Diet for Ferrets

Unfortunately, a lot of people feed their ferrets the wrong thing. We don’t know as much about ferret diets as we do cat and dog diets, but we do know that just like cats, ferrets are carnivores. In the wild, they eat meat and they shouldn’t eat a lot of carbohydrates. Unfortunately, a lot of the dry kibble food on the market right now is too high in carbohydrate, which is not good for ferrets. They really need to eat a higher protein diet. In the wild ferrets are out catching rodents and eating little animals and that’s a lot of protein.

People think: “Why can’t I just feed my pet ferret a rodent?” Theoretically, you could you shouldn’t do that. Pet ferrets’ gastrointestinal tracts have not been adapted to ingest and deal with all the bacteria that is in raw food including things like salmonella and E. coli and other bacteria. We must be careful what we feed them. I do prefer to feed cooked protein.

There are several very good ferret diets out in the market that are kibble based, that have high protein in them and they’re not too high in carbohydrate. Unfortunately, ferrets are very prone to developing a disease called insulinoma. Insulinoma is almost the opposite of diabetes. In diabetes you don’t have enough insulin in your body and your blood sugar rises very high. Ferrets, because of the way they’re in bred, especially in the United States, are very prone to developing tumors in their pancreas, which is where the insulin is made in our bodies and in theirs.

Why A Proper Diet Is Important?

Ferrets make excessive amounts of insulin from these tumors which is a very common thing in ferrets as they age. With the excessive amounts of insulin, it drives down their blood sugars and they get hypoglycemic, or very weak. So, we want to be careful about feeding them lots of carbohydrate because they cause surges of insulin. When your body ingests a lot of sugar, your body responds by producing insulin to chew up that sugar and digest it. If you were a ferret with an insulinoma who’s producing excessive amounts of insulin, you’re going to have big swings in your blood sugar and your blood sugar will go plummeting down if you ingest too much carbohydrate.

We really want to limit the amount of carbohydrate that ferrets are ingesting by feeding them nutritionally balanced, solid, slightly high protein, moderate fat, low carbohydrate diet. ZuPreem has a wonderful diet out on the market to meet ferret’s needs just this way. If you’re going to feed your ferret treats, you don’t want to feed them sugary things like, yogurt covered raisins and things like that. You can feed little bits of cooked meat like a little bit chicken little piece of turkey. Cooked meat is what I prefer as a treat.

Keeping Your Ferret Active

It’s very important to monitor your ferret’s weight as well. Ferrets, particularly those who are eating excessive amounts of carbohydrate or fat, will put on a lot of weight. Ferrets are kind of couch potatoes and they’re nocturnal, so they like to run around at night. A lot of them adapt to our schedules so they may play with us in the evening and they may be sleeping all day when we’re at work. That really doesn’t promote a lot of activity in their lives or help them burn a lot of necessary calories. So, a lot of ferrets, as they age, get overweight, develop arthritis, heart disease and things that come with obesity in people.  

You want to keep your ferret, lean and mean. You want to put the food out so they can forage for it. Don’t just offer them a big bowl of food. You might hide it around the room a little bit and make that ferret get up and run around and hunt for it. They like to hunt in the wild and search for food. Put away food in little corners of the room which makes them get up and exercise. It’s also nice for them mentally. It stimulates their brain to get up and do things and look for things. So, they’re not just sitting around doing nothing all day and then just eating.

Ferret Dental Care

Your ferret’s dental care is also important. A ferret’s teeth are very much like cats and dogs. We know cats and dogs get tartar on their teeth and need to have regular dental cleaning and so do ferrets. Ferrets are not brushing their teeth, or at least most people are not brushing their first teeth and I do recommend that you do. If you are a good ferret owner and you take your ferret into the veterinarian annually, as you should for shots and a checkup and a good dental exam, you should talk to your vet about brushing your ferret’s teeth. There are little teeny ferret toothbrushes that fit over your finger.

There’s poultry flavored toothpaste that they like very much as well. You should get into the habit of brushing your ferrets’ teeth several times a week. You can really keep down the amount of tartar. When tartar forms, just like when tartar forms on our teeth, you can’t brush it away. You need to have a professionally cleaned off. So, ferrets should have their teeth cleaned and checked annually. A thorough dental cleaning does involve putting them under anesthesia and having that tartar trilled off. If there are any infected or rotting teeth you will have those teeth removed. A lot of ferrets get gingivitis or inflammation of their gums, which can be very painful and lead to tooth root infections that if left alone, it can spread into the bloodstream and spread to the organs and cause life threatening illness. You do want to make sure you have your ferrets’ teeth checked regularly when they come in for their exam. A good ferret veterinarian knows to do that.

Switching Your Pet Ferrets Diet

If you are thinking about switching your ferret’s diet from a high fat or high carb diet to something more appropriate, this is ideal. Choose one that is slightly higher in protein, moderate in fat and lower in carbohydrate. You want to make a diet change gradually. Many of you have done this with your pet dog or cat, you know that if you switch the diet too quickly, you can cause gastrointestinal upset. This can lead to diarrhea, soft stools, and sometimes vomiting. You want to do this over a series of days. So, you might want to add in about a quarter of the diet of the new food and take away a quarter of the diet of the old food. The next day take another quarter away over several days.

Over a period of about maybe five days, just gradually transition from the old food to the new food. If your ferret is fussy and doesn’t want to eat, then you want to do it very slowly. You don’t want to starve them. You also want to seek the advice of your veterinarian. Ferrets do have a very similar digestive tract to cats in that they adjust their food in just a couple of hours. They will graze all day if given unlimited amounts of food. So, you don’t want to overfeed them because they get bored and they just snack all day.

You can feed your ferret twice a day. A little in the morning and a little at night. Don’t overfeed them because they will eat just out of boredom. And just like us put on a lot of weight, and that’s not healthy for them in the end.

Proper Care for Your Pet Ferret

When you’re thinking about providing proper nutrition for your ferret, think good, solid diet made specifically for ferrets. You don’t want to feed them cat food and that’s what we used to do years ago. That’s not recommended now. There are certainly similarities in the cat and the ferret’s nutritional needs, but ferrets have some unique nutritional needs. You should find a ferret food specifically made for ferrets. Make the transition slowly and encourage your ferret to eat a ferret food that’s balanced.

Remember to have your ferret checked annually by your ferret veterinarian. Ferrets do need annual rabies vaccinations. They’re also subject to distemper virus, which is a virus that can be carried by dogs and that we vaccinate our dogs against and something that is transmitted potentially from dogs to ferrets. So, you want to talk to your ferret veterinarian about protecting your animal as well.

Ferrets do have specific needs, they do need veterinary care and do have special digestive needs. If you want your ferret to live out a full, happy, healthy life, nutrition is a very big part of it, just as it is for our cats and dogs or for ourselves. 

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