Cats and ferrets are both obligate carnivores. You might wonder if they can eat the same diet and if cat food is safe for ferrets. The answer is a little complicated.
Ferrets require more protein and fat than cats, and they can’t process significant amounts of fiber or carbohydrates. A ferret fed a pure cat food diet will eventually become malnourished. You’ll notice a dull coat and frequent illness.
This article will discuss everything there is to know about ferrets and cat food, from what to feed your ferret in an emergency to why cat food isn’t a long-term solution.
Can Ferrets Eat Cat Food?
Ferrets can eat cat food as an emergency meal, but it doesn’t have enough protein to sustain them long-term. Cat kibble, in particular, has a lot of carbs—so many that it actually isn’t great for cats, either!
Kitten food tends to have a lower carb and higher protein content. It’s the best choice as an emergency meal, especially if you add supplements to make it even better for your ferret.
However, most kitten foods won’t contain enough fat for ferrets long-term. High-quality ferret food will always be your best choice as it’s made just for ferrets.
Cat and kitten food can work for ferrets because both animals are obligate carnivores. This means that they get all of the nutrients they need through meat. However, most pet food brands aren’t in it to provide the highest-quality food—they’re in it for the money! Many cat foods use fillers for this reason, and it’s difficult for even discerning cat owners to find high-quality food without breaking the bank.
Cats and ferrets also have differences in their hunting styles. While both eat rodents primarily, cats also love fish! Ferrets don’t eat fish naturally, and it shouldn’t be a part of their diet.
Fast Digestive Systems
Ferrets have digestive systems that are very fast, and they need many meals throughout the day to sustain this. While cats typically eat 2-3 times a day, ferrets eat 8-10 daily meals.
Ferrets need twice as much food per km of body weight as a cat to stay healthy.
Ferrets need high amounts of fat and protein in their diet. They also need food that’s low in carbohydrates and fiber.
Cat food tends to use grains such as rice and corn as filler, making many cat foods inappropriate for ferrets. In addition, even kitten foods don’t tend to contain enough fat.
What Cat Food Can Ferrets Eat?
High-Quality Kitten Food Works in a Pinch
If you’re in an emergency, a high-quality kitten food with as much protein and fat as possible can be fed to your ferret. The food should also be low in carbs. However, this isn’t long-term food. You can stock up on it for emergencies if needed, but you’d be better off stocking up on your ferret’s normal food instead.
If it’s the only thing you can find at the pet store or you’re in some other emergency, then, by all means, feed kitten food to your ferret! But first, check out the dos and don’ts below.
Avoid Foods with these Ingredients:
- High fiber content
- Artificial preservatives
- Triangular kibble
Look for these instead:
- Lamb or chicken as the first ingredient
- At least 30% protein content
- At least 15% fat content
- Round kibble pieces
Add these Supplements to Kitten Food
When feeding kitten food to ferrets, you’ll need to use supplements to make up for anything the food lacks. This can include protein and fatty acids.
Your ferret should get all of the nutrients they need through meat in their regular diet, but supplementing their food is always better than nothing in a pinch!
Consult Your Veterinarian
Always consult your veterinarian before making a change to your ferret’s diet. In this case, ask your veterinarian what brands of kitten food they recommend if you can’t find ferret food. It’s best to be prepared for emergencies ahead of time.
Your veterinarian can also advise what you’ll need to supplement your ferret’s diet.
Can Ferrets Eat Wet Cat Food?
Many people claim that hard kibble is best for ferrets because it removes plaque build-up. However, at least for cats and dogs, this is untrue—I’d guess the same for ferrets, though I was admittedly unable to find a study on them in particular.
Another issue with wet food is that it tends to be less calorie-dense. This is great for cats and is frequently recommended by veterinarians for weight loss, kidney health, etc. But ferrets digest food quicker and need more calories to survive. Therefore, you should probably pass on the canned food unless it’s an absolute emergency.
What Happens if a Ferret Eats Cat Food?
A ferret that eats cat food once or twice isn’t likely to suffer from it—even if they’ve just gotten into your cat’s food, they’ll probably be fine. Many ferrets even eat significant amounts of kitten food without problem. However, the problem comes when it’s the majority or entirety of your ferret’s diet. This can lead to malnourishment as the ferret can lack proper amounts of fatty acids in its body.
Poor-quality cat foods with many carbs and fillers will affect your ferret faster. While your ferret accidentally getting into these foods once likely won’t hurt, it can cause problems over time if they continue to eat them.
If your ferret has eaten a significant amount of low-quality cat food, is showing symptoms of illness, or changes in behavior, contact your veterinarian immediately.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © AJSTUDIO PHOTOGRAPHY/Shutterstock.com
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