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 minced raw food only diet, using commercially available mince (such Nature's Menu marketed for dogs) and formulated to mimic whole prey (Frankenprey). In my experience feeding raw meat to my own ferrets alongside kibble has been very beneficial, however it is still possible for ferrets to acquire bacterial infections when fed these food sources raw (such as Salmonella or Campylobacter) and it requires some research and planning to ensure a raw diet is a balanced source of nutrition for ferrets. It is not as simple as just feeding uncooked meats.
It's worth mentioning that cat and 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.
Cat food does contain taurine, but it does not contain high enough levels of protein and fat to maintain ferrets. Ferrets require at least 36% protein and 18% fat in their diet, and even the best cat food brands only contain around 30% protein and 10% fat. Feeding a deficient diet will lead to ferrets in poor condition and prone to picking up infections and becoming ill.
Here at Mischief Maker Ferretry, we feed Vitalin ferret food, frankenprey (raw mince) at least once daily and whole prey every other day.
My ferrets thrive on this diet, and it seems to suit every ferret! Most groups hardly ever touch their kibble, but in order to ensure any kits bred here will not refuse kibble in a new home, we keep it in and ensure at least the jills do sometimes tuck into it.
We buy our raw foods from DAF Petfoods (www.daf-petfood.co.uk) and Kiezebrink (www.keizebrink.co.uk), I feed a variety of meats and prey and use a Frankenprey approach to formulating each weekly menu.
All of our kits and pregnant or lactating jills are also supplemented with kitten milk, scrambled egg and sometimes Hills A/D, and usually go out into the world with a willingness to try almost anything that may be edible put in front of them.