What Do Ferrets Eat? The Complete Guide To Ferret Nutrition.

Last Updated : May 21, 2022
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Did you know that ferrets have a particular diet and that the majority of the foods in your pantry are harmful to their furry bodies?

Well, it’s 100% true, and it’s the main reason why it’s so crucial for ferret parents to spend some time learning what and how to feed their pet ferrets.

One minor slip-up could mean an expensive trip to the vet and a lot of unnecessary pain and suffering for your lanky bestie.

And who wants that?

Nobody — we’re more than willing to bet our week’s wages on that one!

And since we’re so convinced, we’ve decided to pull together this article, where we share the answers to 15 of the most commonly asked questions about ferret nutrition.

As long as you keep scrolling, you’ll master the art of feeding your ferret.

Sound like a plan? Great, then let’s get going!

cute ferret waiting for his food

The 15 Questions Every Ferret Owner Is Asking

What Would Ferrets Eat In the Wild?

Fun fact: ferrets are domestic animals that have been living and working alongside humans for at least 2,500 years, so they don’t really exist in the wild.

However, black-footed ferrets, their wild cousins, and feral ferrets only eat whole prey (like mice and prairie dogs) and fresh organs, meat, and bones. They avoid plants, nuts, or vegetables of any sort, apart from the tiny amounts present in the bodies and organs of their prey.

This type of diet clearly means ferrets are strict carnivores that must eat a high-protein diet that’s also packed with enough fat to fuel them until their next meal.

This leads us perfectly to our next question:

What Nutrients Do Ferrets Require in Their Diets?

Since we’ve just mentioned that ferrets are obligate carnivores, you already know that raw meat, raw organs, and raw bones should make up the overwhelming bulk of their food intake.

But what exact nutrients do they need to consume day in and day out to stay healthy and active?

Here’s the complete list of nutrients your ferret’s diet calls for:

  • Meat protein (circa 30%-40% of their diet)
  • Fat (circa 15-30% of their diet)
  • Phosphorus
  • Amino acids
  • Vitamin E
  • Calcium
  • Very little to no sugars, carbohydrates, and fiber (nutritional problems arise if you feed these to your ferrets more than as a very rare treat)

Noted those down?

Awesome, let’s move on to the exact type of foods you can feed your ferret.

What Do Ferrets Eat?

dry pellet food and raw meat - all part of a health ferret diet

Your ferret will thrive if you prepare them a varied menu made up of the following ingredients:

  • Fresh or frozen whole prey animals (i.e., rats, mice, or chicks)
  • Raw organs (i.e., chicken livers, offal, hearts)
  • Fresh raw meat (i.e., chicken, chicken wings, or turkey neck)
  • Cooked meat (i.e., chicken, game bird, rabbit, lamb, or minced beef)
  • Raw animal bones (as they tend to crack if you cook them, and this could injure your ferret)
  • Ferret food pellets
  • High-protein kitten food
  • Cooked or raw eggs (only as treats as overfeeding your ferret eggs can cause constipation)

N.B. Most ferrets also eat fish, but you have to experiment with seafood as it’s not something their ancestors would have eaten in the wild. Definitely don’t insist if you find that your fluffball doesn’t like the taste or smell of fish, or they develop a strong, unpleasant ferret smell.

What Should Ferrets Never Eat?

If you’re a responsible pet owner (and we know you are), you’ll avoid feeding ferrets any of these foods:

  • Fruit
  • Vegetables (vegetable protein is linked to bladder stones, skin ulcerations, and gastroenteritis)
  • Dairy products
  • Bread, crackers, and other grains (complex carbohydrates are very unhealthy)
  • Beans
  • Processed meats (i.e., bacon)
  • Salt
  • Candy or chocolate (sugars can lead to constipation, tooth decay, and obesity)

What Do Baby Ferrets Eat?

what do baby ferrets eat. A baby ferret in hand of its owner

A baby ferret, also known as a kit, should eat a very similar diet to an adult ferret with one significant addition: goat’s milk, lamb’s milk, or any other type of low-lactose milk.

According to the British Ferret Club, you should feed them about four times a day, and their daily intake should consist of:

  • Raw meat chunks
  • Fresh meat on the bone
  • Low-lactose milk
  • Fresh water

Remember that baby ferrets bond with their food when they’re young, so it’s a good idea to feed them a wide variety of ingredients to make sure they don’t become fussy eaters and stick their noses up at your dishes when they’re older.

Pro tip: try to soak at least one of their meals, so they also get accustomed to eating softer foods (a necessity if they’re ever ill).

Can I Find Ferret Food at My Local Pet Store?

Absolutely — nowadays, ferret owners are spoiled by a wide range of ferret-friendly choices in basically all of the pet stores and veterinary clinics around the world.

It’s easy to find fresh, frozen, and dried ferret food.

However, you need to be careful when shopping for ferret food, as not every product will be healthy for your ferrets, regardless of whether or not it has an adorable ferret printed on the bag.

You should look carefully at the label to check:

  1. You’re happy with the ingredients
  2. You only pick a product made up of at least 30% protein and 15% fat.

More often than not, cheap food won’t fit the bill for either of these checks, so be prepared to spend a little bit more on your furry friend to ensure they have a high-quality, high-protein food source.

Need a bit of help picking the right product? Then check out our comprehensive article on the nine best premium foods for ferrets!

How Often Should I Feed My Ferret?

brown ferret in front of white background with some pellet food

A ferret needs to consume many small meals every day because of their high metabolism and short digestive tract.

You should aim to provide them with food every three to four hours to enable them to “graze” and “snack” freely.

