Updated: Dec 16, 2021
It seems quite often that the most popular companion animal to be switched over to raw are dogs, but in fact out of the two ferrets actually have more special dietary needs than dogs.
Why should ferrets be raw fed?
Ferrets are obligate carnivores. This means they can only properly utilize meat. They do not have a digestive system including digestive enzymes designed to consume anything but (1).
Ferrets also need higher moisture diets. Most commercial dry foods are only 7-10% moisture which is detrimental for any animal. Dry commercial foods are the primary reason many ferrets develop kidney failure (2), urinary tract infections as well as bladder, kidney and urinary stones (3).
What do I feed?
Each meal or batch should be made of 80% muscle meat, 10% secreting organ meat (5% of which must be liver) and 10% appropriate raw meaty bones (4).
Are there any proteins my ferret can’t have?
You do not want to feed other carnivores as well as wild boar, fox or bear as they contain a parasite that cannot be frozen and killed (5). Other than that they can eat rabbit, duck, chicken, quail, beef etc.
Note: if you want to fed any wild caught animals such as venison, turkey, rabbit, etc. you should freeze these for at least 3 weeks to kill any parasites (6).
What about organs?
Same with organs and bone. The total allotment is 10% of the total batch or meal. 5% of that must be liver but the other 5% can be any other secreting organ such as liver, kidney, spleen, testicles etc.
Why do I need to feed bone?
Raw bones contain calcium and trace minerals. They are nature’s tooth brush. They scrape and scale all the teeth as they are being chewed and the meat on them are perfect as they act as a floss getting in between the teeth. Almost all raw fed ferrets when fed chunked meat and raw meaty bones will have pearly white teeth and scentless breath!
Is bone safe?
As long as you don’t feed any cooked bone (7) and only feed appropriately sized, bones are completely edible and digestible
What kind of bone can I feed?
You do not want anything too small they can simply swallow nor nothing too big that they can break a tooth or jaw on. This means no weight bearing bone like femur bones. Also do not feed any cooked bone. This degrades the bone and can cause it to splinter. Great bones for ferrets include chicken necks, rabbit ribs, day old chickens and quail, small rodents etc.
What about weight baring bones of smaller animals?
Smaller animals like chicken or rabbit are ok too feed as their bones are soft and smaller and not as dense than say a beef femur.
What if my ferret won’t eat bone?
If you have tried multiple types of bone with no avail the next best thing is use eggshell.
What is eggshell?
This is a natural source of calcium (8) and your most cost effective option. It is simply the eggshell devoid of the white and yolk inside.
How do I prepare eggshell?
After using the egg, simply rinse and dry the shell. Either put the eggshells in a spice grinder and grind to a fine powder or stick in a plastic baggie and roll over with a rolling pin. Eggshell really doesn’t go bad but you can keep it in the fridge or freezer.
How much do I need?
To add it to your batch simply sprinkle in ½ teaspoon per pound of meat and organ mix.
Note: Keep in mind that because you aren’t feeding the mass of raw meaty bones and instead replacing it with powdered eggshell you will not be feeding as much because the eggshell will not weigh the same as the raw meaty bones so just feed the amount that is the meat and organs totaled.
Do I need to rotated proteins?
Variety and rotation are important in the diet of our ferrets. Not only does it prevent boredom and food intolerances, it also provides a varied nutrient profile and a balanced diet (9). A ferret should typically have about 4 different proteins in their rotation (10), but more is acceptable too. Variety can include single proteins, a mix of proteins or a change in raw meaty bones and organs. This can be on a weekly or monthly basis, it’s really your choice.
Don’t ferret’s need taurine?
Yes, ferrets require taurine. This is an essential amino acid that must be obtained from their food as they cannot make it themselves (11). Taurine is important for the eyes and for heart health (12). In order to compensate for this, you simply need to add more hard working meats to your batches. The easiest source is heart of any species and dark thigh meat (13).
Can I feed fruits and veggies?
Beings that ferrets are obligate carnivores you should not add fruits and vegetables (14). Although these do have many benefits that HUMANS can utilize, there are few that ferrets can. Unfortunately fruits and veggies more times tax the body and wear it down (15).
Are raw eggs good to feed?
Raw eggs are the superfood of raw feeding. They contain endless amounts of nutrients and benefits to your companions. They even can help with hairballs (16)! When feeding raw eggs, it is important to feed the whole egg as in both the yolk and the white.
What about Avidin?
