Ferret Dietary Questions: Can Ferrets Eat Dog Food?

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 dog food? Ferrets have different nutritional needs than dogs. A ferret diet should be high in proteins and fat. Ferrets also need taurine in their diet to stay healthy. Dog food doesn’t contain the necessary levels of protein and fat to stay healthy. It’s recommended not to give any dog food to ferrets.

So contrary to certain cat food, ferrets shouldn’t be given dog food. Giving dog food to ferrets can cause a lot of health issues. Dogs are omnivores and their diet often contains grains and vegetables. Ferrets, on the other hand, are not capable of digesting such food.

In this article, you’ll learn what the dietary needs of ferrets are and why dog food isn’t a suitable alternative to special ferret food.

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, fruits, and vegetables. 

The main ingredients of a ferret diet should be meat. The diet should contain:

  • high levels of protein: ferrets need between 30 and 40 percent of meat-based protein.
  • high levels of fat: a healthy ferret diet will contain between 15 and 20 percent fat.
  • low levels of carbohydrates: there should be less than 30 percent of carbohydrates.

There should be approximately 4 Kcal of metabolizable energy per gram of food.

Why Can’t Ferrets Eat Dog Food?

To understand why dog food is bad for ferrets we need to take a look at the digestive system of ferrets and the nutritional composition of dog food.

Digestive system

Ferrets have a digestive system that’s suited for obligate carnivores, so animals that only eat meat. There are two important aspects of ferret biology that cause the ferret not to be able to digest plant matter properly:

  • ferrets have very short digestive tracts: this means that nutrients need to be easily absorbed if they want to be absorbed at all. Dog food contains a lot of nutrients that won’t be processed because of this short digestive tract
  • ferrets don’t have a cecum: the cecum hosts bacteria that help digest plant matter. Since ferrets don’t have a cecum they can’t digest complex carbohydrates such as fiber and starch.

Dog food is low in protein and fat

Dogs have different nutritional needs than cats and ferrets. Dogs are omnivores and can digest both animal and plant matter. Dog food usually contains grains although there are also grain-free alternatives available. However, most commercial dog food contains lower levels of protein and fat. The levels will vary depending on the brand of dog food but most dog food will stay below the protein and/or fat levels necessary for ferrets.

Dog food is high in fiber and high in carbohydrates

Fiber is a complex carbohydrate that ferrets can’t digest. The diet of ferrets should have very low levels of fiber but dog food usually has more than 3 percent fiber content. This is too high for ferrets to stay healthy. Most dog food also has a high level of carbohydrates, usually above 30 percent.

What to Do If Your Ferret Ate Dog Food?

If your ferret ate a small amount of dog food by accident or if you gave it without knowing the risks, you should see if there are signs of health issues in the next few days. Feeding a small amount of dog food will usually not have a bad influence but you don’t want to make a habit of it. Make sure that you don’t give dog food in the future because this can lead to health issues fast. The best way to avoid this is by putting your ferret in its cage while feeding your dog or feeding both animals in separate rooms.

Related Questions

Can ferrets eat dry dog food?

Dry dog food is, like dog food in general, not suitable for ferrets. It usually contains low levels of proteins and fat and high levels of fiber and carbohydrates. Dry dog food or kibble is not recommended for ferrets and should be avoided for health reasons.

Can ferrets eat popcorn?

Popcorn has baked and hardened kernels that may cause intestinal blockage. Ferrets have a digestive tract that is made for digesting meat and not for grains or corn. A ferret will like the taste of it but it shouldn’t be fed popcorn.

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