Tips on What to Feed a Ferret

It’s fairly simple to figure out what to feed your ferrets if you understand a simple rule. Ferrets are obligate carnivores. What does that mean?

1. Firstly, what is a carnivore?

By layman’s definition, a carnivore is a critter that eats meat. The scientist’s definition is a bit significantly different. To a scientist, they are a subset of mammals. Remember from elementary school that a mammal has a four-chambered heart, a neocortex, three bones in the ear, bears live birth, feeds babies milk, and has hair at some point in life. A carnivore has the additional qualities of sharp claws, at least four toes on each foot, canine teeth, and molars that have slicing edges. Like humans and puppies, they have baby teeth that fall out and adult teeth that stay in permanently.

Most carnivores, by the scientific definition, eat meat, but there are some that hardly eat any meat at all. The giant panda bear, for example, is one of the eight bear species alive today, and all bears are classified in the order Carnivora. The giant panda bear, however, mostly eats bamboo, a grass.

2. What does that extra adjective, obligate, mean?

These critters must eat meat to survive. They can’t make all the nutrients their bodies need to survive, and many can’t digest vegetation at all. The family cat (and all felines, for that matter) are obligate carnivores. Have you ever seen a pet cat eat a carrot or green bean? Every Labrador I’ve ever had loves carrots, green beans, and pumpkins, but cats generally don’t touch vegetables. Occasionally a cat will eat some grass, but they do that because they need to vomit.

3. Ferrets are obligate carnivores.

To survive, a ferret must ingest meat.

So, what should you feed your pet ferret?

The kibble choice: The family cat is a carnivore, but you don’t have to feed it live mice or cook him a nice chicken dinner. Most people with cats feed their cat kibble. Like cats, you can feed your ferret kibble. In a pinch, you can even feed your premium ferret kitten food (not the typical grocery store kitten food). Ferrets have different nutritional requirements than cats. They need more protein, more fat, and less fiber than cats. However, if you feed your ferret kibble, your best bet is to feed him something that says “ferret” on the package. Read the package, and make sure it has the right ratios of protein, fat, and carbohydrates.

The raw food choice: Many ferret owners are strong believers in feeding their ferrets meat and not kibble. Some people give their ferrets rats, mice, and chicken. Strong arguments exist for feeding the ferrets something more akin to the natural diet of the European polecat. If you live in the United States, however, you might have trouble convincing your ferrets of the advantages of a raw diet. I’ve had twenty ferrets pass through my house and nary a one has ever been tempted by either raw or cooked chicken. (Soup is another story. They like chicken soup.)

My choice: I give my ferrets a choice of a couple of different kinds of Totally Ferret food. This food can be ordered online. (I’m fortunate that I live close to the office and I can walk across the street to get it.) I also give my ferrets “treats” of Ferretone, Vivify, Ferretvite, and other oils.

By Laura