What Do Ferrets Eat? Focusing On A Ferret's Favorite Food

Supriya Jain
Sep 04, 2023 By Supriya Jain
Originally Published on Nov 05, 2021
Fact-checked by Pratiti Nath
A cute ferret with pink scarf
Age: 3-18
Read time: 7.6 Min

You might find it surprising, but these small little furry creatures are related to animals such as wolverines, minks, and weasels.

Even though the majority of ferrets we find are domesticated, experts believe that ferrets were bred from Europe's polecats about 2500 years ago. Ferrets are also referred to as obligate carnivores.

Ferrets are animals that are social in nature and like to live in groups. A wild ferret's life span can last anywhere between five to seven years, depending on how you take care of this cute little animal. If ferret's escape from their home, they will barely be able to survive for more than two to three days, so they require a lot of attention from their owners. A ferret's diet is very different from other kinds of pets such as dogs, cats, and hamsters, and if they are not fed with proper kinds of food, they might end up developing conditions or even die in the worst-case scenario. It is very important to know what ferrets eat.

After you have understood all about the food you can feed your ferrets, do check out other fun facts like is a ferret a rodent, and how long do ferrets live?

What does a ferret eat as a pet?

So, what do ferrets eat? Can ferrets eat cat food? As ferrets are obligate carnivores, fresh meat is an essential part of a ferret diet. Domesticated and wild ferrets both need a quality meat-based diet to survive.

There are many different types of ferret foods available on the market which you can use to feed your ferret. Commercial kitten food or quality cat food can also be used as an alternative if you run out of your ferret food as this kitten food is high in protein and low in carbohydrates. You cannot serve dog food to your ferret as the content of carbohydrates, protein, and fat are completely different. Always stick to kitten food as an alternative, not dog food.

What do ferrets eat in the wild?

Wild ferrets are true carnivores. A wild ferret's diet is not that different from a pet ferret; however, in the wild, these carnivores have to find ferret foods themselves.

Even in the wild, these carnivores always go for fresh meat. In the wild, ferrets will prey on whole animals that contain raw meat, tissues, raw bones, and other matter, which serves the purpose of satisfying their protein and other nutritional requirements. Their diet solely consists of whole prey. There is a range of prey that they hunt upon and the animals which are typically hunted and consumed by ferrets are turtles, prairie dogs, birds, snakes, hedgehogs, chickens, mice, and squirrels.

Animals such as chickens and snakes are consumed entirely, including their bones and other parts. You might think that baby ferrets will not feed on whole prey and eat baby food like other animals, but that's not the case! In the wild, baby ferrets eat raw meat and bones for their nutritional requirements of protein and fat. In addition to this, both adult ferrets and baby ferrets need fresh water.

Food That Ferrets Can't Eat

Now that you know what ferrets eat, you might be wondering what you cannot feed your ferret. While ferrets may look like other pets, their nutritional requirements are different.  

It is generally advised against feeding your ferret with foods that contain high complex carbohydrates. These types of foods can kill ferrets. Here is a list of foods that you should not serve to your ferrets.

Fish.Feeding your ferret with fish is not a good idea. Fishes are not as dangerous as some other food items for ferrets, but they can still be harmful. Fish does not have a good smell, and if your ferret is having smelling problems, it can make the situation even worse. You should stick to your typical ferret foods, which can be found in pet stores, instead of feeding them fish.

Chocolate. Never feed your ferret with chocolate or anything that is sweet in nature. As is the case with other animals, chocolates can turn out to be really harmful to ferrets as their intestinal tract is not capable of passing sugar. Even small amounts of chocolate can be really harmful to your ferret.

Vegetables. A ferret's digestive system has a metabolic rate that is very high. On the other hand, animals who are typically observed feeding on vegetables have a slow metabolism. Hence, feeding your ferret with vegetables is not a good idea, and it is advised not to do so. Vegetables such as spinach and kiwifruit are harmful. Even cooked vegetables are not good for ferrets.

