Archived Articles : Feeding Ferrets

From The Desk Of The President  

Dear Members,  

We have recently received some rather harsh criticism over our advertising of a new ferret biscuit in the last issue of Ferreting Around on the basis that, in the opinion of the person/s concerned, biscuits are harmful to ferrets and there is supposedly action being taken by some Members of Parliament in England to have the selling of all  
processed food by Veterinarians prohibited based on the "Raw Meaty Bones" group's belief that "their campaign has provided a stable foundation upon which to build a healthful, secure future free of the junk pet food scourge".  

I do not usually use our newsletter as a platform for my own personal views on the feeding and rearing of my pets, however as it has been implied that WAFFS can be held accountable for the advice we give to others I have decided to put pen to paper on the feeding issue.  

As you will all be aware, the Ferret Society provides a feeding guide as a part of information to members and non-members alike. Included in our suggestions are such things as chunky raw meat, raw meaty bones, chicken necks & wings, whole prey - such as day old baby chicks, mice, etc. Good quality kitten or ferret biscuits such as Science Diet, Royal Canin, Whiskas Advance, etc., lactose free milk, egg yolks and various other "treat based" items may be used to supplement the diet.  

We do not for instance promote the feeding of tinned cat food to our pets, but we have several members who feed their ferrets canned cat food - along with their biscuits, meat and milk purely & simply because their ferrets love the gravy. Those members are aware that we do not think this is a good thing, but they are not our ferrets and it is not our choice.  

If including biscuits in the diet we suggest you use good quality meat/chicken based biscuits as opposed to the cheaper vegetable based varieties, as it is important that, due to the very short time it takes for food to go from mouth to litter tray, our ferrets are able to get the highest amount of protein, fat, etc. in the shortest possible time.  

We have some members who, the majority of the time, feed their ferrets a diet of small prey - mice, chickens, rabbit, quail, etc. but still give them chunky raw meat and lactose free milk when they choose to. Biscuits are excluded from the diet in these households as the owners believe they serve no purpose in the teeth cleaning process and may lead to long term periodontal disease. Their choice.  

Some members do not give their ferrets milk as they believe milk assists in the development of dental problems.  
Their choice.  

My own ferrets have a basic diet of raw meat, a mixture of really good quality kitten  
biscuits - because to date I had not been able to find a good quality ferret biscuit to mix  
in - and lactose free milk with weaner mice and/or day old baby chicks several times a month. Most of my ferrets eat meat and love their milk and the small prey but no biscuits. Some of my ferrets eat meat & prey and love their biscuits and their milk. None of my ferrets will eat chicken necks although they love cooked BBQ chicken which is no alternative at all and is given on rare occasions as a treat 'cos they love it. Ferrets belonging to other members love chicken necks. My ferrets also will not eat chicken wing tips and will leave them to go green in the bowl rather than eat them so there is no point in my waiting for them to starve to death before feeding them something they will eat. Some of my ferrets will not eat meat or prey and "Gus" who died recently at the age of 11 years lived on his assorted kitten biscuits and his milk and never ate a piece of meat in his whole life and, despite having an obsession for Fruit Loops and never ever having visited a Vet for his teeth (or anything else for that matter) died with absolutely perfect teeth - at the age of eleven years.  

I am in full agreement that fur, feather & bone is the perfect food for our ferrets and am still amazed at how, after ferrets eat a day old chick the waste product (i.e. feathers) comes out the other end in a nice neat little package. However, having so many ferrets - even if they would all be happy with that being their sole diet, I can in no way afford to feed my pets only on prey.  

Leaving my own preferences out and despite having also been told that several of our  
Metropolitan Area Vets supposedly recommend the feeding of a whole prey diet, there are several reasons why our members choose other diets for their ferrets :  

1) Prey is expensive - particularly for one income and/or multiple ferret households  

2) Prey is not always readily available - we have recently had to wait about six weeks for weaner mice as Murdoch had run out of stock and, no matter how many people decide that prey is the way to go, Murdoch will not be producing larger supplies to cover possible  
increase in future demand  

3) Most people still cannot get their heads around feeding whole prey to their pets and will never change in this regard. I for one, being unable to get weaner mice for my ferrets could not abide getting bigger rats/mice and cutting them in half - my choice.  

“Husbandry” is yet another reason why biscuits find a place in my ferrets’ diet. No  
matter what time of the day or night, no matter whether inside or outside my home, meat still attracts flies and can be a rather disgusting thing to deal with. So while I’m not at home to monitor the meat situation, biscuits provide a clean, healthy food source should my ferrets feel the need to feed.  

Regardless of how strongly we recommend or justify one form of feeding as opposed to another, at the end of the day I will use my favourite saying when I am wearing my WAFFS hat and that is "we are not the ferret police" and we cannot force people to  
follow any particular path when it comes to their own animals.  

We can provide all the information on how ferrets should be fed, housed and cared for in certain ways. We can demonstrate the reasons why we have come to these conclusions over many years; reasons based not on what we have read in books alone but on our own  
experiences over very many years and still it all boils down to what people choose to do themselves.  

At the end of the day our ferrets are not going to live to 20 or 30 years of age and we are still learning, so all we can ask is that our members give their ferrets the best they are able. Love them, feed them, give them heaps of attention as often as possible, keep them cool in summer and warm in winter and, above all, keep them safe and secure for however long their life happens to be. The choices are all yours.  

Purely for information purposes we have included a small questionnaire in this newsletter which we ask that each and everyone of you completes and returns to us. You are perfectly welcome to post this back to us anonymously - we have no need to know who you are - we would just like to get a more well rounded picture of what our  
members actually do feed the ferret members of their families and this will help enormously. I will also, as a matter of personal interest, be talking to our local vets to get a more rounded idea of what their views on feeding ferrets actually are.  

I thank you all for taking the time to read this and stress that it is in no way meant as a criticism to any member. I am firm in my belief that, given all the pertinent information it is our personal choice at the end of the day and that, hopefully, none of us would stray far from the recommended track and intentionally cause health problems for our much loved pets in their relatively short lives.  



Article Published in Issue 128 of Ferreting Around. (January / February 2006)