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Ferrets are becoming popular household pets. Many Petco locations have ferret displays along their main aisle. They are taking their place alongside dogs and cats as one of the top favorite pets. But they aren’t as easy to feed as a dog or cat. Indeed, they are notoriously picky eaters and will turn their noses up at unsatisfactory foods. Furthermore, they have way fewer options available and more specialized diet requirements then cats and dogs.
One of the main areas people have questions is about ferrets’ diet. What is the best food for a ferret? Some people just buy cat food. However, ferrets have special nutrient requirements. Only certain types of cat food will work. In this post I’ll discuss the best ferret foods and where to find them. First, we will go over ferrets diet and what types of food are best for them. Then we will take an in depth look at the best brands for ferrets. I select a few of the most popular products and debate whether they are worth your money.
5 Best Formulated Diets for Ferrets: A Close Look at Ferret Food Products
There are some pre-packaged ferret diets that comprehensively provide the nutrients your ferret needs. There used to very few options but more choices have come about in the last couple years. These meet the nutritional needs of a ferret without having to feed them whole prey, but some formulas do a lot better job than others. The ideal food will have around 40%+ protein and 20% fat calorie wise.
The main thing to watch out for with these is corn, soy, or other plant fillers. Some brands will use these to boost the protein content. By getting the best ferret food, you’ll ensure a longer and healthier life for your ferret(s). Good ferret food can be the difference between a ferret that lives 5 years vs. a ferret that lives 7-9 years. Glossier, thicker, less-smelly fir and a healthy weight gain are two signs your ferret is doing well on their diet.
Wysong is very expensive but the top of the line for ferret food. It is hard to beat them if you want to feed your ferret a raw diet. The other commercial diet brands are really hit or miss. We discuss each in detail below and whether they are truly safe for our ferret friends.
Wysong is the gold standard and the absolute best ferret kibble food out there. They have a few products that are worth trying out. The Wysong Ferret Epigen 90 does an excellent job meeting the needs of a ferret’s diet. Ferrets are obligate carnivores, and that means they need lots of meat. One of our readers wrote us and said Wysong is the only brand they trust for their ferrets (as well as the next brand in our list, Orijen). You want to look carefully at the actual ingredients of each kibble. Choose carefully, because ferrets have a difficult time digesting plant materials and will get sick if put on the wrong type of food.
The Wysong Ferret Archetype is a raw ferret food option that we recommend. It is a true non-thermal raw food product. They offer a chicken, quail, or rabbit formula. Many ferret owners have found success in mixing Epigen 90 and Archetype in a 50/50 ratio. Other methods include using Ferret Archetype as a meal replacement once in awhile, as a top dressing, or a snack to supplement a dry diet. The reason that most folks don’t go 100% Archetype formula is that it is very expensive (about $20 for 7.5 ounce bag).
As you can see from the image above, this is a starch free and meat-based ferret food. It also contains prebiotics, probiotics, and a wide array of vitamins/minerals and other micronutrients. It is about as close as you can get to the diet ferrets are genetically predisposed toward in bag form. This is one likely food that ferrets won’t turn their noses up at.
Cat food you say? Yes indeed, this cat food from Orijen is one of the few kibbles that meet the ferret’s selective diet. Complete with over 40% protein, that’s enough to satisfy your ferret’s voracious penchant for meats. The great thing about this formula is that it contains a lot of fish to supplement the poultry. Furthermore, there is no corn in this formula. Orijen is made in Kentucky, USA and one third of all the protein in this kibble is sourced from fresh refrigerated meat.
Orijen has labeled this as ‘Biologically appropriate and matches the diet cats would eat in the wild.’ Keyphrase: in the wild. That’s what you want to get as close as possible to with your ferret kibble, is something similar to their natural diet and this food does a top notch job.
If you can find it, EVO is one of the best quality formulas on the market. Indeed, it looks like they may be going out of business likely in part due to the high costs of the quality ingredients in their food. They used to have a bag marketed to ferret owners, but their cat and kitten food actually has the same ingredients as the discontinued ferret product. The first seven ingredients are turkey, chicken, chicken meal, tapioca starch, chicken fat, herring, and pea fiber. The only no-no is the pea fiber. It is 50.2% protein so it is worth its weight in gold. The only straight kibble that beats it is Wysong’s Ferret Epigen 90 with 60% protein.
Marshall is actually the world’s largest breeder of ferrets and many ferret owners purchase their ferrets from them. As such, you’d expect their formula to be top notch. But on closer inspection, it appears their formula contains corn. Corn is not easily digestible by ferrets (or many other species for that matter).
If you take a look at their ingredients list, you’ll find corn number 4 on their list of ingredients. The higher up an ingredient is, the higher percentage of that ingredient is in the formula. You’ll see at #1 is chicken by-product which isn’t technically actual meat. Overall, it isn’t very nutritious and we think there’s better foods for ferrets out there. That being said, it isn’t the absolute worst thing you could feed your ferrets.
