Ferret food can be hard to find and expensive, so you may be tempted to substitute it with some other kind of animal food such as cat food. However, you should always make sure your food is safe and will meet your pet’s nutritional needs before making the change. The good news is that ferrets can eat most cat food, and there are plenty of perfectly safe brands for ferrets. Moreover, cat food is typically much less expensive than ferret food.
In this article, we are going to go over exactly what your ferret’s nutrition requirements are, in addition to which cat foods are okay for your ferret to eat.
Is Cat Food Good For Ferrets?
Yes, ferrets can eat most cat food, since most cat foods are made up of some combination of water, proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and nutrients. They get these different elements from various ingredients such as meat, fish, vegetables, and cereals. These different combinations aim to provide cats with a well-balanced diet that meets all of their nutritional requirements. The foods are not made with a ferret’s diet in mind, but that does not mean that they cannot work.
When it comes to what exactly is in each kind of cat food, you will have to look at the ingredient list. However, you can generally assume that dry cat foods have more carbohydrates from things such as cornmeal and rice. In contrast, wet cat foods are higher in proteins with more whole chunks of meat but also usually higher in sugar, preservatives, etc.
What Cat Foods Can Ferrets Eat?
As a general rule of thumb, your ferret can eat kitten food and dried food, but you should never give your ferret wet cat food. Kitten food is usually extremely high in protein and most dried or crunchy cat food also typically has plenty of protein in it. Wet food, on the other hand, generally has lots of added sugar, preservatives, and other ingredients that should never be in your ferret’s diet. Additionally, many wet cat foods are completely mushy, which can be bad for your ferret’s teeth.
From there, you want to look at the ingredient list to decide which specific brands and recipes are okay for your ferret. First, you want to look at what the first ingredient on the list is. If it is some kind of carbohydrate, you do not want to give it to your ferret. Instead, you want to look for foods where the first ingredient is some kind of meat or fish.
You also want to completely avoid cat foods that contain any fruits or vegetables, no matter how low they are on the ingredient list. If your ferret eats any fruits or vegetables, he could have digestive problems or blockages. Additionally, while there can be some grains in the food, they should not be the main ingredient.
You may also need to add certain supplements to your ferret’s diet if you are using cat food. For instance, you might need to add taurine or more fatty acids.
Ferret Diet Requirements
Both ferrets and cats are considered strict (or obligate) carnivores which means that the majority of their diet should be made up of animal matter and protein. In fact, in the wild, ferrets spend most of their day hunting and eating small game like rodents, birds, and even frogs. In captivity, you will need to mimic the balanced diet they get in the wild which is very high in protein and fat and low in carbohydrates. You also need to make sure your ferret gets taurine which, in the wild, is found in fresh meat.
Ferrets also eat a lot of food throughout the day relative to their size. In fact, according to the Pet Food Manufacturers Association, a ferret has to consume 5 to 8 percent of its total body weight in order to be at its optimum health. That means that a 2-pound ferret (which is the average size of an adult ferret) needs to eat between 50 and 75 grams of food in a day.
Now the exact amount of food a ferret needs to eat in a day depends on a variety of factors. For instance, kits (baby ferrets) will often eat more food, and they need more protein and fat in their diets than adult ferrets. Jills (female ferrets) also tend to need more protein during pregnancy. On the other hand, overweight ferrets or those with certain health conditions may need to be put on a different kind of special diet.
There are also a few different things that ferrets should never eat. For instance, if a ferret is getting too many carbohydrates in their diet and not enough protein, they are at risk for stunted growth, more infections, metabolic diseases, and compromised reproductive health. Sugar, including complex carbohydrates, fruits, vegetables, and dairy, are also extremely dangerous for ferrets.
You also need to keep in mind that ferrets can be extremely picky about their food if there are any sudden changes in the recipe or brand. For this reason, you want to expose your ferret to a variety of different foods from a young age.
Ferrets have extremely high metabolisms, and they are very active animals which means that they burn a lot of calories in a day. In comparison to cats, which have slower metabolisms and eat only 2 to 3 meals a day, ferrets need to eat more like 8 to 10 small meals throughout the day.
In fact, while cats are bigger and therefore eat more, studies have found that when adjustments are made for weight, ferrets eat twice as much food. It is believed that ferrets need this much food, not just because of their fast metabolisms but because they are not as efficient at extracting nutrients from food as cats are.
Can ferrets eat wet cat food?
Unless you are ready to spend a lot of time researching brands, it is better to avoid wet cat foods altogether. However, if you look into brands and find a wet cat food that is high in protein and completely free of sugar, salt, and veggies, it could work. Also, remember that if you are feeding your ferrets wet food, you will need to give them chew toys and treats that will keep their teeth strong and healthy.
Can ferrets eat dry cat food?
Yes, ferrets can eat dry cat food. In fact, generally speaking, there are more dry foods that are healthy for your ferret than wet foods. You will still need to look at ingredients to ensure that the food is high in protein and low in carbohydrates, and entirely free of sugar, fruits, vegetables, etc.
Can ferrets eat cat fish food?
There is some debate about whether or not ferrets can eat fish. In the wild, fish are not typically a part of their natural diet, but they can digest it. In fact, some foods meant for ferrets include fish. However, it seems that most people recommend that you look for cat foods with other meats or poultry rather than fish. If you have to feed your ferret fish, tuna is generally okay, while other kinds of seafood could cause your ferret to smell.
Is kitten food better than cat food?
Yes, most kitten foods are better for your ferret than regular cat food. This is because kittens have higher metabolisms and need more protein than adult cats do which means their nutritional needs are more similar to ferrets than adult cats. However, not every kitten food is okay for your ferret to eat as some are still high in sugar, grain, etc. Like always, you need to check the ingredient list to make sure you pick the best option for your ferret.
Can ferrets eat cat treats?
Yes, there are lots of cat foods that are suitable for ferrets because many of them are protein-based (though you should check that this is true for each treat you buy.) You should also make sure that the treats do not have any sugars in them. This can be helpful as ferret treats can be difficult to find and very expensive, but they are really helpful for training and play.
If you cannot find a cat treat that you trust, you can also make your own. Foods that make great ferret treats include cooked chicken, cooked turkey, boiled egg, and cooked lamb. You may be able to get cheap cuts of meat from your local butcher that most people do not want such as organs or fatty bits.
Can ferrets eat dog food?
No, your ferret should not eat dog food. Unlike cats and ferrets, dogs are omnivores which means there are much more grains, fiber, vegetables, sugar, etc., in dog foods than either ferrets or cats should eat. Not only should you not feed your ferret dog food, but you should also make sure your ferret does not have easy access to any dog food in the house because it could cause digestive problems.
Resources and further reading:
- Ferret Nutrition, Cathy A. Johnson-Delanay
- Effects of diet on captive black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) food preference, Astrid Vargas, Stanley H. Anderson