Diet can mean the difference between an active, healthy playful ferret, and a sickly, malnutritioned one. It is very important that you choose your ferret’s food and treats wisely, with consideration for their nutritional needs.
Ferret food must be high in animal protein (chicken, turkey, beef, lamb, etc) and fat. Protein should be about 35% to 40% minimum, and fat should be around 18% to 20% minimum. They do not have the ability to digest fiber, so their food must be low in fiber. Look for a food that has quality sources of animal protein and fat as at least three of the first five ingredients. Kitten food does not have the proper nutrition that ferrets need for their main food. Dog food also lacks the nutrients needed to properly maintain ferret health.
It is best to give your ferret a variety of food mixed together, that way if one of the foods becomes unavailable, your ferret will still have other food to eat. In general, ferrets tend to be picky eaters that imprint on their regular diet, so it’s good to have more than one choice in their everyday mix of kibble.
If you do have to switch foods, try to mix the new food with the old food before the old food runs out. That way you can switch them over slowly, which will make it more likely they will accept and eat the new food.
Read an article on the importance of choosing healthy food and treats.
Ferrets' treats should complement their diet, not fill them up so they don't want to eat their food. So treats should have the same nutritional value as food does - look for something that is meat-based, that has a lot of animal protein. Sometimes just giving your ferrets their regular food out of your hand will be viewed as a treat!
While there are some high-quality cat/kitten diets out there that are acceptable for ferrets, it is highly recommended that you feed a good ferret food with it. Cat food is similar to ferret food, but ferrets have unique nutritional requirements that ferret food is made to fulfill. No matter how good a cat food is, it's still made for a cat, not a ferret!
Read our article about Making Healthy Food Choices for Your Ferret.
Ferrets "imprint" on the food they are given. This means that they become used to it and refuse to eat other foods. If you are unable to get that one food or if the manufacturer suddenly changes the formula, you can end up with a sick fuzzy on a hunger strike. Ferrets denied their regular food will often refuse other foods, and if they do eat other foods, it can give them diarrhea.
Never suddenly switch your ferret's food. Sudden dietary changes can cause diarrhea, and your ferret may refuse to eat. If you decide to switch diets, do it slowly. Start by mixing in the new food with the old food at a ratio of 1 part new to 9 parts old. Gradually increase the ratio of new to old until the old food is phased out. If done correctly, this should take a few weeks at the least.
If your ferret refuses to eat the new food, here are some things you can try:
- Put the new food and old food in a Ziploc bag so the new food will smell like the old food
- Grind up either the new food or both foods and make a duck soup with it
- Drizzle FuroTone on the new food. Make sure to change the food regularly if you are trying this method, as FuroTone left on food too long may turn it rancid
Senior ferret diets are formulated with less protein and less fat, so they are considered appropriate for less active older ferrets. Most senior diets are made for ferrets over the age of 4, but they aren't always necessary. Senior diets are helpful if you have a ferret with kidney problems, as high amounts of protein can be harmful. However, as long as your ferret is in good health there is no reason to switch to a senior diet.