Ferrets are obligate carnivores, which means they should only eat meat, and they only require meat to fulfil their nutritional requirements.
Feeding your ferret fruits or vegetables will adversely affect its health, and many of these foods are toxic to ferrets, even if they will eat them willingly given the opportunity.
There are benefits to feeding this way; it is natural and stimulating for ferrets to have whole prey and they generally enjoy food in this form. It is also what
their digestive system is specially adapted for and generally ferrets fed whole prey will have less gastrointestinal problems than those fed kibble.
However, there are risks to be aware of associated with feeding in this way as well. Ferrets fed whole prey can acquire worm burdens, and be at risk from toxins, contaminants and skin parasites from their food source. The best way to minimise these risks is to source whole prey from reputable suppliers and freeze it for two weeks before thawing and feeding.
There are also dry ferret foods available although they are of very
variable quality and some contain an unhealthy amount of fillers. Feeding kibble is easy and hygienic (especially in warm weather), but due to the
carbohydrate content, a ferret fed on a kibble-only diet is typically at higher risk of developing digestive issues and certain cancers, such as insulinoma.
Wherever it is possible to so, I advise feeding raw meat or whole prey alongside kibble.
Another common diet is a balanced minced raw food only diet, using commercially available mince (such Nature's Menu marketed for dogs) and formulated to mimic whole
prey. In my experience feeding raw meat to my own ferrets has resulted in shiny coats and good, healthy weights,
however it is still possible for ferrets to acquire bacterial infections when fed these food sources raw. Cheaply made and processed foods seem to be commonly contaminated
and our own ferretry has suffered losses due to clostridial bacteria in food on two separate occasions.
For this reason I advise feeding only high quality raw foods from reputable suppliers - and remember, cheap foods are cheap for a reason!
Feeding raw requires some research and planning to ensure the diet is a balanced source of nutrition for ferrets with 80% muscle meat, 10% bone and 10% organ. It is not as simple as just feeding uncooked meats.
It's worth mentioning that most cheap cat foods and all dog foods are unsuitable for ferrets and should not be fed.
Ferrets require an essential amino acid called taurine in their diet, which is required for heart and muscle function.
Dog foods do not contain high enough levels of taurine, and ferrets fed on dog food will develop a heart condition called dilated cardiomyopathy, which will lead to heart failure and premature death - all completely preventable through the feeding of a suitable diet. It is worth noting that a raw diet should also contain around 10-25% heart muscle meat to fulfil this taurine requirement.
Cat food does contain taurine, but most do not contain high enough levels of protein and fat to maintain ferrets, and many contain a lot of fillers. Ferrets require at least 36% protein and 18% fat in their diet, and most cat food brands only contain around 30% protein and 10% fat. However, Thrive Premium Plus Cat food and other similar high quality cat food diets may be more suitable than dry diets marketed for ferrets! Always check the ingredients and analysis. Feeding a deficient diet will lead to ferrets in poor condition - prone to picking up infections and becoming ill.
Here at Mischief Maker Ferretry, the ferrets get raw mince at least once daily and whole prey occasionally.
My ferrets thrive on this diet, and it seems to suit every ferret!
We buy our raw foods from Natures Menu (www.naturesmenu.co.uk) and Nutriment (www.nutriment.co.uk). I feed a variety of meats and ensure that the diet contains 80% muscle meat (of which 10% heart), 10% bone, 5% liver and 5% spleen/pancreas/kidney.
Please ensure you source good quality food from reputable sources - search for reviews and information on new suppliers and ask what they do to ensure their raw meat products are safe.
All of our kits and pregnant or lactating jills are also supplemented with kitten milk, and whisked egg, and our kits usually go out into the world with a willingness to try almost any raw food put in front of them. As they are weaned onto complete raw, they will need to be fed this diet in their new homes.