Caring for Ferrets: Best Diet for Your Exotic Pet

Caring for ferrets can be a fun and rewarding undertaking.

Ferrets are fun and lively animals to have around the house. When bringing a ferret home, remember that an important factor in caring for ferrets is their diet.

People who own ferrets enjoy their curious and silly antics and the affection the little fur balls have to offer. The word ferret comes from the Latin word “furonem” which also means “thief” as they like to steal away whatever trinkets they can find and take them back to their favorite hiding place. As amusing as these furry little rogues are, caring for ferrets requires a lot of work. When letting them run loose, be careful to watch what they sink their teeth into. A bit of string or other object can lead to an obstruction in their digestive system.

Ferrets are carnivores, which means they eat meat. When caring for ferrets, it is important to provide them with a balanced diet that meets their specific nutritional needs. Meat should not be their entire diet, though. Remember that they do not handle fiber well. Their digestive track is not equipped to break down fiber and too much fiber in your ferret’s diet can lead to extra soft or mucous poops. A well balanced and nutritious diet will be obvious, because the ferret will have soft and shiny fur, and clear eyes that are bright and his droppings will be well formed (and not too stinky).

When caring for ferrets, remember that they are highly active and their metabolism is high. Food passes through them in two to five hours, so they are constantly converting food into energy. This means choosing the right food for your ferret is extremely important. It also means that the ferrets should have food available to them at all times. You may wish to go with a traditional or alternative diet for your ferrets, but it is important to give them a mixture of hard and soft foods. While hard foods provide a way for tartar to be removed from their teeth, too many hard foods can cause too much wear and tear on the ferrets’ teeth. You can add a few drops of water to dry kibble and microwave it for a small amount of time to soften it up. A more natural diet (alternative diet) will make your ferrets excrement virtually stink free.

When changing your ferret’s diet, remember that they recognize food by smell. If it is not a type of food they tried when they were young and developing their smell, they will not recognize it as food right away. To get them used to a new food or diet, begin by mixing the new types of food in with the old. Give it time. They may eat around the new food at first. This is an important procedure if the ferret was on a different diet with a previous owner. They need time to adjust. Switching them over immediately may cause some diarrhea and other digestive problems.

The ferrets diet should be made from animal based products. If you choose a certain type of “critter food” for them, make sure it contains taurine and has no less than 20 % fat and no less than 34 % animal protein. This is what makes for a healthy ferret dining session. You can find what ferrets need in several foods available for purchase in pet stores. These foods are known as traditional ferret diet.

The pros of traditional diet include easier preparation, but the cons of traditional diet are having to ensure that the proteins in the food come from meat. It can be tough to decipher the food labels on our own to make sure that everything your ferret needs is included. If you look at the labels, they will sometimes say meat by-products. Think about that for a second. Meat by-products are not even worthy of being used in hot dogs. Do you think they are the best yummies for your ferrets? You want your ferret’s protein to come from meat. The best way to ensure their needs are met is to offer a combination of foods.

There are some dry foods made especially for ferrets and some consider them the best choice for your fuzzy friends. Some high-quality dry kitten foods will also suffice for ferrets. Before selecting a kitten food, make sure they have the necessary fat and protein content. There are also moist kitten and ferret foods, but it is hard to find high quality moist foods that meet nutritional needs. Moist foods also tend to make the ferret poopies smellier.

Another option in caring for ferrets is providing an alternative diet. Alternative diets for ferrets include bones, raw meats, eggs, frozen mice or chicks, and meat baby foods. Bugs are also an okay snack for them.

Bones: Bone marrow is great nutrition for ferrets. Some people fear splintering in bones, but remember these guys used to eat in the wild. If you are nervous, start out with bones that are too large to swallow. The ferrets stick to the end of the bone, anyways, as that is where the most marrow and nutrients are. Start with a cooked ham bone or soup bone. You can boil the bones first to soften them up and to remove bacteria.

Raw Meat: Of course, you want to make sure the meat is fresh and free of bacteria and parasites. If you’re unsure about the meat, you can always cut off the outside layer of the meat, as the inner meat is usually sterile and clean. Meat should not be the only food source for the ferrets. You can try beef and pork or poultry such as chicken and turkey. You can also try fish. Tuna in canned spring water works well and so does salmon. Fish isn’t usually a ferret favorite, so don’t over do the fish.

Eggs: When caring for ferrets, it is important to remember to only give them cooked eggs. Boiled and scrambled eggs are the best option for them. Raw eggs are a ferret no-no.

Frozen chicks and mice: Ferrets’ teeth are made to tear through skin, bones and meat so giving them whole animals is not a problem for them. It may, however, be a problem for you. It’s not much fun to buy, store and feed cute little mice or chicks only to see them torn apart. It is a viable food option for them, though. Some may even feed ferrets live mice or chicks, but some domesticated ferrets do not recognize live prey as food and will ignore it, while some will play with it until it dies, prolonging the suffering of the prey. Unless you know your ferret strikes quickly with a bite to the back of the neck, making the death quick for the prey, you will probably want to stick with prey that is already dead. You can store the chicks or mice in the freezer, but make sure to thaw them out before giving them to your ferrets.

Meat baby foods: If you’d like to get your ferret accustomed to baby foods, that is another option. If they reject it at first, you can wipe a little bit on their nose and they will most likely lick it off and see how yummy it is.

Treats are another way to balance your ferrets’ diet out, whether they are on a traditional or alternative diet. Treats play an important part in caring for ferrets. These little guys are mischievous and like to get into stuff, but can be trained to a degree. You can use treats to reward your ferrets ( like after bath time). Never give a ferret a treat after naughty behavior.

Below is a list of good treats for a yummy snack or for rewarding your fuzzies.

Non-acidic fruits: Melons, bananas, apples, papayas and raisins are okay for ferrets. Do not give them more than one to two small pieces per day.

Cooked veggies: Give your ferrets cooked veggies only! Chopped green peppers, broccoli, and cucumbers (peel the skin first) are all good options.

Cereals: Dry cereals can make for a crunchy and yummy snack and help remove tartar. Make sure the cereals are not too sugary or salty, though. Kix and Cheerios are good examples of what’s okay. Give them no more than one to two pieces a day.

Peanut butter: Peanut butter is a lip smacking treat for ferrets, but too much can cause diarrhea. Use smooth or creamy only.

Meat treats: A good meat treat for ferrets is cooked chicken liver and hearts. Avoid processed meats like lunchmeats or salami.

When caring for ferrets and deciding on a diet, you will want to stay away from the following: alcohol, high sugar drinks, coffee and tea products, dairy products, seeds and nuts, chocolate, raw eggs or any sugary or salty foods. Remember that ferrets are just like us and will have their own likes/dislikes. You can try the different things listed in this article to see which ones they actually enjoy.

Giving your ferrets a well balanced diet will help ensure that they live to their full potential. Ferrets have a short life span as it is. Seven to eight years is about the maximum life span of ferrets. Unfortunately, ferrets are prone to cancers and other ailments which I will explain in another article titled “Exotic pets: Caring for ferrets part 2”. Don’t let this sadden you. Providing a nutritional and balanced diet will greatly assist your ferrets in remaining healthy.

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