Ferret Nutrition Chart

*** Please note: This information was last updated in 1998 and many formulas may have changed, and some brands may no longer be in business. In addition, some of my personal views on pet food have changed, but I feel the information provided here leaves room for you to review pet food labels and make your own choice ***

Requirements | Good Stuff | My Views | Analysis | My Choices

Ferrets are carnivores in the wild, they are made to eat meat. They cannot digest vegetable matter very well and can get sick from it. Their short digestive tracts pass food within 4 hours, often between 2 and 3 hours. So nutrients must be absorbed within that time. Vegetable matter takes a long time to digest – time that a ferret doesn’t have. So, above all else, feed your ferret a food high in meat, preferably from a known source.

It is recomended that food be given to ferrets at all times so that they will eat when they are inclined. Growing kits and pregnant or nursing females will eat a lot more than your average ferret, so provide them with more than usual.

Nutritional Requirements

Protein: 32-38%; avg. 35%
Fat: 18-25%; avg 20%
Fiber: Less than 3%, avg 2%
Carbs: Simple preferred, no sweets in the food
Starch: Well-cooked, extruded
Ash: less than 7%
Moisture: Less than 12%; avg. 10%

Generally Accepted Good Ingredients for Ferret Foods:

Meat

  • chicken
  • turkey
  • lamb
  • chicken meal
  • turkey meal
  • lamb meal
  • Whole eggs
  • Liver (liver meal)
  • Fish (herring), fish meal
  • Fish oil
  • Poultry meal
  • Bone meal

Fat

  • Chicken fat
  • Turkey fat
  • Poultry fat

Other

  • Beet pulp
  • Brewer’s Yeast, a good vitamin B supplement

Beef products are questionable because of digestibility and allergic reactions.
Always the first ingredient:
Meat in some form (whole, meal, by-product…)
Always in the first three ingredients:
Fat
Never in the first three:

  • Fish
  • More than one of
    • Corn
    • Soy
    • Wheat

My Views on Pet Food

Most of the food used for pet food is either unfit for human consumption, or it’s left over from processing human food. I want my ferrets to eat only the best, even if there’s no proven harm done to them from eating waste. The following is my philosophy in feeding my brats, err, babies.

No by-products

By-products consist of such things as necks, feet, bones, blood, intestines, ligaments, and almost all the other parts not generally consumed by humans.

“Pet food provides a place for slaughterhouse waste and grains considered ‘unfit for human consumption’ to be turned into profit. This waste includes cow tongues, esophagi, and possibly diseased and cancerous meat. The ‘whole grains’ used have had the starch removed and the oil extracted – usually by chemical processing – for vegetable oil, or they are the hulls and other remnants from the milling process. Some of the truly whole grains used may have been deemed unfit for human
consumption because of mold, contaminants, or poor storage practices.”
(An API Report: http://www.api4animals.org/petfood.htm)

Whole flesh is best, more of a natural diet. But they have more water, and there will be less actual meat after the water is taken out during processing. Meat meals are rendered, and unless the manufacturer makes it’s own meal, the meals could consist of unfit tissue. Yum. By-products can be perfectly nutritious, but because the term covers anything, it can vary from bag to bag. It’s at best uncertain, generally non-nutritive, and problematic at worst.

There COULD be a link between slaughterhouse wastes and cancer and other diseases.

You will have to comprimise, there is no one perfect food. It is advisable to mix foods anyways, in case the brand becomes unavailable, or you go on vacation, new good brands come out, your ferret develops an allergy, etc. Ferrets become finicky after a while, but if they know that different kinds
of kibble are “food”, they won’t encounter a problem switching.

Whole ground rice the best grain

White rice is more digestible to cats and dogs, and is less likely to cause allergies than corn or wheat. Up to 20% of other grains can escape digestion. It’s used in many ferret foods already. So it’s likely the best to use with ferrets…

Avoid corn, wheat, and soy as much as possible. Soy has a lot of protein, and can greatly skew the amount available in the crude amounts in the analysis, especially if there are other vegetable
proteins.

No generic meat or fat sources

“Poultry” and “Animal” labels could be misleading. The exact origins of such products is unknown. Many fats are collected from restaurants’ grease traps and placed in steel drums. They can then spoil until they are picked up by rendering companies and mixed with preservatives.
(API report)

Chicken fat (and other specific fats) probably aren’t treated in such a manner and may not require the chemical preservatives (BHT, BHA, ethoxyquin).

“Animal” digest is a broth made from anything that once lived. Chicken digest will be quite nutritious and appetizing to ferrets. Many “natural flavors” are made from digests.

No chemical preservatives – BHT, BHA, Ethoxyquin

Although not proven toxic, they haven’t really proven safe, either.

