Totally Ferret | Selecting the Best Food for Your Ferret
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Selecting the Best Food for Your Ferret

Selecting the Best Food for Your Ferret

Quality Commitment is a state of mind as much as it is a statement of policy.
Quality Commitment starts at the top of an organization and permeates each level of management and to each individual employee within a company, as well as all suppliers, customers and stockholders. Simply defined, Quality Commitment is a belief and adherence to principles, policies and procedures by every person employed by the company, which translates into actions that produces products that will meet customer expectations based on product promises. A company that does not adhere to Quality Commitment cannot produce a quality food.

Ferret foods really do vary in quality and so do the companies that make them. To many companies, quality is only a word, while to others, it is a way of life.

Ultimately, the quality of any food is best measured by the animal eating it. How the pet performs on the food. A pet with bright eyes, silky hair and supple skin, who is not overweight, has well-formed small stools without a strong odor, is the goal. No matter what else a company may say or do, unless the food performs in this manner for your pet, it’s not right for him or you.

Of course, not all ferrets will do well on a given product. There are some ferrets that simply do better on one product versus another without any understandable explanation. Therefore, the final judge of quality must be your ferret!

Selecting the right food is second only to deciding which ferret best fits the owners personality and life style. It will have the single greatest impact on the ferret’s health and life-long well-being.

Food, unlike medicine, cannot cure a disease. Yet feeding a poor diet can predispose a ferret to poor health and in extremes, cases cause nutritional deficiencies and disease. A well balanced food, developed for and tested on ferrets during all life stages, is important in building a strong muschlo-skeletal system. It also provides for properly functioning internal organs necessary for metabolism. All of which will prevent and lessen the impact of disease, stress, physical injury, and parasites. Furthermore, proper nutrition can promote accelerated recuperation from sickness or medical treatment.

Ferrets are obligate carnivores, and as such, must have high quality protein from animal sources such as found in chicken by-product meal, chicken by-products, liver, meat and meat by-products, whole eggs, etc. Low levels of herring meal or white fish are good for protein balance but should never be a major source of protein for ferrets as they do not like, nor do will on these foods.

A complete food for all life stages, gestation, lactation, growth and maintenance should be at least 36% protein and 22% fat, fortified with 15 vitamins and 15 minerals.

Chicken, poultry, pork or beef fat are all good sources for energy in complete ferret diets. You should look for at least three (3) sources of fat, two being of animal source and one or more a vegetable source. A quality ferret food should have two or more sources of quality carbohydrates for texture as found in rice, wheat or corn. Fiber levels in excess of 2% can cause digestive and stool problems for ferrets since they lack a caecum to digest fiber. However, dogs and cats do quite well on food of 3-5% fiber. The lower gut in the ferret also lacks the degree of convolutions and microvilli found in other carnivores, like the cat. It is for this reason that a quality food with a balance of protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and fiber are so critical in ferret food.

Pelleted foods by their very nature do not completely cook the starches, which in turn will cause poor digestion and loose stools, therefore should be avoided. In addition, most of these diets are modified mink foods, as determined by their high fish content. This is easily detected by their strong fish odor. In general, ferrets do not like the taste or smell of fish based, pelleted foods and will avoid them if given a choice.

Secondly, since most of the pelleted foods are mink foods, they likely have not been protocol tested on ferrets and as such, should not be fed. Just because a package says ferret food on the label does not mean it has been tested and proven for life-long feeding of ferrets. You may want to call the manufacturer if you have doubts about the testing. Ask how and under what conditions they have tested the food.

Premium cat foods have often been recommended for ferrets. Though they are generally better than the fishy odored foods or undercooked pelleted ferret foods. The fiber level which is greater than 2%, will be less digested and produce large, smelly stools. Cat food, like the mink foods have not been fed, tested or proven to support ferrets in any of the life stages, including maintenance. It is generally for this reason that most people mix several foods and supplements as these will not properly support the ferret in all life stages. When possible, premium ferret foods should be recommended and fed.

Thomas R. Willard, Ph.D. Animal Nutrition

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