There is a myth that if you feed the egg white it will cause a biotin deficiency. This stems from the fact that egg whites do contain avidin, a biotin binding protein (17), however what is also true is that the egg yolk contains the highest biotin content in the natural world, negating the effects of the egg white. Besides you would have to feed a ton of egg whites to produce any kind of deficiency (18).
Should I add any oils like coconut oil?
No. You can provide animal based oils like fish or krill oils. Fish oil contains important omega 3’s that act as anti-inflammatories (19). They also help the heart (20), improve the skin (21) and coat and even help fight cancer (22, 23, 24) Please do not feed plant based oils such as hemp, vegetable or coconut oils. None are species appropriate (25, 26, 27) and all three can actually cause harm to your ferret.
Should I include a probiotic or prebiotic?
Raw feeding in itself its great on digestion. It is the most bioavailable (28, 29, 30) and easy to digest of the food types and actually helps feed and create more beneficial microflora in the gut to increase good digestion (31). Unless your companion has a digestion issue AND you have identified the problem there is no need to provide pre/probiotics. Pre/probiotics when chosen must be chosen carefully. To be effective they need to be alive (32) so any pre/probiotics, baked into commercial foods or in powdered forms are not alive and provide little benefits.
Can I feed dairy products?
Most ferrets are lactose intolerance (33) and often experience digestive upset when fed dairy products. Most people look to Kefir or yogurt as a snack or to help with digestion. Kefir is not only made of dairy but also grains which an obligate carnivore should not consume. In regards to yogurt. Most commercial yogurt on the market today are loaded with sugar and actually do not have enough pre/probiotics in it. You would have to feed buckets full to get any of the effects (34) .
How much to feed?
Adults should be fed about 5-7% of their ideal body weight, but this can vary with the season of the year and may need to be increased or decreased based on activity level.
Kits should be allowed to eat as much as they would like until adulthood which is around 8 months of age for most ferrets.
What if my pet needs to lose weight?
A raw diet contains lean muscle meats and no additives like sugary grains or fruits and veggies. Naturally they will lose weight as fat is replaced with lean muscle (35). Especially with ferrets you do not want them to lose a ton of weight quickly (36, 37). This can cause severe health issues. 1 lb may seem minor to us humans but that is a lot for a small animal like a ferret.
How many meals should I feed?
When feeding your ferret provide at least two meals a day, but 3 or more is better. Simply take the amount of food needed to be fed in a day and split into however many meals you want to feed.
How long should I let the food stay out for?
While some animals finish their food in 2 secs others take much longer. The best indicator of how long to leave meals out other than how fast your pet eats, is the temperature in your home. If it tends to stay colder you can leave food out for about an hour. If it is much warmer leaving it out longer than 20 minutes probably isn’t a good idea. If your ferret does not eat within the time frame, simply wrap it up and stick in the refrigerator for later.
Is it easy to transition a ferret?
While most kits and younger ferrets are easy to transition and often can do so cold turkey, older ferrets or those kibble addicts out there may be hard.
You must look at your companion as an individual. Each is different thus some may easily transition to raw while others take months to fully transition. It is most ideal to start your companion out on raw as young as possible.
What is a standard transition time frame?
There are a few transition methods. Personally I use a cold turkey method. I serve a meal with 80% meat, 5% liver and 10% bone. If there is no stomach upset for two weeks than I give the full 10% organ recommendation.
The second and more common method is to transition over a 7-10 day period. If your companion eats a kibble based diet, now would be the time to transition to a canned food. Canned food is getting closer to raw feeding as it contains more meat, less carbohydrates, is full of moisture and easier to digest. Over this time period you will want to use 25% of the new food to 75% old food the first day, continue this for a bit, then move into 50% new and 50% old food. In a few days, transition to 75% new food, 25% old food. Than finally on the 7th to 10th day your companion should be consuming 100% raw. As mentioned some ferrets need this transition period to be longer.
Can I mix raw and kibble?
DO NOT transition to raw by mixing with kibble. Kibble and raw food digest at varying rates and can cause digestive upset (38, 39, 40). If your ferret will not transition cold turkey, use canned food as a transition tool.
Will my ferret eventually eat if they are starving?
DO NOT practice tough love with your ferret (35).
At times you may just have to be creative with serving your companions food in the begin as they get used to a raw species appropriate diet.
Ferrets primarily are just like cats who eat a raw diet so give it a try and provide the best for your furbaby!
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