Are Ferrets Carnivores?

If you are a new owner to a ferret, you may be asking, “What do ferrets eat?” or “are ferrets carnivores?” Wondering what your ferret will eat is a logical thing to ask and the information needed to successfully raise a ferret to be happy and healthy throughout its life.

In short, ferrets are strict carnivores. Meaning ferrets should only eat meat. Their digestive system cannot digest and process most complex carbohydrates like fiber from vegetables and fruits. This does not mean they can not eat any fruits or veggies, but they cannot gain many or any nutrients from these types of food.

As you continue to read this article, it will discuss what ferrets should be fed regularly and some possible alternatives. Including this will also go more in-depth with the everyday diet of the ferret and what wild ferrets eat.

What Exactly Can Ferrets Eat?

Ferrets are called obligate carnivores. This means they must eat meat to gain the nutrients they need to survive. While there are alternatives, raw meat is the best option for feeding your pet ferret. Having raw meat on hand also includes live prey. 

© CrazyFerretGirl / Flickr

A ferret’s diet should consist of at least 35 to 40% protein and 15 to 20% fat to gain the most amount of nutrients from their meal. Some cheaper alternatives for raw meat that follow this guide are kitten food, dried ferret food, and even baby food high in meat protein. These foods are an acceptable alternative to raw meat, just as long as it is high in meat protein.

Below will be a list of acceptable raw meat that you can feed to your ferrets:

  • Rabbit
  • Pigeons
  • Minced Beef
  • Lamb
  • Turkey necks
  • Chicken Wings
  • Stipped Chicken Carcasses
  • Game Birds
  • Offal
  • Chicken
  • Raw animal bones for calcium and for cleaning your ferret’s teeth
  • Labs heart
  • Turkey and chicken gizzards

Ferrets are relatively good hunters, so there are some options you can use to feed them in regards to live prey.

There are multiple benefits to providing your ferrets live prey. Firstly, ferrets are very active and like to get into all types of trouble, so feeding them live prey can give them an outlet for some of their energy.

With that in mind, providing your ferret with live game will also allow them to clean their teeth regularly as they get plenty of nutrients from eating the bones, and chewing and ripping the meat off of their prey will let them build strong muscles in their jaw.

Some Examples Of Live Prey Include:

  • Mice
  • Rats
  • Chicks

While feeding live prey to your ferrets is “technically” the best choice for giving nutrients to your ferrets, if you do not like the idea of giving them live game, you clearly do not have to. The next best alternative is giving them raw meat. Make sure you are giving them good quality meat.

© CrazyFerretGirl / Flickr

If you decide to give your ferrets live prey to feed on, be sure to buy your rodents from reputable dealers in your area. Do not catch a mouse or a rat in your home and feed it to your ferret. Rats and mice can carry any of a large number of diseases that can be fatal to your ferret.

Something to keep in mind when feeding your ferrets live prey or raw meat, avoid giving them too much meat or too large of an animal to feast on. Ferrets are known to hide and stash away food for later.

Leaving the leftovers of the raw meat or the prey for too long can make it go wrong and start to rot. If your ferret eats some of this tainted meat, it will cause them to get quite sick with food poisoning.

The Natural Diet of Ferrets

Ferrets have a small digestive tract and absorb nutrients inefficiently, which is one reason they require a high-protein, high-fat diet. These are quickly digested by their bodies and give a lot of energy.

You should minimize the amount of fruit or vegetables that you give your ferret. These contain complex carbohydrates which are high in fiber. Ferrets can’t digest fiber, meaning they have a low nutritional value.

A diet high in carbohydrates can also lead to disease in ferrets, as can vegetable protein that’s also found in fruit and vegetables. Due to their short intestinal tract and high metabolic rate, ferrets must also eat little and often.

What Do Wild Ferrets Eat?

While there are wild ferrets, they are not the same ferret as the domesticated ferrets we know today. The domestic ferrets we call our pets today are believed to be descended from European polecats about 2500 years ago. While there are European polecats today, they are nothing similar to other than appearance.

© USFWS Mountain Prairie / Flickr

These polecats look like the domesticated ferrets of today but MUCH larger, both in length, girth, and weight. These little buggers exclusively hunt and eat rodents, birds, amphibians, and reptiles. They are also known to cripple their prey by crushing their brains with their teeth and storing them in their catatonic state for later consumption.

On the other hand, another weasel is VERY similar to the domesticated ferrets we know today. The black-footed ferret is a highly endangered species of weasel that lives in the central United States area. These exist as the only native weasel species in the United States.

Black-footed ferrets have a fast metabolism and require a lot of food compared to their body size, just like domesticated ferrets. Seasonal and individual ferret food requirements vary, but they typically ingest one prairie dog every three to four days.

Prairie dogs make up 90% of the food of black-footed ferrets in the wild. A ferret may consume more than 100 prairie dogs in a year, and experts estimate that a ferret family requires more than 250 prairie dogs a year. Mice, rats, ground squirrels, rabbits, birds, and occasionally reptiles and insects make up the rest of their diet.

What Food Should I Not Feed My Ferrets?

Ferrets should not be fed complex carbohydrates as a primary source of nutrition since they contain fiber. Ferrets are unable to digest fiber; hence the foods they eat are nutritionally deficient.

Because they lack a cecum, which is a component of the digestive tract in many animals and may contain bacteria that break complex carbohydrates, they cannot digest them.

Furthermore, a high-carbohydrate diet might cause an excess of glucose in your ferret’s blood. According to veterinarians, this might lead to insulinoma, a tumor of the beta cells in the pancreas.

Vegetable protein, which your ferret can’t digest, may be found in vegetables. If they consume too much, they may develop diseases such as bladder stones, skin ulcers, gastroenteritis, a diminished capacity to reproduce, and her kids’ poor development.

That being said, avoid feeding your ferrets any fruit or vegetables.

How Often Should I Feed My Ferret?

Ferrets have a fast metabolism and a small digestive tract. This means they metabolize food fast and need to eat frequently and in small amounts.

© librariansarah / Flickr

Ferrets should ideally eat 6 to 8 times a day. Leaving pellets out for your ferret throughout the day will allow them to eat at their leisure, which may be challenging to manage with discrete feeding.

Do not be afraid to hide the food or make it tough to get to. Ferrets benefit from mental stimulation, and there is nothing wrong with having them hunt and look for their food.

Final Thoughts

While ferrets can make fantastic pets for the right people who want to have a super high-energy pet, knowing what to feed them is extremely important. That being said, providing your ferrets 6 to 8 times a day with a mixture of high-quality raw meat and dry kitten or ferret food is the best option.

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