Date: Tue, 2 Jun 1998 08:00:35 -0500
From: Bob Church
Subject: Bob C: Diet 101 pt. 14
[Posted in FML 2328]
Basic rundowns on basic foods basically suited for ferrets:
DRY DOG FOODS: Too low in protein and fat to be healthy for the ferret except as an emergency ration only. HOWEVER, there is nothing bad in using pieces of dog food as occasional snacks or special treats.
WET DOG FOODS: These are generally healthier for the ferret, but also lack the percentages of protein and fats needed for proper nutrition. Still, they can be a nice change-of-pace meal once in a while; once or twice a month will not hurt your ferret's nutritional condition. The new carnivore dog foods (real meat) are very nice and make a good treat.
DRY CAT FOODS: Just because the protein and fat percentages are high enough, it doesn't mean they are quality ingredients, nor that they are very digestible. Look at the next 3-4 ingredients and if they are grains, the food is mostly grain regardless if meat is the first ingredient.
WET CAT FOODS: These are generally much better, although more expensive and smelly (they also result in a smellier poopie). Some of the specialty cat foods are really fine; others are just a rip off. Overall, I would say these food are vastly better for ferrets than the dry cat foods, mostly because the grain carbohydrate content is much lower.
DRY FERRET FOODS: I've seen a pelleted product that was probably pressed, as well as kibbled products. I have to say that these are as good or better than the cat foods, but since no one really knows the ferret's nutritional needs, its a point, not the game. Some of these are based primarily on fish products, so they are probably modifications of available mink foods. They are also smellier as food and poop.
WET FERRET FOODS: I think these are about the best thing available commercially; I just wish I could buy them locally. I got some on an east coast trip and fell in love with them. To be honest, I'm not sure they are still available. These are really fine, especially compared to dry foods.
MINK FOODS: These are almost always based on fish and many of the nutritional problems have been solved. The commerical ones are actually probably better for ferrets than kibbled cat foods. Most are smelly, spoil quickly, and will turn the litter box into a hazardous waste zone, but they are a fine change of pace once in a while and if you have good ventilation. Good quality mink food is probably the nutritional equal of good quality ferret food; the two species are so similar, it is unlikely many nutritional differences exist.
BABY FOODS: Get the ones without onion or salt. There some natural brands that are extremely good, but expensive. These foods are high in protein, but low in fat, so I usually mix in some heavy cream (with a dash of nutrical) as a cutting agent. The creamy foods are great for ailing ferts, and the chunky ones are great as a sauce over other foods.
ROAD KILLED ANIMALS: I have read about people using "fresh" road kill as a ferret diet supplement, but do not recommend it for several reasons. First, many states own the wildlife--even the dead ones--and you are not allowed to pick them up without a permit. Second, the act of flattening the animal causes crushing tissue damage, which means the interior cuts of meat may not be sterile. Last, why take the chance of introducing disease or parasites into your fuzzies. Not worth it; let it feed the coyotes.
RAW MEAT: Raw meat, if from complete carcasses such as frozen mice or rats, is probably the best food you can feed your ferret. Raw meat, if from steaks or pieces of poultry, is not as good as you might think and I'm not talking about the hyped-up horror of the meat-packing business. A chunk of steak is not a complete food; it lacks many nutrients such as calcium and fats. A ferret fed nothing but sirloin will develop rickets and ultimately die. Day old chicks and pinkie rats/mice are good in small amounts, but they also lack the fats and calcium needed for proper ferret health and should be mixed with other foods.
HUNTED MAMMALS (from human hunters): If a person can eat it, so can a ferret. The big problem is while beef or pork might have 15-25% fat within the meat, wild game is more in the area of 5-10%. Read "Raw Meat."
HUNTED BIRDS: Like complete mammalian carcasses, these are about a perfect food, provided they are fed whole and not chicks all the time.
FISH: Not all fish are created equal and lack some of the nutrients a ferret needs. However, fish is a good food, better than kibble in many ways, and, as long as it isn't the only thing you feed the ferret, it is a very fine food.
JERKY: No fat, and the commercial varieties have way too much salt. But if you make your own and leave out the salt, it is a great snack and quite healthy. Also, quite good for helping to clean teeth.
DRIED FRUITS: These will cause often explosive gas and diarrhea, but are otherwise harmless. The ferrets crave the simple sugars. A note: although these will cause some runny stools, it is harmless provided the ferret is eating well and has plenty to drink.
BONE: A near perfect food; many carnivores can live off bone alone. If the bone is cooked in dry heat, it tends to splinter more; if cooked in water, it tends to get soft and mushy. The best parts are the soft ends and the bone marrow from the middle of the long bones. Some people fear splinters, but that is a rare problem (if at all in ferrets) and easily solved by crushing the bone beforehand. Keeps teeth very clean.
INSECTS: Another very good food, so long as they are not filled with roach spray. Excellent treats. Freeze them first to humanely kill them.
