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Can Ferrets Eat Dog Food? What You Need to Know!

Nicole Cosgrove

While your ferret may love to snack on dog food, is it safe for them to eat? The quick answer is no, they should not eat dog food. But the full answer is more complex. Your ferret technically can eat dog food, with little or no issues — occasionally. However, normal commercial dog foods will not be enough to provide your ferret with adequate nutrition if they are fed exclusively on dog food alone. Dogs are natural omnivores and can eat many different types of foods, so while your dog will benefit from the extra ingredients, your ferret will not.

The other issue is that “dog food” can mean different things to different people and can have widely varying degrees of quality. There is commercial dry kibble, canned food, and homemade meals that all qualify as dog foods. Still, none of these options are enough to satisfy your ferret’s nutritional needs. Read on below to find out exactly why.

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A Few Facts on Ferrets

Ferrets are small, carnivorous animals with a long nose, long tail, and an elongated slender body with short legs and sharp claws. They are a part of the weasel family and are closely related to minks. Ferrets are the third most popular pet in the United States, behind only dogs and cats, with an estimated 7 million in American households, according to a 1994 survey. Contrary to popular belief, when kept as pets, they are loving and friendly animals that are rarely aggressive. They are playful, independent, social, and sleep for most of the day, making them ideal little pets.

Ferrets love to hide and stash things, so don’t be surprised when your keys or shoes randomly go missing!

Ferret eating outdoor
Image Credit By: Burdun Iliya, shutterstock

The Natural Diet of Ferrets

Ferrets are obligate carnivores, which means they must eat meat, and their diet in the wild consists of small prey animals like mice and small birds. They will eat every part of the animal in the wild, including fur, feathers, and bones, all of which provide essential nutrients and roughage and exercise their strong jaws.

They require a diet high in protein, which must come from meat as they cannot digest vegetables properly. Their short digestive tracts mean they have a fast metabolism and will need to be fed 8-10 times a day, eating very little but very often. Raw meat is ideal and organ meats are best. But other meats like chicken and turkey are also great. Be sure to cook pork, though, as it may contain pathogens like trichinosis that can be harmful to ferrets. Ferrets also love eggs, raw or cooked, and fish is also a great addition to their diet if your ferret likes it.

Health Risks of Feeding Dog Food to Ferrets

Both commercial canned food and dry kibble contain ingredients that may be harmful to your ferret. Firstly, the filler ingredients like wheat, soy, and corn can pose potential digestive issues, and they don’t have the optimum ability to digest fiber. Secondly, commercial dog foods have ingredients that ferrets simply cannot digest, which can cause serious complications. Lastly, while there is no reason to worry if your ferret steals the occasion snack from under your dog’s nose, a ferret will not do well fed on a diet of exclusively dog food. They will swiftly become malnourished, overweight, and sickly.

Dog food does not have enough protein for your ferret, even the best types, and are loaded with carbohydrates that your ferret cannot absorb or digest properly. Ferrets will inherently recognize that they are not getting sufficient nutrients from the dog food and will attempt to eat more and more. This, of course, will cause untold health issues for them.

Dog food lacks a few essential nutrients, mainly taurine, that your ferret needs to thrive. Taurine is found in high amounts in meat, mainly in turkey and chicken, and in slightly lower amounts in dairy. Commercial dry dog foods contain a maximum of 30%-40% meat contents, which is a woefully short supply for your ferret. Without adequate amounts of this amino acid, your ferret is at high risk of heart disease, namely cardiomyopathy, which can lead to heart failure. Commercial dog food is also low in fat, which should make up around 15%-30% of a ferret’s daily intake.

The size and texture of commercial dog food is also an important factor. It is often large and hard, making it difficult for ferrets to chew and can thus cause harm to their teeth and mouth. While canned foods won’t have this particular issue, they will also still not have the required nutrition.

Ferret Pork
Image Credit By: CC0 Public Domain, pikist

What If Your Ferret Eats Dog Food?

Ferrets love to steal and stash all manner of things, and your dog’s food will be high on the list of fun games for them. If your ferret gets away with a few pieces of dry kibble occasionally, there should be no problem. However, if this goes on day after day and becomes a regular sport for your ferret, the aforementioned issues can come into play.

So, while a few mouthfuls every now and then will be fine for your ferret, we still recommend feeding your dog somewhere where the ferret cannot access the food.

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Conclusion

In conclusion, no ferrets should not eat dog food. Although eating it does not pose any immediate risks, long-term effects are dire. Commercial dog food just does not have the required nutrition for ferrets, so it will not be able to sustain them. Your ferret needs to be fed solely on meat and maybe dairy occasionally.

So, while ferrets technically can eat dog food, they most definitely shouldn’t!


Featured Image Credit By: 279photo Studio

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.