Marshall does not have the best reputation in the ferret community. Some even go so far as to liken Marshall Farms ferret breeding operation to a ‘puppy mill’.
Other Best Ferret Food – Whole Prey & Raw Meat Diets
Some ferret owners will opt to feed their ferrets whole prey. This is feeding a ferret much like their diet would subsist of in the wild. This means feeding the ferret a variety of whole carcasses such as baby chicks and mice/rats. In some countries it is illegal to feed ferrets live whole prey. Therefore, as it is with many reptile owners, ferret owners will feed humanely killed and frozen carcasses by a trustworthy supplier to their ferrets.
Muscle, fat, organs, and bones of chicken, port, fish, or steak all make for an excellent raw meat diet for ferrets. Feeding your ferret raw meaty bones on the regular is also a great idea. Meat off the bone helps keep ferret teeth clean and healthy. A lot of ferret owners will feed their ferrets raw trimmings that would pre-ferret life end up in the trash can.
At the very least, if your ferret obliges, we recommend supplementing kibble with some raw meat to help keep your ferret healthy. Even feeding your ferret a golf ball size lump of raw meet for ferrets. Don’t buy the stuff at pet shops labeled “fresh” meat as many of them contain dangerous sulfur preservatives. These types of preservatives are banned in human meat for obvious reasons, but for some reason allowed in pet food. That type of meat at the pet store is usually minced too so it is not as good for the ferret’s teeth.
Some owners prefer to feed their ferrets, well, something that looks a little like the animal it came from. In this case stick to formulated diets. You can supplement the formulated diets with a bit of meat now and again with a raw egg occasionally. Raw eggs are a great source of protein and healthy fat for your ferret.
What do Ferrets Eat? The Ferret Diet: Meat, Meat, and More Meats
Ferrets are not rodents and they are not dogs. You don’t want to feed a ferret dog food. In the same vein, don’t feed your ferret any type of seed or vegetable mix. Before they were domesticated, ferrets would eat entire small rodents bones and all. That’s right. They would gobble down the fur, organs, and whatever else they could chew or swallow. Very little was wasted that’s for sure. Farmers loved them because they could be trained to defend their land from small rodents.
Ferrets like meat. They are carnivores through-and-through. The thing is, you really shouldn’t be feeding your pet ferret whole live prey. It isn’t very practical. What you can do is feed them food that is suitable and digestible for their unique digestion. Ferrets require a diet high in protein and fat. They do not need very many carbohydrates. Additionally, fibre does not settle well with ferrets, so too much fruit or vegetables may cause digestion problems.
If ferrets are fed the wrong type of foods they can develop a plethora of problems. Specifically diets that contain too much processed and high carb foods can cause issues. A bad diet can lead to bladder stones, gastrointestinal diseases, dental disease, skin disease and even some types of cancer. Keep in mind that ferret teeth are like little daggers. They are exceptional at tearing and cutting meat but not so good at handling large hard foods like a biscuit. Too many harder foods may also accelerate dental disease.
How to Feed your Ferret
On average, ferrets should be fed about 2 to 4 small meals each day. That is the ideal, but sometimes that isn’t always possible. Do your best to stick to regular feeding times. When fed meat, the meat should always be consumed within the hour. If not it should be thrown out. Younger and more active ferrets need to be fed more frequently. About 5 to 6 times a day is the ideal. With older ferrets, it is usually okay to give them constant access to food. They won’t gorge themselves and they will snack throughout the day.
Keep in mind many ferrets like to stash any excess or leftover food. They can get pretty mischievous about their hiding spots too. Don’t be surprised if you find a smelly surprise in your couch if you do not remove leftovers. An alternative is to provide your ferret with an area for their cache. A controlled space for them to stockpile their food. For example, a small plastic box with a hole would do fine.
A Word on Quality Cat & Kitten Food for Ferrets
If you don’t have access to ferret food or can’t afford it the best alternative is a high quality cat food. High calorie cat food isn’t the best alternative, but it can work. Ideally, kitten food should be used instead of cat food. It should be used as a last resort and it is a good idea to supplement with treats. Perhaps even a tablespoon of good quality meat based soft kitten food. In this category, Hills Science Diet or Iams are recommended brands.
A wise ferret owner will always keep a supply of treats for their ferret. Ferrets need a lot of training especially when they are younger. Like most animals, positive reinforcement with treats is the most effective method to train them and shower them with love. Keep the treats at a maximum of 10% of the ferrets daily diet. Anything more than that and you are spoiling your ferret!
Raw egg, cooked egg, and pieces of chicken make excellent treats for ferrets. A rare piece of fruit or vegetable is okay too. But avoid hard fruits and vegetables such as carrots that can cause blockages. Pet stores have some okay options as well most of which are very safe for ferrets. Experiment and see which treats your ferret really enjoys.