Because of the fast metabolism, ferrets MUST HAVE FOOD AND WATER AVAILABLE AT ALL TIMES. They can’t be fed on a schedule.
They should have a very high protein / high fat food. A protein level as close to 50% and a fat content of 18% is best. Of course, the better the food, the more expensive it is. Do not feed anything under 35% protein; it will cause more medical problems and/or early death. Any ferret food from Wal-Mart or the grocery store is NOT okay to feed to a ferret.Ferrets should be fed ferret food and not cat food. Below is a link to a site that explains the difference in the nutritional needs and digestive systems of ferrets and cats:
Essentially, ferrets: process their food twice as fast; require four times more amino acids like taurine; require minimum 36% protein, compared to 26% for cats; can accept only 20% carbohydrates, compared to 70%; require 33% more fatty acids; need higher vitamins; do not utilize roughage and different kinds of sugar and cats do; and are more sensitive to high salt.
The ingredients of the food are as important as the protein level. The first two ingredients should be a meat or meat product. If one of the first two ingredients is not meat based, then don’t feed that food! A meat meal actually has more protein than whole meat, so try to feed something with a first ingredient of a meat meal.
There is a lot of discussion about grain free diets for ferrets. Because they are carnivores, people assume they do not absorb carbohydrates from grains and, therefore, try to feed a grain free diet. Most of the grain free diets substitute vegetables for rice. Ferrets actually do not digest vegetables well. They pass quickly through the system. So, a diet with vegetables in it is not as a good as a diet with rice in it. Ferrets do at least absorb some protein and nutrition from rice and other carbohydrates, although not as much as from meat.
There is considerable information available now that shows ferrets, especially males, are prone to crystals in the urinary tract when fed a diet with peas in it.
Ferrets can be very picky about what they will eat. Do not assume it will eat a new food you buy. If possible, buy a food that can be returned if the ferret doesn’t eat it or see if there are other ferret owners that will give you a sample of the food they feed. I have samples of 13 kinds of ferret food I can send out for .25 per bag plus shipping.
Search out ferret foods from reputable sites such as ferret.com with meats listed first in the nutrition charts. Google “more dooks food chart” for a food comparison. Many ferrets coming into the shelter prefer Marshalls Premium or Marshalls Chicken. This is because ferrets imprint on foods at a young age, and many ferrets are from Marshall Farms. (This is indicated by the 2 dots tattooed on their ear.) Ferrets can be switched over to better quality foods with time, patience, and mixing into their soupies, but don’t just do a 100% switch over night! They are very picky eaters and might not recognize the new food as food at all. In fact, many ferrets who are lost outdoors can often starve because they only recognize their current kibble as food. For this reason, it’s important to incorporate a mix of 3 or 4 different foods into their diet (all available at the same time) should 1 food type become temporarily unavailable or discontinued altogether.