“While the law requires studies of direct toxicity of these additives and preservatives, most of these additives have not been tested for their effect on each other once ingested. Three commonly used preservatives, BHA, BHT, and EQ, have a proven synergistic effect that may lead to the development of certain types of cancer.” (API)

Natural preservatives include Vitamins C (asorbic acid) and E (tocopherol); HOWEVER, they are NOT as effective and so their shelf life – about 6 months – is shorter than food preserved with chemicals.

Liver, bone and blood meals

Liver might be nutritious, but it’s used to filter toxins from the bloodstream, and could contain residues. Avoid it in large quantities.

Bone and blood meals aren’t meat. They may add vitamins and minerals, but probably are best in smaller amounts, not a large percentage like I’ve seen in some less popular brands of ferret food. Don’t avoid them, they are good for your pet (I think). They will also make your garden grow better, too.

Food Comparison Chart

The following chart was compiled from some other charts on the Web, sources are in my reference links. Some of the data conflicted (especially for Totally Ferret) in terms of ingredients. I took what I thought to be the most current. I haven’t read the labels directly yet. I would love to hear from you if you have the labels handy, from a new bag of food.

The color coding is my subjective view about what is good for ferrets. However, I encourage you to take it into consideration, even if you don’t consider it as weighted as I do. Remember, you will have to compromise, but a mix of different foods will ultimately be the best thing for your ferret. If you
have different viewpoints, feel free to e-mail me and I may re-evaluate my chart.

White box = Ingredient is yummy and good for your ferret, either in itself or in its placement in the list; percentage is adequate
Red Box = Bad ingredient in itself or in its placement in the list; percentage too low or too high
Green Box = Good ingredient you might not have known about
Orange Box = Ingredients I don’t recommend
Grey Box = Not enough animal sources in the first 5 ingredients
* = Ingredients are “split”, example “ground corn” and “corn gluten meal” are still corn.
Vit. E = Vitamin E, mixed tocopherols, natural presevatives
Vit. C = Vitamin C, ascorbic acid, natural preservatives
Ethox = Ethoxyquin, chemical preservative

Ratings are given this way:

  • All food starts with 10
  • Having a red box is -1
  • Having an orange box is -.5
  • Having a green box is a +.5
  • Having a grey box is -3
  • Having a split ingredient is a -.5
Brand of Food – Ferret
Totally Ferret
Mazuri
Marshall Farms A.N.F. Sheppard & Greene Kaytee 8 in 1 L’Avian L/M
Garaunteed Crude Analysis
Protein 36 38 38 38 35 35 35 32 32
Fat 22 20.5 18 22 20 18 15 20 10
Fiber 1.5 4 3.5 2.5 3 4 3 3 4
H20 10 12 10 10 10 12 10 12 10
Ash 6.5 7.5 6.5 6.5 6.5 ? 6.5 6.5 ?
First 10 Ingredients (When Possible)
1st  “Poultry” by-prod meal “Poultry” by-prod meal Chicken by-prods Chicken meal Chicken meal “Poultry” meal Chicken meal Chicken by-prod meal Fish meal
2nd Rice flour Ground corn * Herring meal Rice Ground rice Fish meal Ground corn * Brewer’s rice “Poultry” meal
3rd “Poultry” fat “Animal” fat w/BHA Corn Corn * Corn gluten meal * “Animal” fat w/BHT Brewer’s rice Ground wheat Ground corn

4th
 
Natural vit. E Corn Gluten meal * Cod fish Corn gluten meal * Chicken fat w/Vit. E Soy flour Corn gluten * “Poultry” fat w/Vit E and C Soybean meal
5th Whole eggs Soybean meal “Animal” liver Dried eggs Ground corn * Kibbled corn “Animal” fat w/Vit E & C, citric acid Corn gluten meal “Animal” fat
6th Corn meal “Poultry” fat Dried beet pulp Chicken fat Dried whole egg Dried beet pulp Corn oil Fish meal Vegetable oil
7th Herring meal “Animal” digest Brewer’s dried yeast “Poultry” digest Beet pulp Dried blood meal Dried eggs Liver meal ?
8th “Meat” meal Beet pulp Cane molasses Sunflower oil Natural flavors Dried whole eggs Cane molasses Dried whole egg ?
9th Chicken liver Soybean oil Salt Brewer’s dried yeast Brewer’s dried yeast Feeding oatmeal Beet pulp Lecithin ?
10th Brewer’s yeast phosphoric acid ? Sodium propionate Vit. E Lecithin Wheat middlings Raisin juice Dried cheese ?
10 3 7.5 7.5 8 7 5 5 6
Brand of Food – Cat/Kitten
Innova Iams Kitten Iam’s Lamb & Rice Science Diet FG A.N.F. Tami Kitten ProPlan Eukanuba Nutro Max Wysong
Garaunteed Crude Analysis
Protein 36 34 32 33 34 33 34 32 34
Fat 20 22 21 23 18 20 21 18 20
Fiber 2.5 3 3 3 3.8 3 2.5 2 4
H20 10 10 10 10 10 12 10 10 10
Ash 6 7 7 6.5 6.5 ? ? 6.5 6
First 10 Ingredients (When Possible)
1st Turkey Chicken by-prod meal Lamb “Poultry” by-prod meal Chicken meal Chicken Chicken Chicken meal “Poultry”

