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Ferret Nutrition Roundtable, Ferret Nutrition Question #2

What is the best way to transition ferrets from one food to another?

By Sandy Meyer
Posted: May 23, 2008, 7 p.m. EDT

Ferret Nutrition Question #2

What is the best way to transition ferrets from one food to another?

GS: Getting a ferret back on nutritious food is important. The secret is to feed a very small amount of palatable nutritious food frequently, preferably from the owner’s hand. The ferret usually will take a few bites of anything offered and over several days it may begin eating normally. Once the ferret starts to accept a new diet, the pet owner should slowly introduce the ferret to the new diet by mixing it with the previous diet over seven to 14 days. During this time, gradually increase the amount of the new diet and decrease the amount of the previous until the ferret has completely converted. If ferret owners have trouble converting a ferret to a diet, they should contact their veterinarian for additional assistance.

JF: Gradually switch — 75 percent/25 percent, 50 percent/50 percent, 25 percent/75 percent.

KJ: Incorporate the new food slowly, taking up to a couple weeks to wean the ferret off of the current diet. Start with 1/4 of the new diet to 3/4 of the current food. Feed this mixture for three to four days. Do a 50/50 mix for the next several days. Next would be to take 3/4 of the new food and 1/4 of the current food for three to four days. Work up to the point where you are feeding the new diet exclusively after two weeks.

KS: Ferrets are known to establish their dietary preferences as early as 4 months of age. When introducing a new food to a ferret, begin with a mixture of the old and new foods. Gradually increase the new food over a 7- to 10-day period. This allows the ferret to become familiar with the new food and helps prevent gastrointestinal concerns. The time needed to convert the ferret will depend on the individual animal. Ferrets need frequent, small meals throughout the day, therefore it is best to provide fresh food and water available for them at all times. Adjust the amount of food offered to maintain the animal’s proper weight.

LG: Introduce a new diet through mixing the new diet with the old. Over time, the new diet should increase in proportion to the old, until the old diet is phased out. All the while the caretaker should monitor the ferret for signs of stomach upset, such as diarrhea and vomiting, to see if they are introducing the new diet too abruptly or the ferret has a form of intolerance. When ferrets become accustomed to diet rotation with natural foods — the preferred way to feed for health — the transitions can be more abrupt. Changing diets only becomes a problem when a singular processed food has been fed exclusively for some time.

MM: As far as general transition, you just try the new diet and see if the ferrets like it. If they don’t eat it, you can mix the diet with their existing food, see if they pick around the new food or see if they eat them at the same time. You can also grind up the old food, put a little gravy or something on the new food and sprinkle the ground old food on the new food so it sticks to the new pellets. Because ferrets are very scent-orientated, if their new food smells like their old food they are more likely to eat it. If you are feeding your ferrets a gravy or homemade mixture that you normally put on their old food, you can put it on the new food. Generally speaking, a ferret will either convert fairly quickly or it will take a month or so. You can convert almost any ferret. Primarily owners either mix the old with the new or cover the new with the old to trick the ferret’s senses.

PR: Ferrets can be finicky and sometimes they become very used to their diets, however, some foods have a fat sprayed on the outside of the pellet which sort of tastes like sugar frosted flakes to them. Other foods have the natural fats from the meats blended in, and that’s like putting a bowl of granola in front of a kid. And if you give them the two choices, sometimes they like to go for the sugar, but yet the other food is better for them. So, you really need to know which one is best and there’s different schools of thought out there on changing them. One methodology is blending the food and switching them over a period of time — probably the more preferred way. Most people would do it over a period of two weeks. However, there are some people who go cold-turkey and ferrets will end up eating it. And as long as they’re having stools in their litter box, they’re getting their nutrition.

SW: Transitions are difficult for ferrets. They have very sensitive digestive tracts and often suffer upsets with diet changes. It is important to make the switch gradually, unless there is reason or fear of illness. Oftentimes a two- or three-week switch from one diet to the other will minimize digestive upset. By adding more of the new diet and less of the old diet, the ferret generally will accept the change with minimal upset.

TW: When switching food made by the same manufacturer, generally there’s less of a variation within the manufacturer than there is among manufacturers. That’s where the high meat content is very important. If you are switching from a high meat food, such as 89 to 93 percent animal protein, to one that contains a lot of vegetable protein, then you will see the transition much more difficult for the animal.

AP: From experience with the ferrets I have rescued, people like to mix in the old food with the new food. When I first get a ferret in that I’ve rescued, I always have a bowl of the baby formula available, and I give them very little of their old food in another bowl. They usually go straight to the baby formula, but I have both available just in case. I slowly take out the one that’s not the baby formula. The longest it’s ever taken me to transition a ferret is about four days. Everybody I know actually mixes one full cup of the baby and a half a cup of the old food, and it seems to work with them.

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Meet The Panelists
Each ferret-food manufacturer representative is identified by his or her initials.
GS: Gail Shepherd, senior marketing manager at ZuPreem

 JF: Jack Fallenstein, owner of Triple F Farms Inc. 

KJ: Ken Johnson, national accounts manager at D & 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
TW: Tom Willard, Ph.D., president of Totally Ferret/Performance Foods Inc.

AP: April Pietroiacovo, ferret specialist at Totally Ferret

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Ferret Nutrition Roundtable, Ferret Nutrition Question #2

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