By Mary R. Shefferman
Some people have asked me if it's okay to feed cat food to their ferrets. When people have cats as well as ferrets, the ferrets might prefer to eat the cat food over their own ferret food. But ferrets really aren't the best judges of what's best for them to eat.
For many years there were no good ferret foods. Often, people would feed their ferrets high-quality kitten food. Cat foods tend to have less meat protein than kitten foods, so the kitten foods are preferable. A ferret fed cat food can develop various nutritional deficiencies (some that are very serious!), so it's best to get your ferret eating ferret food or kitten food. But how?
Ferrets pretty much decide what's food by the time they're six months old. After that, it can be a bit of a challenge to get them to accept new foods. Not impossible - but a challenge. The goal is to get your ferret eating high-quality ferret food and/or high-quality kitten food.
Mix the high-quality kitten food or ferret food in with the ferret or cat food your ferret is already eating. Eukanuba kitten and Iams kitten are both good foods nutritionally - and ferrets tend to like the taste. Some good ferret foods include: 8 in 1 Ultimate, Totally Ferret, Marshall, and Zupreem. But, if you're switching from cat food, your ferrets might be more receptive to kitten food than ferret food at first. If you never get your ferret to eat ferret food, at least a high-quality kitten food will provide better nutrition than the cat food or poor-quality ferret food.
If you have cats, don't let the ferret eat the cat's food. Pick up the cat's dish while the ferrets are out playing. You can put a dish of kitten food or the mix of kitten and ferret food outside the cage, since some ferrets just get a kick out of eating food from a different place (a different bowl). It's perfectly all right to continue feeding a mix of ferret and kitten food to all your ferrets - as long as the kitten food is high quality (that is, it has a high amount of meat protein and fat). Eventually, the ferret might begin to eat the ferret food as well as the kitten food because they are mixed together.
Be aware that any time you change your ferret's diet you will likely see a few loose stools in the litter box. This doesn't mean the food is bad; it's just a sign of the ferret's body adjusting to the new levels of nutrients. As long as it's only a few bad poops, it's nothing to worry about. If the diarrhea becomes severe, you should have your ferret checked by your vet.
A couple of other things... Not all ferret foods are good ferret foods. Check the ingredients. The first ingredient must be meat (chicken, chicken by-product, chicken meal, fish - all these are fine). The binding ingredient is preferably rice, not corn. The protein and fat percentages should be in the 30% (protein) and 20% (fat) ranges - a little higher is better; a little lower is okay. If you look at the label of various high-quality kitten foods, you will see similar ingredients and percentages (which is why mixing in kitten food is not so terrible).
Ferrets are carnivores and they need meat protein to live healthy lives. Getting your ferrets to eat a good diet can go a long way to keeping them healthy and full of playfulness.