Ferrets are becoming popular pets but are not quite as popular as cats and dogs. Finding good ferret food can be difficult depending on the region you’re living in. If you’re unlucky enough to live in a region where ferret food isn’t easily available, you’ll want to know alternatives such as cat food or dog food.
So, can ferrets eat cat food? Ferrets have different nutritional needs than cats. However, ferrets can be fed high-quality kitten food and treats. This food and treats should be high in proteins and fat. Kibbles should have a round or oval shape without sharp corners to prevent damaging the mouth of your ferret.
So if you can’t find ferret food you can use high-quality cat food to feed your ferret. Of course, if you can give your ferrets a special diet that’s made for ferrets, this will be a lot better. If you give cat food to your ferret you need to know the nutrients that the cat food should contain.
In this article, you’ll learn what the dietary needs of ferrets are and how cat food can be an alternative to ferret food in some cases. You’ll learn what kind of cat food you can feed to your ferret and what kind of treats can be given.
Dietary Needs of Ferrets
Ferrets are so-called obligate carnivores that need a meat-based diet to meet all of their nutritional needs and be healthy. In fact, their entire anatomy is made to digest meat, and ferrets can’t digest grains and vegetables.
The main ingredients of a ferret diet should be meat. The diet should contain between 30 and 40 percent meat-based protein and between 15 and 20 percent fat. Besides that, taurine should be in the food to help your ferret stay healthy.
What Kind of Cat Food Can Ferrets Eat?
Cat food doesn’t come in one form. There are two large distinctive food groups: kibble and wet or canned food. Ferrets can eat both forms of cat food but both have their own advantages and disadvantages.
For both kibbles and canned food, there are some basic rules or dietary guidelines you need to follow. The cat food should have:
- meat as the primary ingredient: the diet should have meat such as lamb, beef, or chicken as the main ingredient. Fish is often the main ingredient of cat food but ferrets don’t eat fish naturally and such food should not be given.
- no meat by-products: the meat source shouldn’t be meat “by-products” because these don’t have the same nutritional value. By-products are leftovers from the animal, like the skin, heads, organs, or guts.
- no grains or vegetables: grains and vegetables can’t be digested properly by ferrets and should absolutely be avoided.
- low levels of carbohydrates: high levels of carbohydrates can cause health issues in ferrets. Stay beneath 30 percent of carbohydrates and preferably even lower.
Kibble is generally advised for ferrets because it has a high caloric density. However, the teeth of ferrets aren’t designed to chew. If you choose kibble as the only food for your ferret it can cause tooth wear. Like other carnivores, the teeth are made for tearing and cutting meat. This means that the kibble won’t be chewed by your ferret and that your ferret will swallow it in little pieces.
Kibble also usually has a high amount of carbohydrates (20 to 30 percent) to hold the kibble in a particular shape. If you get kibble for your ferret, choose a kibble that has low amounts of carbohydrates and is grain-free.
Important considerations when feeding kibble:
- feed only kibble with a smooth shape like round or oval-shaped kibble
- kitten kibble is more suitable for ferrets because it has a higher protein and fat content compared to adult cat kibble
- high-quality cat kibble is better because it has a suitable protein and fat percentage
Wet or canned cat food
Wet or canned cat food is better for the teeth (although it does cause tartar buildup) of your ferret but it has a low caloric density. Up to 70 percent of canned food is just water and a ferret will not get enough calories and nutrients from the same amount of canned food as it would from kibble. Since ferrets have little stomachs it’s possible that your ferret won’t eat enough food and get ill. However, canned food usually contains low levels of carbohydrates and is higher in proteins and fat.
Can Ferrets Eat Cat Treats?
Just like cat food, ferrets can also eat cat treats but only if the ingredients are right. This means that the treats should be protein-based and have meat (chicken, lamb,…) as a first ingredient. They shouldn’t contain grains, corn, or vegetables and have low amounts of carbohydrates. As is the case with feeding kibble, you’ll need to make sure that the cat treats are round or oval and don’t have sharp corners. This will prevent hurting your ferret’s mouth.
Treats should only be given occasionally and should only make up 10 percent of the diet of the ferret diet.
Tips and Tricks
When you’re feeding cat food you should take the following tips and tricks into consideration:
- ferrets olfactory imprint on their food: ferrets seem to establish a preference for their food by the age of six months. This process finalizes in the next months and can take up to the age of one year to finish. When your ferret has imprinted on a certain (smell of) food it will want to eat that food and will often neglect other food. As your ferret ages, it will be more and more difficult to change to a new kind of diet with other smells.
- consult a vet before you give cat food: although cat food can be fed it’s best to run it past your vet before you give it. Your vet can analyze the ingredients of the cat food and see if it contains everything your ferret needs.
Should ferrets eat cat food?
Ferrets should eat special ferret diets if they’re available in your region. If you don’t find any good diets you can choose a diet that has a mix of cat kibble and canned cat food.
Can ferrets eat chocolate?
Chocolate is a source of theobromine. This chemical is toxic for a lot of pets and should be kept away from ferrets. Make sure that you don’t give chocolate to your ferret.