Although ferrets have become more common in recent years, they are still fairly rare. Unfortunately,  it can still be more expensive to raise unusual pets, such as ferrets, than common pets, like cats and dogs, because there is less demand for ferret habitats, food and other essentials. This means they cannot be as massed produced, which lowers production costs, as cat and dog products. To get around this issue, it can be tempting to turn to cat food as it is much cheaper than ferret food, but is it actually a healthy alternative for your ferret?

Light gray ferret eats from the trough

Ferret Nutrition

Let’s start our investigation into ferret food by highlighting what a ferret needs in terms of nutrition. The best ferret food will meet the nutritional needs of your pet, and it is important that every ferret owner knows what these are. To help you understand your ferret, here are some essential facts about ferret nutrition:

  • Ferrets are carnivores which means they need to primarily eat animal matter and protein.
  • They have very high metabolisms, so they burn through a lot of calories.
  • Their digestive systems cannot handle a lot of carbohydrates, such as grain.
  • Sugar is incredibly bad for ferrets, and this includes all complex carbohydrates, such as fruits, vegetables and dairy.
  • Very sugary treats, like chocolate and ice cream, are also very bad for a ferret.
  • Ferrets are also fussy, which can cause huge problems when brands change recipes or stop producing their favorite tastes.
  • This means it is important to create a diet with variety for your ferret or they may struggle to adapt to other foods later down the line.

The ingredients in ferret food or pellets must have meat, such as lamb or chicken, listed first and should not have grains and carbohydrates listed. They should be smooth shapes, such as ovals, as pointy pellets can damage their mouths. You should try and give them a variety of tastes and provide no more than 10% treats.

Feeding Your Ferret Cat Food

If you find that you are struggling to afford feeding your ferret, you may be tempted to turn to the food of other carnivores, such as dog or cat food. This may appear to make sense as they all need protein and animal products as the foundation for their diet, but the truth is that ferrets, dogs and cats all have slightly different nutritional needs.

Dogs are much more omnivorous than cats, so their food often has much more grains in it, making it unsuitable for cats and very unsuitable for ferrets. Between cats and dogs, cats have the most similar diet to ferrets. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean it is a perfect substitute.

Cat food has far too much grain in it to be a suitable alternative for ferrets as they are even more carnivorous than cats. Grain is a carbohydrate and, as we’ve already discussed, a ferret’s digestive system unfortunately can’t handle carbohydrates. Cat food will cause digestive issues and will not provide enough protein and fat for your ferret.

Ultimately, if you are thinking of getting any pet, you must be certain that you can afford them without cutting costs. It is best if you factor in the cost of good quality ferret food, even if you have to buy it online, when you are considering adopting a ferret. However, sometimes life circumstances can change and you may find yourself needing to cut the cost of your ferret. Is there no alternative?

Kitten Food

While cat food is not suitable, there is an alternative to ferret food that may be a cheaper than ferret food. Kittens require much more protein and fat in their food to provide them with the energy they need to grow and develop. This means they are given their own, special food that is richer in protein and that can be given to ferrets without causing any digestive issues.

Unfortunately, you cannot provide just any kitten food for your ferret. You must make sure that the kitten food you buy is primarily made using suitable protein sources. It cannot have any grain or corn and meat must be listed first in the ingredients list. Ferrets do not eat fish, so make sure the meat source is lamb, chicken or beef.

It is worth running your plans past your veterinarian. They will be able to assess the brand you are proposing to ensure it is nutritious enough, and are likely to also suggest ferret fatty acid supplements or other supplements that will support their diet. Unfortunately, this may add to the overall cost of the food, reducing the savings you can make by switching to kitten food.

Blind baby ferret eating meat

Ferret Treats vs Cat Treats

It is also worth knowing that cat treats make suitable treats for ferrets as they are usually protein-based. This is very helpful as ferret treats can be difficult to find or more expensive. Other foods that make great treats for your ferret, include:

  • Cooked chicken
  • Cooked turkey
  • Cooked lamb
  • Boiled Egg

You can try getting meat to cook from your local butcher as they may be able to sell you cuts of meat that nobody else wants for very cheap. This might be organs or fatty bits of meat that they would otherwise throw away. Cook a large amount in batches and then freeze it, and you will save yourself a lot of time and effort. You must also make sure that homemade food is made free from any additions, such as oils and sauces, that may not be healthy for your ferret.

You must also make sure that any treat you make or buy is round and soft as your ferret’s mouth is quite vulnerable to being hurt by triangular or pointy shapes. You don’t want to risk wounds that can become infected, so ensure that their food is soft enough for safe consumption.

Similarly, it is essential that a ferret diet contains a significant amount of dry food and treats. Dry food has the added benefit of dislodging dirt from your ferret’s teeth, helping them to stay clean and healthy.

Sources:

  1. What Do Ferrets Eat? A Guide to Feeding Your Ferret – PetMD
  2. 9 Worst Foods for Your Ferret – Vetbabble
Olivia Williams
Olivia is our head of content for MyPetNeedsThat.com, mum of one and a true animal lover. With 12 different types of animal in her family, it's never a dull moment. When she isn't walking the dogs, feeding the cats or playing with her pet Parrot Charlie, you will find her product researching and keeping the site freshly updated with the latest products for your pets!

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