Posted: May 23, 2008, 7 p.m. EDT
Ferret Nutrition Question #1
AP: Yes. Cats, dogs and ferrets are all made differently. Ferrets do not have cecum (where plant material goes to break down). They are obligate carnivores and need high-protein diets.
GS: Ferret owners must be persistent about offering a nutritious diet that is formulated specifically for ferrets. This ensures that the pet ferret receives proper nutrition designed to meet its total nutritional needs for a healthier life. Ferret owners should choose a nutritious, commercial diet formulated with a taste ferrets like. Not all ferret diets are formulated the same, so owners should feed a diet with at least 40 percent protein and 20 percent fat to fuel the ferret’s high-energy needs. The best results occur when ferrets remain on the same premium balanced nutrition diet and are not switched from brand to brand.
JF: Yes. Ferrets possess a primitive digestive system. Their diet requires highly digestible ingredients.
KJ: Ferrets should be fed a ferret-specific diet because of their unique nutritional requirements. Ferrets are carnivores. The primary ingredient should be some type of meat protein. To make a kibble or pellet, some grain must be used, but it should be in very small amounts. Foods with a lot of grain products, such as corn or soy, are not good for pet ferrets. Also, many breeders, veterinarians and ferret organizations agree that ferrets should not be fed fruits, raisins and other high-sugar ingredients found in many foods and treats today. A ferret’s digestive system is similar to a cat's, therefore a low-fiber diet and the addition of the amino acid taurine is important. Like cats, ferrets also are prone to FUS, so they need a low-ash diet.
KS: Yes, ferrets should be fed ferret-specific food. In the past, ferrets have been fed diets formulated for cats and minks, however, ferrets are unique carnivores with their own special requirements. They have very short digestive tracts that require food with extremely digestible nutrient sources and nutrient levels that compensate for their limited digestive system and high metabolism. Ferrets require a diet containing high-quality animal protein sources and easily digested fat to supply sufficient protein and energy intake to satisfy ferrets’ high metabolic needs and special digestive system. Ferrets’ diets also should include limited but highly digestible carbohydrates to prevent gastrointestinal upsets and provide a good source of glucose.
LG: Ferret owners should feed their pets a variety of foods that go along with the ferret’s natural diet. Some commercial foods match this genetic expectation; most do not. Feeding one food meal after meal is the wrong approach. Owners must remember that package labeling often fits the manufacturer’s marketing goals, not the objective of optimal ferret health. A claim of “ferret specific” is only a claim. People must gain enough knowledge to be discerning.
MM: Yes, because cats, for example, can handle carbohydrates fairly well; ferrets cannot. Not all ferret foods, but a couple out there, basically are protein-only, a truly carnivore food. Ferrets develop problems with insulinomas and other pancreatic problems [when] the food contains too high a level of carbohydrates. Essentially pet ferret owners really should not be feeding them something that is not designed for ferrets. If someone was designing a cat food that contained 100 percent meat, or thereabouts, that might be all right. Keep in mind, however, that ferrets need a little different nutritional support — different sorts of fibers and other nutritional items — that are added into the food to make it more specific for ferrets.
PR: Yes. Ferret-specific diets are made specifically for the ferret’s biological and physiological makeup. The proper protein, fat, vitamins and essential ingredients are made for that specific species. Would you feed your dog a cat food? Would you feed your cat a dog food? It’s the same thing. You shouldn’t feed your ferret a dog food or a cat food or a guinea pig food or anything else. Because not all ferret foods are made alike, look for fresh meat protein — preferably fresh chicken or fish, and not rendered meal — in the first five ingredients.
SW: Ferret-specific diets are designed to meet ferrets’ special nutritional needs. They contain the fats, protein levels, amino acids, vitamins and minerals required to keep ferrets healthy. Too often, substandard foods or foods for other animals (especially cats) are fed to ferrets. Those foods are not designed or intended for ferrets. They are not backed by the research and studies put into ferret-specific diets.
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Meet The Panelists
Each ferret-food manufacturer representative is identified by his or her initials.
AP: April Pietroiacovo, ferret specialist at Totally Ferret.
GS: Gail Shepherd, senior marketing manager at ZuPreem, a division of Premium Nutritional Products Inc.
JF: Jack Fallenstein, owner of Triple F Farms.
KJ: Ken Johnson, national accounts manager at D and D Commodities Ltd.
KS: Kathy Schneider, technical services manager for Central Avian & Small Animal, a division of Kaytee Products Inc.
LG: Lucas Gillis, supervisor, office manager at Wysong Corp.
MM: Michael Massey, president of Pretty Bird International Inc.
PR: Peter Reid, president of Marshall Pet Products Inc.
SW: Stefan Wawrzynski, operations director for Brisky Pet Products