By Dr. Thomas R. Willard
Make sure the food you choose for your ferret is "complete and balanced for all stages of a ferret's life as determined in actual animal feeding tests." A food that has been developed for ferrets for all of their life stages should contain a minimum of 36 percent protein and 22 percent fat, plus a maximum of 2 percent fiber. These portions make up a balanced diet for young, growing and active male and female ferrets.
Most dry cat foods and virtually all dry dog foods exceed 3 percent fiber, which leads to large, smelly stools when fed to ferrets.
Ingredients to Look For
Chicken and poultry byproduct meal, meat meal, whole eggs, liver, poultry or animal byproducts are all excellent primary sources of protein for ferrets. Chicken and poultry byproduct meal or whole chicken meat should always be the first ingredient of a quality ferret food.
A high-quality, simple carbohydrate, such as rice flour or brewers rice, should be the second or third ingredient. These help give the food the correct texture for the best taste, plus improve the digestibility of the food.
Fat from chicken, poultry or other animals should be the third of fourth ingredients. Other important and useful fat sources - such as vegetable oils, lecithin, corn oil or fish oil - should also be present, but further down the list. Wheat, corn of the flours of these grains may also be listed, but generally should not be higher than fifth or sixth from the top of the list.
Some fish protein, such as herring meal, should be listed further down the ingredient panel because it provides high-quality protein to offer nutritional balance. Vitamins, minerals and individual amino acids, such as lysine, methionine and taurine, will also be listed toward the bottom of the label.
What Not to Feed
Because ferrets are carnivores, they do not digest vegetables or fruits (like bananas, raisins, apples) or other high-fiber foods that humans like to offer as treats or snacks. Most ferrets will not refuse such a snack, but the snacks offer no nutritional benefit over a well-balanced dry food. If given in moderation, an occasional snack will not harm your pet.
Regardless if they are for ferrets, cats or dogs, supplements (oils with or without vitamins and minerals, nutritional tablets, enzymes or powders) should not be necessary if a properly tested and balanced food is being fed.
Other foods or ingredients to avoid are those that contain a high level of vegetable protein, such as soyflour, soybean meal, corn gluten meal or wheat gluten. Foods with high levels of such ingredients should never be fed to a ferret.
Also, a food that lists ingredients in categories as "animal protein products," "plant protein products" or other collective terminology should never be fed to ferrets or any other companion animal. These are nonspecific, least-cost formulas and usually contain many ingredients that are of poor quality for ferrets. The manufacturer should be able to explain any ingredient you do not understand. Call and ask.