What Do Ferrets Eat?

Sandra C. Mitchell, DVM, DABVP
By Sandra C. Mitchell, DVM, DABVP on Dec. 5, 2023
Ferret eating off dish

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What Can Ferrets Eat?

You’ve just brought home your first pet ferret, and you might be wondering, “what do ferrets eat?” Maintaining a proper ferret diet is a key factor in helping your furry friend live a long and happy life, and there are many ferret food options on the market today.

What Can Ferrets Eat?

Ferrets, like cats, are obligate carnivores, which means they get nutrients from meat-based protein. Many veterinarians feel that common problems such as inflammatory bowel disease and insulinoma are directly related to feeding ferrets the wrong foods.

Never feed your ferret cat food. While a ferret can technically eat cat food, ferrets require a higher amount of protein in their diet which most cat foods do not offer. Always feed your pet ferret a diet specifically formulated for ferrets.

Best Ferret Foods

Some of the best foods for ferrets include the following:

A healthy ferret food should have no seeds, nuts, or bits of dried-up fruit in the bag. Ferret food should all look the same, with no artificial colors or other variety to the formula.

Many foods designed for ferrets may change their formulas frequently. Ferrets are often extremely picky about their food and become bonded to the taste and feel of it. This can be a major problem when a manufacturer makes a change, so it’s recommended to purchase multiple different ferret food brands and blend them into a common container—mixing up the taste and making it easier to transition in the future, if needed.

Food should be available to your ferret 24/7 and should be checked daily. Remove any wet, soiled, or crunched-up kibbles that are no longer prime for eating.

Ferret Treats

Ferrets are tiny animals, so treat portions need to be kept small to maintain good nutrition. Choose healthy treats that complement their diet—not ruin it.

Puréed meat baby food with no additional ingredients is often a yummy snack for your ferret, and it’s an especially helpful treat to combine with medicine, if necessary. Do not feed baby foods that contain rice, vegetables, or chunks.

Another good treat for ferrets is Bob Church’s Chicken Gravy (also known as duck soup). A staple for the sick ferret, it’s a healthy addition to a ferret’s diet.

You can also offer your ferret small pieces of cooked lean chicken, turkey, beef, or fish. Be sure to remove the bones and skin, and ensure that it’s thoroughly cooked and diced relatively small.

Other commercial ferret treats you can consider include:

What Can Ferrets Not Eat?

The list of what a ferret should not eat is much longer than the list of what they should eat. As a general rule, if a food isn’t meat-based, your ferret shouldn’t eat it.

Things that ferrets should not eat include:

  • Cat food

  • Dog food

  • Raisins and other fruits

  • Human foods (except small pieces of cooked meat)

  • Vegetables

  • Bones

  • Fish heads or skin

How To Feed a Ferret

The actual process of feeding a ferret is simple: simply set out approximately ¼ cup of a healthy kibble blend into a heavy crock feeder once per day. Be aware that ferrets love to play in their food and water, so using heavy crocks and separating the food and water by a few feet helps prevent messes and contamination.

Food and water should be checked approximately 12 hours later and changed, if needed. Ferrets often don’t like to eat crumbs, so if the bowl is heavy on the crumbs, dump it and start fresh. Water should also be provided in heavy crocks and checked and changed frequently. Some ferrets will drink from water bottles, but the vast majority prefer and drink better from crocks.

Ferret Food FAQs

What do ferrets eat in the wild?

Ferrets, as we know them, do not exist in the wild. It is thought that they were domesticated from the European polecat, which eats primarily small rodents, amphibians, and birds.

What do domestic ferrets eat?

Domestic ferrets eat a blend of high-quality, high-protein kibble designed for ferrets. A ferret’s diet is often supplemented with some softer high-protein treats, such as puréed baby food and meats.

Can ferrets eat cat food?

No. There are a few expensive high-protein, low-carbohydrate foods designed for cats that are also suitable for ferrets, but this is the exception rather than the rule. Also, the kibble size tends to be different, which makes it hard for ferrets to chew and can even damage their teeth.

Can ferrets eat dog food?

No, ferrets should never be fed dog food. It’s too high in carbohydrates for them to properly digest, does not contain the nutrients in the correct balance for a ferret’s metabolism, and is too large to fit properly in their mouth without possibly causing some damage.

Featured Image: Irina Vasilevskaia/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Sandra C. Mitchell, DVM, DABVP


Sandra C. Mitchell, DVM, DABVP


Sandra Mitchell is a 1995 graduate of the New York State College of Veterinary Medicine. Since graduation, she has worked in many fields...

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