Welcome to our complete guide to ferret feeding. Answering the important question – what can I feed my ferret?
Are you thinking about getting a ferret friend, but have found yourself wondering, “What do ferrets eat?”
We’re glad you asked! Ferrets actually have a very different diet from other common rodent-like pets.
In this article, we’ll discuss everything that you need to know about the ferret diet, what human foods they can eat, popular brands of dry food they can eat, and a few other tips and recommendations for what to feed a ferret to help him feel his best!
What does a ferret eat in the wild?
To get an idea of what to feed a pet ferret, let’s first talk about what the domestic ferret’s distant weasel cousin, the black-footed ferret, munches on.
When left to their own devices, black-footed ferrets generally don’t reach for plants, nuts, or vegetables.
So…what can I feed my ferret if I want to base it on his wild ancestors? Do ferrets eat meat, then?
You’ve got it!
Both black-footed ferrets and domestic ferrets are carnivorous animals that use fat for energy and thus must eat a meaty and protein-packed diet for proper sustenance. They cannot tolerate a high-fiber or high-carbohydrate diet.
To meet their nutritional needs, black-footed ferrets primarily eat prairie dogs. Let’s find out what pet ferrets eat to stay healthy!
What can ferrets eat as pets?
So, what do you feed ferrets that are pets? Do ferrets eat mice? Or do ferrets eat rabbits? Do they eat dry or wet food?
There are actually several methods commonly used to feed ferrets.
Feeding ferrets that are domesticated could involve a good-quality ferret-formulated “kibble,” a homemade diet (more on that later), the “whole prey” model, or a combination of two or more of these feeding methods.
The “whole prey” model involves feeding your ferret fresh or frozen prey that closely resembles what a ferret might eat in the wild (e.g., rats, mice, chicks, etc.). You may be able to find frozen (and typically humanely killed) prey food at exotic pet stores.
You can read the American Ferret Association’s stance on the whole prey method of feeding ferrets here.
Read on to learn about our recommendations for dry ferret food.
Best food for ferrets
But what can I feed my ferret if I want to give him the very best ferret food?
There are many types of commercial ferret foods available. With so many options, it may feel overwhelming trying to select the right one.
However, it’s not hard to choose the best food for your ferret if you know what you’re looking for! When choosing ferret food, ensure that it contains at least 30% protein and close to 20% fat. Anything less won’t meet your ferret’s nutritional requirements.
Here is a ferret food list of brands that provide good complete ferret food. In no particular order!
Review the ferret food chart below for a quick-look at the nutritional content for each of these brands.
We suggest that you review the labels on commercially produced ferret foods to ensure that your furry friend will get enough protein and fat and not too much fiber or carbohydrates.
Cheap ferret food isn’t a good option, since these low-quality foods generally contain too much filler (plant-based protein and ash) and not enough meat-based proteins.
Furthermore, if you are going to feed your ferret a kibble-based diet, then you might consider putting him on hairball/obstruction preventative regime, such as Ferret Lax.
Due to the lack of moisture in a dry diet, ferrets who eat primarily dry food are more likely to develop hairballs or other intestinal obstructions. Ferret Lax will aid their digestive motility, which will help to keep their bowel movements regular, thereby preventing a bowel obstruction.
Can I feed my ferret cat, dog, or human food?
If you’re in a pinch and unable to purchase ferret food or whole prey, there are some other safe (but temporary) options.
Can ferrets eat cat food?
According to the Banfield Pet Hospital, ferrets can be fed cat food, but only on a short-term basis. If you must feed cat food, it’s recommended that you feed them a high-quality kitten chow that’s preferably sold by a vet, as it is higher in protein and fat.
Can ferrets eat dog food?
A ferret eating dog food would not bode well for the ferret.
Many dog foods contain a lot of vegetable protein and fiber. As we mentioned previously, ferrets get their energy from fat found in meat. Any non-meat protein they eat can cause indigestion, at minimum.
In fact, excess vegetable protein can even cause bladder stones!
According to a 2008 study, a ferret’s urine is acidic when it’s fed a meat-based diet, but this acidity decreases greatly when it’s fed a low-fat diet. Furthermore, struvite (a phosphate mineral that forms bladder stones) tends to precipitate (clot) in neutral to basic urine.
Thus, bladder stones are more likely to form in ferrets who are fed a low-fat, low-protein diet.
What human food can ferrets eat?
So, we’ve established that ferrets can eat meat as well as certain dry kibbles. What about human food?
Yes, there are some human foods ferrets can eat (in moderation, of course). These include small bits of plain meat (raw or cooked), small amounts of pure-meat-based baby food, or raw eggs.
Although some human foods are safe for your ferret, you should always consult with your veterinarian before giving him human food that you’re not entirely certain he can have.
Homemade ferret food
Ferret food doesn’t have to be purchased in kibble or whole prey form. You can also “make” healthy food for your ferret at home!
