By Catherine Smith
The lack of truly ideal ferret foods is one reason there is growing interest in more natural diets for ferrets.
Basic Feeding Rules
Ferrets have unique feeding requirements, which are now finally being addressed by commercial pet food manufacturers, though with varying success. Ferrets are obligate carnivores, and food passes through the digestive system of a ferret very quickly. They have a sweet tooth but do not give in — avoid sweet treats (including raisins and other fruits).
Ferret diets should list meat, poultry or fishmeal, or animal by-products as the first ingredient. Ferrets love fruits and veggies, but their systems don’t. They do not digest fibre well at all; a banana in comes out a banana. For this reason, a ferret diet must be high in animal protein, high in fat, and low in fibre.
Feeding Young Ferrets
Whether you are feeding raw or commercial food you should always feed at least two types of food in your young ferret’s daily diet to prevent them from imprinting on one food. Ferrets imprint on foods when they’re young, so varying the diet will make things easier if you need to change your ferret’s food later on.
There are vitamin supplements for ferrets and hairball remedies, which ferrets generally love, and they provide some benefits.
Raw Diet Pros
Good diets tend to be expensive, but are worth it. I researched raw food diets further and found a diet combining raw meaty bones and mince which keeps our ferrets in top condition. Feeding whole raw meaty bones help to prevent tartar forming on the teeth and provides calcium in the diet. Even if not feeding a raw food diet they can be fed alongside dry complete a couple of times a week to keep the teeth clean.
You will see an overall improvement in your ferret’s energy and coat condition. One bonus of a natural diet is that the stool volume decreases as more of the food is absorbed and the smell is greatly decreased.
There are many websites containing information on raw feeding. When feeding groups of ferrets watch to ensure no fighting occurs over bones.
Raw Diet Cons
The biggest drawback to feeding any fresh, cooked meat would be the ferret’s normal habit of stashing food for later. It is pretty unhygienic and dangerous to have a pile of stashed meat in the corner of the cage. Make sure you collect any leftovers after every feed. When first fed raw bones it can cause your ferret’s stools to turn a white/grey colour, the ferrets digestive system will develop stomach acids to break down bone and should soon return to normal.
(Note not all veterinarians promote a raw food diet) In the wild a ferret’s natural diet is a mixture of small mammals, some birds, fish, amphibians and invertebrates. When feeding groups of ferrets watch to ensure no fighting occurs over bones.
Getting the balance right
Perhaps the best thing to do is to pick up a bag or two of the highest quality ferret food on the market. Make sure you check the ingredients on the pack and see that the first ingredients are meat. Make up a meal of some dry food, some raw bones and meat and even a vitamin supplement. Gradually you can increase the amount of raw food in the diet. Make sure you keep up the vitamin supplements to ensure your ferret is not missing out.
Canned ferret food can be given as a treat or supplement, but only occasionally.
The diet you feed your ferret is vital to their health and overall well-being and could even help your ferret live a long and happy life.
2007 Copyright Catherine Smith
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