This meal plan ensures they’re constantly digesting food and getting access to the nutrients their bodies need to function correctly.

But suppose you forget to feed your ferret over a long period of time. In that case, they can quickly develop hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), which can cause a series of unwanted health problems, especially in aging ferrets prone to developing pancreatic tumors.

The good thing is that ferrets rarely overeat, so you can confidently pack their plates and let them eat to their little heart’s content.

This last sentence brings up another important question:

Should I Give Ferrets Access to Food at All Times?

The answer is it depends on the type of food you’re serving to your ferrets.

If you’re giving whole prey or fresh meat, organs, or bones to your ferret, you should closely supervise your ferret’s feeding session and remove the food as soon as they stop eating. Always remove uneaten food from their enclosures before it goes bad.

This prevents your ferret from hoarding their leftovers and then chowing down on them after they’ve gone bad, which is naturally a recipe for disaster.

On the other hand, if you’re feeding them a commercially prepared kibble (a.k.a. pellet-based) food, you’re okay to keep it in their bowls 24/7 as it won’t spoil even if they decide to go on an insane hoarding binge.

This is why many ferret experts recommend you leave your ferret’s bowl full of kibble when you’re out of the house, but alternate both raw meat and kibble when you’re around to join the dinner party.

What Kind of Treats Can You Give Ferrets?

Ferrets are cheeky buggers — they love to get their tiny paws on all sorts of unhealthy foods. Raisins are one of their all-time favorite ferret treats.

But you have to stand firm and say “no way,” no matter how persuasive and cute those little beady eyes are.

If you give in and feed your ferrets treats, you’re playing an active part in their health’s deterioration, and that’s not a role suited for a loving owner.

So what should you do when they beg you for some snack foods, or you’re tired of looking for your well-hidden sleeping ferret?

Crack out the safe foods and watch them enjoy an occasional treat knowing it won’t do them any harm.

You have the choice between:

  • Commercially prepared meat-based treats
  • Insects
  • Raw or cooked eggs
  • Meaty baby food
  • Animal organs
  • Muscle tissue
  • Raw or cooked chicken

Is It Okay To Feed My Ferret Dog Food?

No, feeding your ferret dog food is a bad idea, and it could lead to serious (and expensive) health issues.

Why?

Because a ferret’s diet is significantly different from that of man’s best friend.

Dogs can consume complex carbohydrates, fiber, and vegetable protein, while these are extremely detrimental to our skinny, bouncy ferret friends who should only eat meat-based meals.

To sum it up, never, ever feed your ferret dog food, irrespective of how tempting it is from a monetary point of view.

And What About Cat Food? Is That Okay?

Cat and ferret lying on a white background - can they share food?

Yes, you can feed your ferret high-quality cat food as long as you follow this guidance:

  1. Always buy premium foods (like Solid Gold - Indigo Moon - High Protein & Grain-Free  or ORIJEN Dry Cat Food ) as low-cost cat foods aren’t suited to ferrets (or cats either) because they contain grains and vegetables in more than just trace quantities.
  2. Go for kitten food over adult cat food whenever possible as it’s higher in protein and fat.

However, we still recommend you feed ferrets with species-specific food as these products have been formulated to contain precisely the right nutritional balance they need to thrive.

Can I Give a Pet Ferret Tap Water?

Yes, giving your ferret tap water is perfectly fine, as long as it’s fresh and free from residues.

Your ferret might refuse to drink it if your local water contains too much chlorine (they can smell it), so we suggest you filter it before offering it to your peppy buddy.

But regardless of what type of water you’re putting in your ferret’s bowl, make sure your ferrets drink plenty of it, and they always have a constant supply.

How Should You Change a Ferret’s Diet?

It’s pretty challenging to alter your ferret’s diet as these small animals can be very fussy eaters if they haven’t been fed a varied diet since they were kits.

This means that the majority of pet ferrets prefer to eat the same food over and over again and ferrets tend to refuse new products or new cuts of meat.

So what should you do if you want to transition to another type of food?

First of all, take it nice and slow and start by mixing in a tiny amount of the new food with their regular food. Once your ferrets get used to this blend, steadily up the amount of the new food over two to three weeks until you finish transitioning entirely.

If you notice any issues, slow down and give your ferrets a few days to get accustomed to the current mix before you start upping the ratio again.

How Should I Store Ferret Food?

Proper food storage is a fundamental part of owning ferrets.

You should never feed ferrets stale, moldy kibbles or rotten raw food — either of these could lead to serious health problems or death.

We advise you:

  • Store pelleted food for a maximum of three months (even if you haven’t opened it)
  • Buy smaller bags or go for kibble that comes in easy-to-seal milk-carton type containers
  • Keep food in cool, dry places not exposed to direct sunlight
  • Avoid storing ferret food in the garage or the basement
  • Only ever feed ferrets store-fresh meat, organs, and bones as the risk of storing them long term is never worth it

Final Thoughts on the Ideal Ferret Diet

You’re now a master when it comes to answering the question, “what do ferrets eat.”

Congratulations. 🎉 🐾 🥳

But don’t celebrate too hard (just yet).

You still have two important tasks:

  1. Feed your pet ferret a meat-based diet rich in approved ferret foods like raw animal flesh, cooked chicken, raw organs, raw bones, and high-quality ferret kibble.
  2. Educate other pet owners about the importance of a proper ferret diet and ensure everyone is aware they’re obligate carnivores that should be fed a natural diet high in meat protein and fat.

Now get out there and fill those ferret bowls — odds are that’s it nearly feeding time again, and they’re starving for some delicious meat (and some much-deserved attention)! 🍖 🥩 🦴

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