Category Archives: Pet Nutrition

Best Food for Ferrets

Dr. Susan Brown DVM explains what type of food is best for ferrets and why.

“I have been an exotic animal veterinarian for the past 25 years and I have seen the damage that has been done in a number of species when we moved away from a raw, more natural diet, to processed diets. Two glaring examples are pet rabbits and pet birds. We have seen over the years that feeding a diet that is completely processed has caused innumerable ailments and premature death in both of these groups. When we returned them to foods that are more in tune with their physiology we saw a tremendous reduction in the incidence of specific diseases and we conversely have not seen any new diseases as a result of this change. There are a growing number of animal health professionals as well as pet owners that believe that processed dog and cat diets create disease as well. Changing these pets over to a balanced raw diet has shown incredible benefits.” ~ Dr. Susan Brown DVM.

To maintain optimum health, ferrets require a diet which most closely resembles that which they would get in the wild. They also require some sunlight.

Susan A. Brown, DVM writes: “Ferrets are strict carnivores, meaning they are designed to eat whole prey items, which includes all parts of the killed animal. The only non-meat items they might encounter in their diet would be in the stomach and intestinal tract of their prey, where it is partially digested. This might include small amounts of grains, fruits and vegetables.

Ferrets have a very short gastrointestinal (GI) tract and the flora (the organisms living in the GI tract) are very simple, unlike the flora of animals that eat more vegetation. It takes about 3 to 4 hours for food to go from one end to the other and thus they absorb food rather inefficiently. Ferrets tend to eat several smaller meals and carry any excess to their dens to eat later. Did you ever have a ferret that took food and tucked it away in the corner of the cage, or a piece of furniture? ”

Ferret babies eating rawmeat“A nutritious and balanced diet is the foundation of good health for all creatures including ferrets. Ferrets have been kept in captivity since 300 BC, but it is only in the last 40 years that we have changed their diet from raw foods to commercially processed foods. We have made the change primarily because we, the public, have demanded a uniformly easy to feed and hopefully nutritious food that allows us to successfully keep ferrets in our homes. I think everyone would agree that it is easier to pour little bits of food out of a bag than to go out and find whole prey items to feed. But the question is are we really providing a healthy ferret diet using processed foods?

Is it really possible to take raw food, grind it up, heat it to high temperatures, add ingredients that are not part of the normal diet, add back nutrients altered or destroyed during processing, press it into amusing shapes and have this be the equivalent of the natural diet”? I liken it to the Wonder Bread that I ate as a child. It was highly processed and stripped of many nutrients, then the nutrients were put back in chemically and it was put in an eye-catching package announcing its nutritional value. And didn’t we love that package with the little colorful balloons telling us we were buying a healthy product? And don’t we love the ferret food packages with cute pictures of ferrets everywhere? The food must be good if it has a ferret picture on it…shouldn’t that be the case?”

I have fed my own four dogs ranging in size from 200 pounds to 5 pounds an all raw diet for the past two years and I will never go back to processed. In my own case there were several problems that were cleared up in the “pack” with diet change alone including anal gland disease, skin and allergy problems, ear problems, obesity and gastrointestinal disease. I personally know a number of people who have made the same switch with both dogs and cats and the results are truly remarkable. Most animals experience a dramatic increase in energy level and a reduction in excess body weight. Some pets have been able to stop or reduce medication intake. Of course diet is not a miracle cure for all diseases, but it makes sense that if the body is nourished properly it can cope with disease and utilize needed medications more effectively.

So what should a ferret be eating? Let’s look at ferret gastrointestinal (GI) physiology to find out. Ferrets are strict carnivores, meaning they are designed to eat whole prey items, which includes all parts of the killed animal. The only nonmeat items they might encounter in their diet would be in the stomach and intestinal tract of their prey, where it is partially digested. This might include small amounts of grains, fruits and vegetables. Ferrets have a very short GI tract and the flora (the organisms living in the GI tract) are very simple, unlike animals that eat more vegetation. It takes about 3 to 4 hours for food to go from one end to the other and thus they absorb food rather inefficiently. Ferrets tend to eat several smaller meals and carry any excess to their dens to eat later. Did you ever have a ferret that took food and tucked it away in the corner of the cage, or a chair?

Because of the short GI tract and the poor absorption of nutrients, ferrets require a diet that is highly concentrated with FAT as the main source of calories (energy) and highly digestible MEAT-BASED PROTEIN. This would match the basic composition of a prey animal not excluding the essential vitamins and minerals it also contains. Ferrets should never be fed carbohydrates (such as vegetable, fruit or grains) as the main source of energy in the diet. Ferrets cannot digest fiber, as is found in some vegetable and fruit sources. If there is a significant amount of fiber in the diet it serves to lower the nutritional value of the food.

As mentioned, ferrets need a highly digestible meat-based protein in the diet. Vegetable protein is poorly utilized. In the presence of excess vegetable protein the ferret can suffer from such diseases as bladder stones, poor coat and skin quality, eosinophilic gastroenteritis (wasting, diarrhea, ulcerations of the skin and ear tips and swollen feet) poor growth of kits and decreased reproduction. Dog food and vegetarian-type pet foods are completely inappropriate for use in ferrets because of the high level of vegetable protein and fiber. The bottom line is that ferrets use fat for energy not carbohydrates and they need a highly digestible meat-based protein not vegetable protein.”

“On an almost total diet of raw whole carcass meat being fed only in the morning and living under natural light outside away from all the pollutants and chemicals found in a house the health of my ferrets is perfect.”

In December 1995, the British Journal of Small Animal Practice published a paper contending that processed pet food (kibble and canned food) suppresses the immune system and leads to liver, kidney, heart and other diseases. Dr. Kollath, of the Karolinska Hospital in Stockholm, headed a study done on animals. When young animals were fed cooked and processed foods they initially appeared to be healthy. However, as the animals reached adulthood, they began to age more quickly than normal and also developed chronic degenerative disease symptoms. A control group of animals raised on raw foods aged less quickly and were free of degenerative disease. For a return to health, pets require a diet which strengthens the immune system and most closely resembles that which they would get in the wild. It’s really easy to do. Learn more about raw food for carnivores