Bob C and 20 MO Boneaholics
Date: Wed, 3 Jun 1998 03:30:18 -0500
[Posted in FML 2329]
PROCESSED HUMAN MEATS: These include pepperoni, salami, balogna, meat spreads, spam, etc. For the most part, these are way too salty for the ferret and some contain preservatives that in humans are safe, but not all have been proved safe in ferrets. Probably not harmful if small amounts are given as treats, especially if you can find low salt brands.
NUTS: Rich in plant proteins, fats and starches, these are hard to digest for the most part, and the bulk is sure to give your ferret the runs. They are probably not as good as raisins, but in moderation as occasional treats are probably not very harmful.
UNCOOKED VEGETABLES: Lots of ferrets love potatoes, brocoli, carrots and more, but the truth is, there is nothing in these foods that can help the ferret maintain good nutrition. The ferret's digestive system cannot process the cellulose, so it runs right through without stopping for directions, along with mostly undigested proteins and carbohydrates. Also, if they eat the veggies near the same time as their normal diet, they can *lose* the nutrients from that meal because the vegetable bulk stimulates the bowel to empty itself, pushing all nutrients through faster than normal. Additionally, some larger pieces could act like pieces of rubber to block the intestines. A funny weirdness exists on this subject compared to bone; I know of at least 5 instances where ferrets have *died* from blockages from carrots and brocoli, and only a single improbible one from bone, yet many ferret books and people are scared to death of bone but advocate feeding their ferret fresh vegetables. Go figure. Ferrets are primary carnivores and have a digestive system geared towards digesting animal tissue and bone; they are not primary herbivores who have a digestive system capable of digesting cellulose-rich plant material. This is not a good food for ferrets, even if they like it or want it. The only thing they might possibly get out of fresh veggies are a few vitamins, so instead of causing the runs or taking the chance on a bowel obstruction, give them a drop of ferretone.
COOKED VEGETABLES: Much better than crunchy veggies, but still not as good for the ferret as cheap dog food. As small occasional treats? Sure, but they can still cause gas or the runs.
CARTILAGE: The ends of chicken bones, pig or beef ears, etc., are all made of cartilage, which is often used as a homopathic remedy for joint pain. I am personally convinced that one of the reasons ferrets love to chew on rubber and crunchy veggies is because they have a sort of cartilage texture and chewiness. Lots of carnivores (and people) *love* chewing of rubbery or crunchy things, and cartilage fits the bill. There is a ferret product designed to fill this need, but I personally find it expensive, so I subsitute piggie ears (for doggies). I just soak them until soft and cut them into strips. Providing this type of chewing pleasure, as well as bones, has almost completely eliminated rubber and cord chewing in my house, even from Ballistic who would chew the heels off your shoes while you were wearing them. Cartilage is mostly protein, low fat, but as a treat, it is excellent.
FRESH FRUIT: This is mostly cellulose, complex carbohydrates and simple sugars, but most mammals love them anyway. You don't run the risk of a bowel obstrction like with hard crunchy veggies, but the ferrets will only absorb the sugars as the rest passes through. Ok as small occasional treats.
HEAVY CREAM: Mostly fat, and most of the lactose has been removed. This is *loved* by ferrets (once you get them to taste it) but will often result in the runs; not so much from lactose-intolerance, but from the richness of the fats. I rarely give cream without mixing it with something else, such as creamed chicken. A great product to but weight on sick ferrets, but watch the runny stools. Except for sick ferts, only use sparingly or you will end up with furry footballs.
MILK AND MILK PRODUCTS: Most ferrets are lactose-intolerant as adults, but there is some suggestion that feeding milk to weaning ferrets, then continuing the practice to adulthood maintains their ability to process the sugar. Most ferrets, if they have more than just a few sips, will have runny stools as a result of consuming milk products. Lots of rabbit hunters fed milk to their ferret while out on hunts, and they don't seem to suffer, but I can't say for sure if it is because of the infrequency or because the ferrets are lactose-tolerant.
CHEESE: See Milk. Occasional tiny chips of cheese don't seem to cause many problems, but be careful not to give too much.
CHOCOLATE: Contains theobromide, which is poisonous in dogs. There are lots of reports of ferrets eating large amounts of chocolate without ill effects. Most people argue that since it is toxic in dogs, it should be toxic in ferrets, but one doesn't necessarily prove the other. The occasional chocolate chip is probably safe, but if you worry about it, subsitute carob chips, also occasionally.
POTATO CHIPS AND FRENCH FRIES: Come on, these aren't even good for people; they are full of salt and plant fat and starches hard for the ferret to digest. Ok, only occassionally, just because they love them so much, but I didn't tell you, ok?
PEANUT BUTTER: The smooth stuff is a good treat, but too much is hard to digest and can cause the runs.
COFFEE AND SODA: If caffinated, just remember the ferret already has a very high heart rate and caffine can make it even faster. These drinks, aside from their addictive properties, are really not that good for you and I know; I'm a world-class soda junkie. Its best to keep them away from the ferrets, but small occasional sips probably don't do much harm.
Bob C and 20 MO Soda Jerks