What should you feed your ferret? Ferret food, of course!
Just because your new furry friend looks like a skinny squirrel, don’t think you’re doing him a favor by tossing him a peanut for a snack. Ferrets, you should know up front, have very important diet restrictions. And while it’s not hard to find plenty of things to feed your new family member, it’s just as important to keep him away from things that will do him hard (a peanut, for example, is one of the worst things you can feed him).
Pet Parents will have their choice of feeding their ferret pre-prepared food purchased from the pet aisle in the grocery store, or more common foods found around the typical household. All family members—both large and small—appreciate variety in their diet, so please try to remember to provide some tastier treats along with the standard dietary requirements. Plus, your new ferret will probably be a finicky eater—just your good luck!—so providing variety along the way will help your ferret adjust if his usual dinner fare suddenly is unavailable.
The basic requirements
Fat and protein, specifically animal protein, are the top two ingredients needed to keep your friend healthy. Chicken, beef, lamb, and turkey are all high in these requirements. So is fish, but ferrets usually turn their little noses up at it, which isn’t necessarily bad because their litter pans will definitely smell better if they stay away from seafood.
Your ferret’s basic nutritional needs can be met with a premium dry ferret food or, if that is not easily found, a premium kitten food. The ingredients in the bag of food should show a minimum of 34 percent protein (the bulk of which should be from animal sources) and 22 percent fat. Don’t even think about dog food, as it’s not even close to meeting a ferret’s dietary requirements. In addition, be aware that sometimes ferret food and kitten food will be almost identical in content (except the ferret variety will have the higher price), so look over the labels carefully.
Some human food
As appetizing as bagged, dry food sounds, ferrets do enjoy a variety of “real” food. Pet Parents will be pleased to know that many of them are probably in your frigs and kitchen shelves now. Though it should go without saying, please take care to cut up any of these treats into very small bites (even raisins!).
Most ferrets enjoy some fruits and vegetables. Remember that your friend’s dietary needs come first, so don’t let him fill up on treats. The list of possible treats offered by various breeders and ferret owners includes bananas, raisins, apples, melon, cat treats, green beans, and crackers. Other raw veggies that are acceptable fare are bell peppers, broccoli, cucumbers, green peas, mushrooms, potatoes, and tomatoes.
Some more hearty liquids are okay too: chicken broth and soy milk are good. Keep to lactose-free liquids and your friend will feel better.
“Ours like a taste of just about anything,” says Dick Bossart, who runs the 4 Li'l Paws Ferret Shelter in Merrimack, N.H. “We go easy on the sugary treats. They like Cheerios, strawberry Twizzlers, and the Starburst Twists, but only a taste now and then.”
Your new family member will enjoy finishing off the remains of your own meals, if they have access to them. “You just never know if a ferret will save you a bite of anything,” says Robin Markson of Manalapan, N.J., who has been a ferret Pet Parent for four years. “You can leave their food in a bowl for them all day long and they will not eat every drop at one sitting, like most other animals will. If you feed them an ice-cream treat one day and they eat all of it, they may turn there nose up to it the next day if they are not hungry.”
Foods to avoid
There’s a fine line to walk when it comes to human food for your smallest family members. The big no-no’s are foods with high, stringy fiber. These can cause an intestinal blockage for the little guy.
Here are some foods to keep away from your ferret: peanuts, cake, cookies, popcorn, all dairy products, anything with chocolate, and any liquids with either caffeine or alcohol.
Seeds in particular are off limits because they can cause a blockage. Peanut butter, in small amounts, is fine though.
How much? How often?
Unless your ferret is getting pudgy, you can keep his bowl filled most of the time. That’s no invitation to serve up a grand buffet of food for him, though. “Never over feed your ferret—who wants to eat stale food?” says Dave Simko, a St. Petersburg, Fla., Pet Parent who has nurtured several ferrets over the last 14 years.
Simko also doesn’t feed his current 6-month-old kit any kind of “light” food. “Ferrets regulate their body weight extremely well,” he says.
Your ferret will eat when he’s hungry and pass on food when he’s not. Now that’s a will power you have to envy! If you follow a few simple guidelines, your ferret will be a happy, healthy eater and loving, appreciative family member.
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