Honey.As we have seen with chocolates, honey can contain a high level of sugar which cannot be consumed by ferrets. However, in some cases, honey can help your ferret if they are having a seizure or are insulinemic. Always feed fresh and raw meat with honey as honey is still purely sugar which is harmful on its own for the ferret.

What treats can you give ferrets?

Ferrets, like all pets, love treats. There are a number of ferret treats that you can use to treat your pet ferret with, and these are completely safe for them to feed on.

Treats for your ferrets include cooked eggs, cat food, cat treats, pieces of chicken or turkey, or even lamb. Cooked eggs are one of the best treats for ferrets as they have a high protein and fat content. While serving cooked eggs, you do not need to separate an egg yolk from the egg white. You can also use baby food with high meat content to feed your ferret as a treat. The thing to keep in mind is to make sure that the treats you are feeding your ferret have a high protein content.

Treats should be fed in a small quantity as well so that you can avoid filling up their stomach as they have a small intestinal tract. It is also important to make sure that the treats you are serving do not have complex carbohydrates in them. To avoid any illness that can be caused by raw chicken or any other meat, it is advised to cook them before feeding them to your ferret as treats.

Ferret standing on a rock.

What if you want to change your ferret's food?

Just like your typical everyday cats, ferrets also happen to be really fussy about their ferret foods. It is a good idea to change your ferret's diet frequently so that they do not get bored with their food.

So, if your pet ferret happens to be a fussy eater, you can start by mixing new food into your pet ferret's old diet at a slow pace until you get your fussy ferret onto a completely new diet. It is important to keep changing your ferret's diet to keep up with their nutritional requirements as they keep growing up. The majority of the time, if your pet ferret does not like the new food, they will completely stop eating. You can try new foods such as cat food or other meat-based products.

When choosing ferret food such as pellets, it is important to carefully choose the pellet's shape as any pellet which has a triangular shape or has sharp corners can harm your ferret's mouth. You should always go for small oval shapes when feeding pellets to your ferret. Keep in mind, your ferret might like dairy products such as milk and cheese, but they lack the enzymes needed to digest milk and other lactose products. Hence, milk and other dairy products should never be fed to ferrets.

Should ferrets have access to food at all times?

Ferrets have a high metabolism, and they have a short digestive system. These meat-eaters have to eat frequently.

Your pet ferret should have access to food all the time. The majority of ferrets will only eat the amount of food that will meet their daily needs, so you do not have to worry about your ferret becoming obese if it has access to food all day. Ferrets do not need to have fresh water all the time, and it is completely fine to give them tap water as well. If you see your ferret gain a lot of weight, you should contact your vet and get your ferret checked out for any kind of medical problem they might be going through. A vet will always recommend that your ferret gets enough exercise every day to maintain its health.

What are the general requirements for a ferret's diet?

You might be wondering, what can you feed your ferret? A pet ferret's diet must include quality animal and meat-based products which have a high content of protein and fat but are still low in carbohydrates and fiber.

Ferrets have a high metabolism; to begin with, they will need around eight to eleven small amounts of food every day. This small amount of food should be high in protein and low in carbohydrates as well. You can include pellets in your ferret's diet, which are a good source of protein and are easy to feed your ferret

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for 'What do ferrets eat?' then why not take a look at 'Why do ferrets stink?', or 'Ferret facts'.

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Written by Supriya Jain

Bachelor of Commerce, Master of Business Administration specializing in Marketing

Supriya Jain picture

Supriya JainBachelor of Commerce, Master of Business Administration specializing in Marketing

As a skilled member of the Kidadl team, Shruti brings extensive experience and expertise in professional content writing. With a Bachelor's degree in Commerce from Punjab University and an MBA in Business Administration from IMT Nagpur, Shruti has worked in diverse roles such as sales intern, content writer, executive trainee, and business development consultant. Her exceptional writing skills cover a wide range of areas, including SOP, SEO, B2B/B2C, and academic content.

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