How to Choose the Best Ferret Food
What ferrets would eat, have eaten and should eat are often very different. Providing a suitable diet is essential for your ferret’s good health and happy life.
So, what’s the best ferret food?
Before much research was done into ferret nutrition, ferrets were traditionally fed live and dead animals—everything from mice, rats, rabbits and squirrels to frogs, lizards and chicks. Even today, this traditional diet is still fed in some circles, along with bugs and worms. This natural, evolutionary diet usually provides all the essential nutrients a ferret needs. However, this prey-type diet is not agreeable with most modern ferret parents (including me!)
If Not the Natural Prey Route, what’s the Best Type of Ferret Food?
In the past, due to misinformation or lack of information, ferrets have been fed dog food, cat food and people food. Many people still feed their ferrets cat food or kitten food. As ferrets become more popular as pets, commercial diet formulas for ferrets have been developed. The reason these foods were developed is for our convenience–not optimal ferret health. Not all of these foods had or have the right nutrients for proper ferret nutrition. These commercial diets have improved over the past decades as we gain more knowledge and understanding of the ferret and as ferret parents demand higher quality ferret food.
The key to proper ferret nutrition is the right amounts of:
- Meat-based protein (35-45%)
- Fat (15-20%)
- Vitamins and minerals (including taurine)
Just as important is that your ferret’s diet has very minimal amounts of:
Ferrets aren’t able to digest fiber. Too much fiber in his diet leads to diarrhea or diarrhea-like results. Similarly, they cannot digest milk as adults.
Dissecting Pet Food Labels
It’s not as easy as looking for the percentage of protein and fat. Pet food labels, even those from reputable manufacturers can be misleading. Unless the label says all protein is from meat, you can be sure it isn’t. So, 40% protein could actually be 10% protein from meat and 30% from other sources, such as soy, pea, etc.) Plus, the ”meat” may be “by-products”. By-products are left over animal bits such as skin, beaks, tendons, heads… Do you want your ferret eating that?
Lower quality, and often lower price, food contains by-products and other less expensive sources of protein. But, just because it costs more, doesn’t mean it’s better. Just as with people food, you have to read the ingredients and know what the ingredients are.
Even some premium brand ferret food contains ingredients that are not healthy for ferrets. Fillers such as grains, corn and rice and sweeteners such as molasses, dextrose and raisin juice should be avoided. Other healthy-sounding ingredients that should be avoided are dried fruits and veggies. They may sound good, but they are not good for ferrets.
Kibble, Canned or Freeze-Dried?
Kibble is preferred over canned food. Canned food lacks the nutrient density to be a ferret’s main source of nutrition. Also, because it is about 70% water, ferrets need to eat larger amounts to get the same calories provided by dry food. Ferrets have small tummies, so they may not be able to get all the nutrients they need. However, it does make a healthy addition to kibble.
The pet industry continues to come out with more foods specially designed for ferrets. The majority of these dry ferret foods meet the protein and fat requirements for proper nutrition and are good choices as your stable ferret food. However, as mentioned, it is important to know what type of protein it is. Plus, a particular brand may have more than one type of ferret food and one may be much better than the other.
If you are feeding your ferret a high-quality kibble that contains taurine (which promotes eye and heart health) you should not need to supplement it. Providing extra supplements can actually throw off the overall nutritional balance and may lead to health problems. You can add high-quality canned ferret food, as discussed, as well as a limited amount of healthy “treats”.
Another area to discuss when asking, “Healthy or Not?” is the subject of treats.
I don’t know who gets more enjoyment out of treats–the giver or the recipient! We all love giving treats and it’s so much fun to see how excited our ferrets get when they expect a treat.
But what are good, healthy treats? Typically what we may consider a treat is not a good ferret treat. High carb sugary and salty snacks, nuts, fruit, veggies, dairy products–none of these are good ferret treats. Most commercially sold ferret treats are actually not healthy for ferrets either. Most are high in sugar or other carbohydrates. The best ferret treats are protein based.
High-protein foods such as eggs, fish, poultry and beef are the best treats for ferrets. Freeze-dried treats like Whole Life Single Ingredient Pet Treats are excellent choices. Other treats can include a lick of fish oil (from a fish oil capsule) or a lick of salmon oil Every ferret I have ever had loved these vitamin treats! I put a tiny bit on my finger and they eagerly lick it off.
Keep in mind these treats are ferret treats—not your treats! You may want to give her a bite of your chips or crumbs from your cookie because you know she will enjoy it, but these things are not good for her (many are not good for us either!) I had one ferret, Chantile, who loved sweets. She would steal Twinkie wrappers out of the garbage and climb up my leg when I ate pancakes. An occasional lick of a not-so-healthy goody is not the end of the world, but it should be avoided.
So what is the best food for your ferret?
Basically, a high-quality meat-base diet, free of fillers, grains and other carbs, with an occasional healthy treat and natural supplements, if needed.