Last Updated: August 31, 2020
Ferrets are gorgeous and rewarding pets that are full of character, but they’re certainly not as popular as cats. This means that your local pet food store may not stock specific ferret food, so if you’ve run out of food for your ferret, you might find yourself eyeing up the cat food aisle instead, wondering whether this could be an acceptable alternative.
To quickly answer the question, yes, ferrets can eat cat food in a pinch. Some types are better than others, and of course, it’s not recommended to feed your ferret a cat food-based diet permanently. In a pinch, it’s okay, though. Keep reading to find out the best types of cat food to feed your ferret in an emergency.
Ferret nutrition and metabolism
Ferrets, like cats, are obligate carnivores. So, they need a food source with a high percentage of meat protein to help them develop healthily. Ferrets also need taurine in their diets. In the wild, they would obtain that from eating fresh meat, so choosing a commercial food with taurine added is essential.
The ideal ferret food should contain 30% protein, no more than 30% carbohydrates, and 15% fat minimum. It should also contain fatty acids.
Feeding your ferret something with more carbohydrates and less protein will risk stunted growth, increased infections and metabolic diseases, and compromised reproductive health, which would not be ideal if you’re planning on using them for breeding.
Ferrets have a fast metabolism, so unlike cats, which can be fed twice a day, a ferret should have their daily rations split into as many as 10 different meals. That’s why ferret food is often pelleted, and many brands recommend that you leave a small amount of pellets available for your ferret to free-feed on as often as they want to.
Studies have found that per kilogram of bodyweight, ferrets eat around twice as much food as cats. Ferrets aren’t as efficient at extracting nutrients from their food as cats, so it’s thought that this could be the reason that they need to eat so much more food.
Cat food for ferrets
Now we know what a ferret needs nutritionally, how do cat foods stack up as an occasional emergency meal?
Cat food designed for kittens can often be a good emergency substitute, as it should contain higher levels of protein than adult cat food.
Make sure you select a grain-free cat food. There’s no reason for a ferret (or a cat, for that matter!) to eat grains, but they’re often used as a filler in commercial cat foods. Your ferret’s digestive system won’t tolerate a high percentage of carbohydrates.
The AAFCO recommends that cat food for kittens should contain 30% protein and 9% fat, compared to cat food for adults, with 26% protein and 9% fat.
So, kitten food is much more suitable in terms of protein content, but it still doesn’t contain enough fat.
You might want to add an omega-3 ferret food supplement to increase the amount of fatty acids to a more suitable level.
What’s best, wet or dry cat food?
If you do find yourself needing to feed cat food to your ferret, make sure it’s the dry kibble variety. Wet cat food typically contains lower percentages of protein and fat. Your ferret would need to eat a large quantity in order to meet their daily requirements.
Commercially available ferret food is also usually pelleted, and this serves a useful purpose. The hard texture helps clean your ferret’s teeth, and a dry cat kibble will do the same thing.
If you fed wet cat food to your ferret for any length of time, not only would their nutritional needs not be met, they’d likely also suffer from dental issues.
What sort of dry cat food should I choose?
If you do need to feed your ferret cat food, a dry kibble designed for kittens is the best option.
Select one with high-protein content, with no grain or corn.
Ferrets enjoy strong meaty flavors, so a beef or lamb kibble is the best option. They will also eat a chicken-based kibble, but ferrets don’t generally eat fish, so steer away from those varieties.
If you can, try to choose kibble with a rounded shape. The sharper corners of triangular or other shaped kibble can hurt your ferret’s mouth.
What about cat treats?
You might be wondering if it would be okay to feed your ferret cat treats.
The answer is yes, but only on rare occasions. Remember that treats formulated for cats are going to be designed to meet the nutritional needs of that species, not ferrets!
Cat treats don’t often contain enough protein for a ferret to find them truly interesting. So, they might have a little chew and then discard the rest.
Again, you’ll need to read the packaging to see if the treat has high-protein content and low carbohydrates and is grain-free.
A better choice would be to use a ferret-specific treat, which they’re guaranteed to love!
Ferrets are fussy
Ferrets can be fussy, and young ferrets are known to imprint whatever food they eat. That means if you’ve only been feeding your ferret one food for their whole life, you may find it difficult to persuade them to accept an alternative!
It’s a good idea to try and feed a young ferret a wide variety of flavors and textures, so if you do need to switch to a different feed in the future, they’ll find this easier to accept.
Don’t make a habit of it
It’s always best to choose a species-appropriate diet. That means ferret food for ferrets and cat food for cats! Just because two species are both carnivorous and we keep them as pets, that doesn’t mean we can get away with feeding them the same food and expect them to stay healthy.
Anatomically speaking, the ferret’s digestive system is different than that of a cat. So, it stands to reason that the foods we feed them are going to be different.
While it’s okay to feed your ferret dried cat kibble occasionally, we definitely wouldn’t recommend doing it on a permanent basis. Yes, it might work out cheaper, but in the long run, you’ll be compromising the health of your ferret by not providing a diet that’s specifically tailored for their needs.
The best thing to do is to find a high-quality pelleted ferret food and supplement this with raw meat, if you choose to do so.
Stock up online or request a special order
Ferret food is definitely not going to be stocked in your local grocery store, so you’ll need to find a pet store or go online. Planning ahead when it comes to feeding your ferret is the best way of making sure you’ve always got ferret-specific food in stock!
Wrapping it up
We now know that ferrets can eat cat food, but it needs to be a kitten food with high-protein content and low carbohydrates.
If you can find food that’s designed specifically for ferrets, that’s always going to be the best option for your furry ferret friend.
But in an emergency, dry kitten kibble will keep your ferret’s hunger at bay while you restock your pantry.
Wondering what else you can feed your ferret? Check out these posts for more info:
Featured Image Credit: Crepessuzette, Pixabay
An avid animal lover, Roland started this blog to help all varieties of pets and their owners on their journey to living their best lives.