Whether you love fruits and vegetables or hate them, there is no arguing that they are a healthy and necessary part of the human diet. However, this is not the case for all animals, including ferrets. You should not include fruits and vegetables in your regular ferret’s diary as they can be dangerous or in some cases fatal to the animal. Meaning, not only are fruits and vegetables not beneficial to your ferret; they are actually harmful.
Below, we are going to take a closer look at why ferrets should not eat fruits and vegetables, in addition to talking about what ferrets are supposed to eat.
Are Fruits and Vegetables Good For Ferrets?
Even when you know that ferrets need a lot of meat and protein in their diet, you may wonder whether or not adding some fruits and vegetables into the mix would be good for your ferret. After all, fruits and vegetables are a vital part of a balanced diet for humans. However, this is not the case for ferrets. Portions of fruits or vegetables should not be a part of your ferret’s staple diet.
In humans and most animals that eat fruits and vegetables, there is a spot in the digestive system called the cecum. The cecum is usually found between the small and large intestines. The cecum is where the bacteria and other microorganisms digest complex carbohydrates (which are found in both fruits and vegetables). However, ferrets do not have a cecum, which means they are unable to digest complex carbohydrates properly.
Eating foods that are high in complex carbohydrates can also lead to your ferret developing a number of different serious health problems. For instance, when eating fruits and vegetables, ferrets start to overproduce glucose which can lead to insulinoma, which is a type of pancreatic cancer. It can also lead to bladder stones, gastroenteritis, skin ulcerations, and reproductive problems.
The overall conclusion is that your ferret should avoid eating fruits and vegetables. You should use neither fruits nor vegetables as a regular treat or additive to your ferret’s regular diet unless expressly told to by an experienced veterinarian. You should also avoid feeding your ferret pellet foods that have fruits and vegetables on the ingredient list, especially if they are one of the primary ingredients.
Are some fruits and vegetables acceptable in small quantities?
Some ferrets can tolerate either boiled or mashed carrots and potatoes mixed in with meat in small amounts. However, while this may not hurt your ferret, it also does not help your ferret’s health in any way, so there is usually no reason to give your ferret any carrot or potato. It does mean, however, that if you find a ferret pellet food with some amount of potatoes or carrot in the ingredient list, you can still give it to your ferret.
There is also a chance that your vet could recommend that you feed your ferret a small amount of ferret-safe vegetables if your ferret gets diagnosed with scurvy. Scurvy is a medical condition that is caused by a lack of Vitamin C, which ferrets cannot produce on their own. Ferret-safe vegetables include mushrooms, potatoes, squash, cauliflower, unseeded peppers, carrots, and broccoli.
While there are no fruits that are beneficial for your ferret’s overall health, there are a few that will not harm your ferret if only given in small quantities. Ferrets can usually safely consume apples, melons, and bananas when given in very small quantities. If you do decide to feed your ferret these fruits that are considered ferret-safe, you should only use them as the occasional treat. You should also remove the skin and cut them into very thin pieces. Ferrets have very thin intestinal passages, and thicker pieces of fruit or the skin can cause painful or dangerous blockages.
On the other hand, there are some fruits that you should absolutely avoid as they can be particularly dangerous. You should never feed your ferrets grapes, grapefruit, lemons, oranges, or limes.
A reminder about ferret diet requirements
Ferrets are obligate carnivores, which means their digestive systems are only meant to digest meat and other animal byproducts like animal bones, skin, fur, etc., and the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that come from said meat and byproducts.
Ferrets have relatively short intestinal tracts, so any nutrients that they are going to extract from their food have to be fairly easy and quick to break down. Ferrets also lack several of the important enzymes that are needed to break down non-animal matter.
When ferrets eat foods that their digestive system is not meant to process, a couple of different problems could occur. First, they may simply not get enough calories and nutrients out of the food before it is the whole way through their system, making it not sustainable. On the other hand, it could cause health problems and digestive blockages, which can be rather serious if not caught and addressed quickly.
As far as what they do eat, wild black-footed ferrets spend a lot of their waking hours hunting for their food and eating it. Ferrets are natural predators for a variety of different small prey, including small rodents, frogs, rabbits, and birds. When they do catch and eat their food, they eat the whole animal, including the bones, fur, skin, and organs. All of these different animal parts give the ferrets needed vitamins and minerals. Some parts of the animal are also helpful for other reasons. For instance, the bones keep the ferret’s teeth strong.
In captivity, most ferrets are not hunting and catching their food, though some owners do decide to feed their ferret’s alive or raw diet. However, ferrets do best when their diet in captivity mimics what they would be getting in the wild. This means their diet needs to be made up of 30% to 40% protein and 18% to 30% fats. They also benefit from certain nutrients like taurine and yucca.
What Happens If A Ferret Eats Fruits?
- Urinary Tract Problems: When ferrets eat plant-based foods, especially fruits, they can develop a urinary tract infection or get urinary tract stones. The stones occur due to an accumulation of proteins found in plants, especially the compound Calcium oxalate. If your ferret does develop a urinary tract infection or get urinary stones, it can be very painful and even dangerous or fatal if not caught and properly treated.
- Dental Problems: Fruits are very high in sugar which is not only hard for a ferret to digest, but is really bad for your ferret’s teeth. When your ferret eats too much sugar, its teeth can rot or get cavities which can be extremely painful. It can also cause functional problems if your ferret becomes unable to eat other foods like pellets or animal bones.
- Intestinal Problems: When the fruits are being digested and pass through the pancreas, it can lead to serious problems. Your ferret could experience severe (and painful) indigestion, which can lead to even more serious problems like gastroenteritis. Gastroenteritis is a beta cell disorder that can cause intestinal or pancreatic cancer.
- Choking Problems: If you take a look at a ferret’s teeth, it is easy to tell that their teeth are meant for ripping and eating meat. They do not have the kind of molars that are necessary for chewing up fruit and plant matter. Because your ferret may not be able to properly chew the fruits or vegetables, fruits can be a choking hazard and cause blockages in the airways or esophagus.
What Human Foods Can Ferrets Eat?
There is a long laundry list of human foods that ferrets should not eat. We have already gone over the fact that ferrets should not typically eat any fruits or vegetables, but there are other foods you should avoid too. For instance, your ferret should not eat a lot of grains or starches. Your ferret should also never eat things like dairy or chocolate.
However, it can be fun to give your pets a treat made up of human food every now and then, so what is considered safe for your ferret?
Well, of course, your ferret can eat pretty much any cooked meat. You can give your ferret bites of chicken, turkey, lamb, and animal bones as treats. Cooked eggs are also perfectly safe for your ferret, and many ferrets absolutely love the taste. Another alternative is to give your furry treats that were specially made for ferrets.
What Foods Can Kill A Ferret?
While there are lots of foods that can lead to serious and even fatal health problems, there are some foods that are more poisonous than others. For instance, you should never give your ferrets onions or garlic as both can be poisonous to ferrets. Onions can cause hemolytic anemia, and garlic can cause your ferret’s kidneys to shut down.
Dairy can also be extremely dangerous to ferrets. The best-case scenario if your ferret eats dairy is that he experiences some minor diarrhea. However, dairy can cause dehydration and other serious health problems like cancer which often ends up fatal.
Finally, similar to dogs, both chocolate and grapes/raisins are toxic to ferrets.
Resources and further reading:
- Ferret nutrition, Cathy A. Johnson-Delanay