Both meat and bones contain phosphorous and we know we need to feed bone to provide our pets with calcium.
For a perfectly balanced diet the phosphorous to calcium ratio needs to be 1-1
Because meat protein contains phosphorous adding bone can easily take you over the 1-1 ratio, but as said above without analysing everything we feed we will not know.
If you want, you can replace 1 or 2 bone meals a week with powdered egg shell to compensate.
The guide is 1/2 tsp of egg shell powder per 1 lb meat/organ to reach the 10% bone for PMR.
Last but not least
There often is some confusion around organ meats, in the sense of whether they should be fed as offal or as meat.
The easiest way to explain it is to determine whether the offal is more of a secreting organ or a muscle.
See the images below:
Red meats should be fed more in the diet compared to white meats. Green tripe should only be 10 – 15%, heart between 15% – 25% (it is very rich and can cause diarrhoea when fed more) the more variety of proteins you can provide for your ferret the better.
Note: Vegetables/Fruits/grains or other carbs are not needed as cats are carnivores and cannot digest them, it stresses the pancreas which can cause pancreatitis and yeast which will cause skin problems. Ferrets do better on chunks of meat compared to minced meat, so if you can feed chunks of meat please do
Game/ wild animals and fish will have to be frozen for 3 – 4 weeks first before feeding to get rid of any parasites.
It is also advisable to freeze shop bought human grade fresh meat for about 1 – 2 weeks in case of Neospora and Toxoplasmosis contamination (mainly beef, lamb and goat)
My Ferret Isn’t Cooperating
Very picky ferrets will often refuse the new food no matter how slow you mix it in.
In these cases you can try the following tricks to get your ferret to try the new food:
- Put the new and old foods together in a plastic bag to mix the smells together.
- Grind up the new food and mix it into a paste or soup.
- Grind up both foods (using the same ratio as the mix and increasing the amount of new food in the same way) and mix them into a paste.
- Drizzle FerreTone on the new food.
- Feed the new food out of your hand like a treat.
Even with these methods, it will can take a while to switch a picky eater over to a new food, so be patient.
Ferrets that have never been exposed to new foods or that have only eaten one food can take a few months to make the switch completely.
What If My Ferret Refuses The New Food?
You can also try pouring a little salt reduced broth (think of homemade bone broth) or fish oil (Salmon or Krill oil)on their new food to tempt them.
Like most animals sometimes it is up to you the owner to ensure they make healthy choices, rather than eating the ferret equivalent of a ‘KFC’.
Give enough of the previous food to avoid starvation, take it away four hours before giving them a meal you want them to eat, and stay strong until your ferret makes the switch! (However do not use tough love as you would with a dog)
You may be able to tempt your ferret into to eating raw meat and whole prey by warming it slightly to body temperature.
Put the meat in a plastic bag and leave it in hot water for about 20 minutes.
For a real biscuit fiend, try grinding up the biscuits in a grinder, or with a mortar and pestle to make a powder and sprinkle it on the other foods.