2nd
Chicken meal Chicken Rice flour Ground corn * Corn * Corn gluten meal * Chicken liver Corn gluten meal “Poultry” by-prod meal
3rd Chicken Rice flour Chicken by-prod meal “Animal” fat w/BHA Chicken fat Brewer’s rice Chicken by-prod meal Wheat flour * Ground whole wheat
4th Whole steamed potatoes Ground corn Ground corn Corn gluten meal * Fish meal "Poultry" by-prod meal Rice flour Ground rice * Ground whole corn *
5th Whole eggs Chicken fat w/BHA “Animal” fat w/Vit. E Dried whole egg Corn gluten meal * Ground corn * Chicken by-prod "Poultry" fat w/Ethox Corn gluten meal *
6th Whole ground barley Dried whole egg Fish meal Chicken liver digest Whole dried egg Beef tallow w/Ethox Fish meal Ground whole wheat * Ground whole soy
7th Chicken fat w/Vit. E & C Beet pulp Dried whole egg Soy bean mill run Beet pulp Dried whole egg ? Lamb meal “Poulty” fat
8th Ground white rice “Poultry” digest Beet pulp Potassium chloride “Poultry” digest Phosphoric acid ? Rice bran * Dried whole whey
9th Herring meal Fish meal “Poultry” digest Chlorine chloride Brewer’s dried yeast Potassium chloride ? Dried egg Dried whole egg
10th Sunflower oil Brewer’s dried yeast Potassium chloride Iodized salt Salt Dried whey ? Dried yeast Spray dried "poultry" digest
10.5 10 9 8.5 10.5 5 8.5 5.5 4.5

Innova Feline

100% HUMAN GRADE food ingredients
First three are animal proteins; no by-products, corn, or chemical
preservatives. It has Eggs and Chicken fat, but possibly not enuff
fat. It has fish oil, (Omega 3 Fatty Acids) and Taurine. It does have
milk, however. Should be mixed with another brand for variety and
to dillute the milk.

Totally Ferret

is the most nutritionally complete; however, it’s
got by-products and unknown sources. It’s also expensive, but
probably worth it.

Excel Kitten

(not charted)
Chicken meal and chicken, rice flower, chicken fat.
No chemical preservatives. Does have a lot of chemical suppliments.

Sheppard and Greene

No chemical preservatives, it smells great! Too much corn, tho.
“Three ferret appealing shapes”. A good mixer with Innova and a
food high in fat.

ANF Tami Kitten

Low in fat, but good (ackording to the labels). Some undiscernable
products.

IAM’s Lamb and Rice for Cats

It may not have the right stuff for younger ferrets, this is a good
mixer. It doesn’t say whether the first 10 ingredients has a chemical
preservative. It has some by-prods, but no brand is perfect.

Eukanuba Cat Chicken and Rice:

Not Good By Themselves:

Science Diet Feline Growth:
Too much corn, by-prods, undetermined sources.

Marshall’s Premium:

A lot of fish, chemical preservatives, by-prods, unknown sources.

KayTee FortiDiet:

A lot of fish, by-prods, unknown sources. A lot of vegetable “filler”.

8 in 1 Ultra Blend:

Too much sugary stuff, soem unknown sources. Not enuff fat.

L/M Vita-Vittles

The worst. It has fish, unknown sources, chemical preservatives, and
critically low on fat, and too much fiber. I don’t recomend it, always
choose a kitten food over this.


My Choices:


$$$!
– Mix Innova Feline + Sheppard and Greene + Totally Ferret

$$! – Mix Excel Kitten + Totally Ferret


Innova Feline
100% HUMAN GRADE food ingredients First three are animal proteins; no by-products, corn, or chemical preservatives. It has Eggs and Chicken fat, but possibly not enuff fat. It has fish oil, (Omega 3 Fatty Acids) and Taurine. It does have milk, however.

Totally Ferret
is the most nutritionally complete; however, it’s got by-products and unknown sources. It’s also expensive, but probably worth it.

Excel Kitten
(not charted) Chicken meal and chicken, rice flower, chicken fat. No chemical preservatives. Does have a lot of chemical supplements.

Sheppard and Greene
No chemical preservatives, it smells great! Too much corn, tho. “Three ferret appealing shapes”. A good mixer with Innova and a food high in fat.

