What Do Ferrets Eat in the Wild and as Pets?


Ferrets are slinky, playful, witty, adorable creatures. When you look at them like that, it is a challenge to see a ruthless predator running around you. However, ferrets are one of the true carnivores of the animal world. Satisfying their dietary needs can be difficult, but understanding what they eat in the wild is a good place to start.

If you have wondered “What do ferrets eat in the wild?” or “What should I feed my pet ferret to keep them healthy?”, then this is a good article for you.

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What Ferrets Eat in the Wild

ferret eating crumbs from the ground
Image Credit: Isoman72, Pixabay

Ferrets eat a completely carnivorous diet of small prey. They are opportunistic predators and have high hunting skills. There are all kinds of small animals that ferrets will hunt and eat in the wild. These include:

  • Ground squirrels
  • Mice
  • Voles
  • Shrews
  • Chickens
  • Snakes
  • Hedgehogs
  • Rabbits
  • Prairie dogs
  • Birds
  • Possums
  • Turtles
  • Susliks

When a ferret hunts and kills something, they don’t waste it. Wild ferrets often consume their food in its entirety. They eat all the fur, feathers, internal organs, and bones.

One of the primary issues ferret owners have is not just what they eat, but how much. Ferrets have such a high metabolism that they must eat almost constantly. This also compounds because of their short digestive tract and inability to eat plant matter.

Their keen hunting ability partially comes from how they are built. Their small, thin, and long bodies allow them to follow prey into their holes. They kill quickly, using four canine teeth to kill their prey.

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What Ferrets Should Eat as Pets

Domesticating the wild ferret has done nothing to change their dietary needs. They must have frequent meals of meat so they stay healthy.

Previously, guidance on feeding pet ferrets recommended a mixed omnivorous diet, including carbohydrates and fruits. Since then, we have realized that those foods are harmful because a ferret’s digestive system cannot break these down that well.

Instead, you need to feed them food specific to a ferret and ensure that food and water are always available for them.

You can feed your ferret fresh mincemeat, meat bones, offal, diced lamb and beef, and anything else from an animal that’s meaty. You can wean your ferret onto protein-rich dry foods as well. However, you should continue to give them plenty of fresh meat.

Bones are good to certain extent, but they shouldn’t make up any more than 10% of the ferret’s diet. They shouldn’t be cooked either, since cooking them will often cause them to splinter. Bones help satisfy your ferret’s need to chew on things and keep their teeth clean.

Finally, it is best to food-imprint your ferret. If you have a ferret that is younger than six months old, it is best to establish their diet. Getting them accustomed to alternative foods after this period will take much more time and patience.

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In Summary

Ferrets have become more common to keep as pets over the last 50 years. If you want to care for one of these mischievous and playful creatures, ensure that you give them a diet and lifestyle to keep them healthy. Although it can be challenging to give a ferret an appropriate diet, it is also one of the essential parts of their care.


Featured Image Credit: Michael Sehlmeyer, Pixabay





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