Ferrets are carnivores, which means their primary diet shall consist of meat. They are designed to eat whole small prey, such as rodents, rabbits, toads, insects, fish, and the occasional berry. Feeding whole carcasses is unpractical for modern ferret owners, so the usual base diet is kibble.
Most ferret-owners give their ferrets a high-quality kibble, either cat or ferret food. Kibble is practical and convenient, it can be stored a long time, it doesn't smell much and it doesn't spoil from one day to the next. You must read the labels carefully when you're choosing brands. Remember also that up to the age of 4 or 5, ferrets need more protein and fat than cats do, so if you choose a catfood, it's often best to pick the kitten type. Up until that age their food should contain 34-38% protein, 18-22% fat, and no more than 3% fiber. Ferrets, like cats, need taurin, which chicken contains. If your brand is not chicken-based check whether there is any taurin added. The first ingredient should be a meat, preferably chicken, and the more of the following three ingredients that also are meat, the better. Lots of fish in the food makes the litterboxes smell and many avoid those food for that reason. I have made a food chart with a lot of different food, both for cats and ferrets. Look at it and compare the different brands yourself.
It's a good idea to mix at least two kinds of food. Ferrets can be very picky when it comes to food, they imprint on what is food at a young age, mainly by smell, and can have difficulties accepting anything else unless they get a varied diet. If the brand you give for some reason becomes unavailable your ferret might refuse anything else because it does not recognize it as food. A ferret used to variation in his diet will probably also be easier to give medication or supplements if he gets ill. Finally there is also the aspect of how dull it must be eating the same food year after year. Variation makes it more enjoyable and easier for you both.
Even if the main diet should be kibble, it won't hurt to treat your ferrets with real meat sometimes. Try different things, chicken, beef, pork, shrimp. You can give the meat raw, but if it's a ferret that has never had raw meat before, his stomach might be upset at first, start slowly with small amounts if you are unsure of how your ferret will cope with it. Cooked or fried is also an option, but don't overcook as nutrients disappear quickly with heat. Most ferrets who are able to choose prefer their meat raw. Liver, heart, etc, are very good to supplement the diet with, but shouldn't be given too often. Fish can be given but will make the litterboxes and possibly also the ferret to smell more than otherwise. Some also give their ferrets more "natural" food once in a while for variation. It is possible to buy reptile food in most petstores today...
Many ferrets like vegetables or fruit but the large amount of fiber and sugar makes it advisable not to give as anything but a small treat. Small pieces of apple, raisins, banana (mashed), cucumber, etc. Personally I don't give my ferrets anything of these, but if you decide to give to your ferret, remember - SMALL pieces!
Eggs are often appreciated, both raw, cooked or scrambled. If you want to give raw eggs you should only give the eggyolk, since raw eggwhite can cause biotin deficiency and result in hairloss. Milk should be avoided in large quantities. Ferrets, like many other animals, become lactoseintolerant after they've been weaned. A rule of thumb is that the more fat a milkproduct contains, the less lactose is in it. Yogurt are often tolerated better because they contain a lactase that helps digest lactose.
Almost every ferret loves Ferretone. It's an oil with vitamins, but it should be given moderately since it contains vitamin A that is poisonous in large doses. You can also try olive oil that is almost as popular. This can cause diarrhea in large amounts, so moderation is needed here also. Some people give their ferrets kittymalt, especially during shedding season. There are several products, both for cats and ferrets but I haven't heard that there are any major differences between them.
Chocolate and coffee should not be given! Both these products contains a substance that can be poisonous to dogs. No-one knows for sure how ferrets can take this, but there is a risk. There is also the fact that both chocolate and coffee contains stimulants and increases the heartrate, that's not good in such a small animal that already has a high pulse to begin with. Onions, garlic and other members of that family can cause Heinz anemia in cats and dogs, it should not be given to ferrets. Salt and strong spices should also be avoided, as well as any product with a lot of sugar.
For you who wants to read more about the diet of ferrets, go to Bob Church's Chicken Gravy. It's a lot of reading, but well worth it. Several posts about diet and recieps as well as comments and tips on how to make Chicken Gravy.
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Author Camilla Englund. Last updated May 2001.