Ferrets are inquisitive, playful animals and, if well cared for, make loyal pets for up to ten years. There are no ferrets in the wild which means we are still learning about their needs. However, we do know that they are likely to have descended from polecats and their name means ‘little thief’!
Ferrets are strict carnivores – they need a well-balanced diet containing animal protein to stay fit and healthy. Ferrets cannot be vegetarians. Complete foods specifically for ferrets are available but here are some nutrition tips to bear in mind when caring for your pet.
Ferret Nutritional Requirements
Ferrets have high metabolic rates and very short digestive tracts, therefore need feeding little and often. It’s a good idea to have food available all day long – perhaps hiding it to stimulate their natural foraging behaviour.
Ferrets cannot easily digest large amounts of fibre or complex carbohydrates, so avoid bread and cereals.
The average ferret will eat 5-7% of its body weight on a daily basis. This is about 50-75 grams of food for a ferret weighing 1 kg. However, the quantity of food differs from animal to animal and according to life stage.
Ferrets will require larger quantities during growth, gestation and reproduction. A reproducing female requires a minimum of 30% protein in their diet, and kits require more protein and fat. Older ferrets may need less food and of course, if you think your pet is gaining weight, feed levels should be adjusted.
There are several nutritionally balanced diets for ferrets on the market. Manufacturers have experts available to provide you with advice on what you should buy for your ferret and how to feed it, so contact them directly for further advice on specific products.
Fresh, clean water must always be available for your ferret. Make sure you check their water at least twice a day. If your ferret is outdoors in winter, ensure the water doesn’t freeze.
It’s also important to only give your ferret small amounts of treats. If ferrets eat too much and become overweight, this can lead to many other health problems.
It is not advisable to make any sudden changes to your ferret’s diet as this may make them very ill. Always introduce new diets gradually and talk to your vet if your ferret is ill.
Unsafe Foods for Ferrets
There are a number of foods that are poisonous to ferrets, so always double-check before you feed them.
You should not feed your ferret:
The list is not exhaustive, and if in doubt as to whether something is safe to feed, it is best to avoid it.