But what can I feed my ferret if I am making my food at home?
As we mentioned earlier, you can feed your ferret meat, preferably chicken (cooked or raw) as well as baby foods that are purely meat.
However, feeding your ferret only chicken or only baby food will not provide them with all of their nutritional requirements.
According to a 2014 study, ferrets need the nutrients, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals found in bones, muscle meat, organs, and tissues that are found in whole prey as well as most kibble diets.
Specifically, ferrets need the calcium and phosphorus found in bone meal and the vitamin E found in many prey animals’ livers.
If you’re wanting to feed solely homemade ferret food, we suggest that you offer a raw carnivore diet. This includes feeding your ferret a variety of meats and cuts of meat, such as all-natural chicken wings, raw chicken livers, hearts, muscle meats, and bone meal. Many grocery stores have these items readily available, or you could request them from your butcher.
Remember to consult your veterinarian before starting your ferret on a homemade food regime (or before you make any change to his diet), as a quick change may cause digestive upset.
Your vet can also tell you how to best convert your ferret to a homemade diet as well as help you to create a diet plan that will provide your ferret with all of his nutritional requirements. You wouldn’t want to accidentally malnourish your ferret!
How often should you feed a ferret?
The method in which you feed your ferret determines how often they should be fed.
If you feed your ferret a pellet-based commercially prepared food, then you’ll want to keep food in front of them at all times.
According to the VCA Animal Hospital, the digestive process in ferrets is quite quick. It typically takes just three or four hours from the time a ferret ingests its food to the time that the ferret defecates. Furthermore, as a ferret ages, it may be more likely to develop pancreatic tumors that can cause excessive amounts of insulin to be produced.
Both the quick motility and excessive insulin can contribute to ferrets developing low blood sugar when they do not have food constantly being digested. Therefore, leaving plenty of food out for your ferret will allow them to “graze” on it throughout the day.
If you notice your ferret gaining weight, then you may need to limit how much food they are eating. This can be done by providing them with several tiny meals during the day.
If you feed your ferret using the whole prey method, then they do not always need to have food in front of them. They will spend plenty of time eating and digesting their prey.
Regardless of your ferret’s diet, be sure to provide them with plenty of fresh water!
Treats for ferrets
So what can I feed my ferret by way of treats?
There are many processed ferret treats available for purchase. Some brands, such as Wysong, even carry raw treat options!
It’s also fine to treat ferrets to small bits of the safe non-processed foods that we’ve mentioned – meaty baby food, bits of prey animal organs or muscle tissue, small bites of raw or cooked egg, or a bit of raw or cooked chicken – especially if they eat mostly kibble.
You should avoid giving ferrets sugary treats such as fruit, raisins, bread, cereal, crackers, grains, candy, and any other carbohydrate-rich foods. Their digestive system is not meant to handle foods that aren’t fat- or protein-rich, so ingesting carbohydrates can cause digestive issues.
As with any pet, regardless of their species, be sure that treats make up only a very small percentage of their diet. Your ferret should always get the bulk of their calories from their main protein and fat source.
What can I feed my ferret?
What to feed ferrets can be confusing. However, it doesn’t have to be!
Ferrets can have ferret-formulated kibble or kitten chow, but only if you’re unable to purchase ferret kibble. You can feed kibble in conjunction with raw meat for a nice variety for your ferret. When feeding kibble, you’ll want to provide enough for your ferret to nibble all day long, and you may wish to consider giving your ferret a laxative gel to maintain their digestive motility.
You can also feed your ferret whole prey, such as frozen mice, rats, or chicks, of which can be purchased from an exotic or reptile pet food store. This method provides complete nutrition in one fell swoop as well as adequate moisture.
If you’re unable to or do not wish to feed your ferret whole prey, then you can still feed a meat-based diet (or supplement a kibble-based diet) with chicken wings, livers, hearts, and bone meal. You can find many, if not all, of these products at a butcher shop or grocery store.
This method requires careful planning and possible supplementing, as your ferret won’t be able to get all of the necessary vitamins and minerals from only chicken wings, for example.
If you’re feeling uneasy about what to feed your ferret, your veterinarian will be able to help you
- Angel-Caraza, J., Chávez-Moreno, O., García-Navarro, S., Pérez-García, C. “Mixed urolith (struvite and calcium oxalate) in a ferret (Mustela putorius furo)”. J Vet Diagn Invest, November 2008.
- Axelson, R. “Ferrets – Feeding”. VCA Animal Hospitals, December 2008.
- Banfield Pet Hospital. “Keeping Your Ferret Healthy”.
- Black Footed Ferret Information
- Goose Creek Veterinary Clinic. “How to guide for ferrets”.
- Johnson-Delaney, C. “Ferret Nutrition”. Veterinary Clinics of North America Exotic Pet Practice, September 2014.
- Morrisey, J. “Providing a Home for a Ferret”. Merck Veterinary Manual.