ANF Tami Kitten
Low in fat, but good (ackording to the labels). Some undiscernable products.

IAMs Lamb and Rice for Cats
It may not have the right stuff for younger ferrets, this is a good mixer. It doesn’t say whether the first 10 ingredients has a chemical preservative. It has some by-prods, but no brand is perfect.
Eukanuba Cat Chicken and Rice:
Not Good By Themselves: Science Diet Feline Growth: Too much corn, by-prods, undetermined sources.

Marshall’s Premium
A lot of fish, chemical preservatives, by-prods, unknown sources.

KayTee FortiDiet
A lot of fish, by-prods, unknown sources. A lot of vegetable “filler”.

8 in 1 Ultra Blend
Too much sugary stuff, soem unknown sources. Not enough fat.

L/M Vita-Vittles
The worst. It has fish, unknown sources, chemical preservatives, and critically low on fat, and too much fiber. I don’t recomend it, always choose a kitten food over this.

Last Updated: 9/20/98

6 Responses to Ferret Nutrition Chart

  1. Amber says:

    I feed evo ferret mixed with zupreem grain free ferret. Evo is the best ive found and the latter the second best. I only feed zupreem because its recommended to feed 2 kinds. I am now looking into evo cat/kitten turkey and chicken because it appears to be the same as their ferret and cheaper. Although i havent completed my entire comparison of the two. What are your thoughts on this? Also i know they dont extract the vits and mins from vegetables and fruits but innova puts those in the food. Do you think that the ferrets are not getting the vits and mins from these sources then? Thanks for your time!

    • spyral says:

      Hi Amber -

      Originally, the idea behind mixing was to cut down on costs and possibly add nutrients that may be lacking. I now think that it’s not a good idea, as each commercial cat/kitten food is formulated to be complete as fed, and mixing them can skew the nutritional balance. If that is something that has been working for you, I think it’s fine, but I think a good approach is to rotate between brands (if you feel the need to do so) over a 3-6 month period.

      ZuPreem original (no corn) seems pretty good, while the grain-free formula is an option, I don’t know if it’s really necessary. There is a balance needed between the protein and fat, and the original fits into the “38% protein/19% fat” equation for ferrets. I think the grain-free craze can be taken to an extreme. It all really boils down to the guaranteed analysis, cost to the owner, and ultimately the health of the animal.

      Evo seems great, but it is rather high in protein (50%) so I am not sure if this is suitable long-term or for older ferrets. Wellness Kitten Health seems to be a very reasonable brand to feed. I’m afraid all pet food manufacturers rely somewhat on “gimics” like adding bits of fruits and veggies that really don’t do much for pets. Don’t worry, they do add appropriate vitamins and minerals in a form that carnivores can digest.

      Unfortunately, I’m a bit out of date on ferret nutritional requirements, so I’m not sure if any commercial food has a necessary component that others don’t. You could always use the ol’ FerreTone supplement as a treat to make sure you’re getting a good blend of fatty acids.

      Good luck! :)

  2. Erich says:

    This is very helpful, thankyou. what is better the ZuPreem Grain Free Ferret Diet, ZuPreem Premium Ferret Diet, or Marshall Select Chicken Formula Premium Ferret Diet.

    • spyral says:

      I would probably select ZuPreem Premium out of the three choices. Grain Free seems unnecessary unless your ferret has a grain allergy. Marshall brand has a bad connotation with the “ferret mills” but I’m not sure if that’s still an issue. The diet seems adequate. ZuPreem has a higher protein and fat content, Marshall’s is a little low but just barely. Also, the molasses probably isn’t needed, and if you prefer natural preservatives (mixed tocopherols) then go with ZuPreem. Marshall’s uses BHA, but it’s a personal choice, it won’t kill your ferret. ZuPreem Premium is also a bit cheaper than Marshall or ZuPreem Grain free.

  3. M518 says:

    Mixing kibble is not a necessity, but many ferrets are often picky about diet changes. I believe this is why people suggest if you are going to go the kibble route, you should keep at least two variations.

    I have to disagree with you spyral – ferrets are obligate carnivores. Grain free or as close to it as possible is MUCH healthier for the animal, than anything else. EVO ferret food is one of the best out there, followed by Grain-Free Zupreem in my personal opinion. If my guys would eat raw or at least cooked meats, they would be eating it. There are so many less issues with a grain -free kibble. You are concerned with the protein percentage, but you also must take into consider what the percentage is of – is it 50% of a cup? 50% of 3 cups?? There’s a big difference there. I’m not saying it is the best for EVERY ferret out there, but I think it definitely is a much healthier option for most. I can see where raw diets (or even live prey) or cooked meat can get tricky with making sure you’re balancing all nutritional requirements – this is where grain-free kibble comes in as a much easier choice for many people.

    AND YES!!!!! Marshalls is STILL a factory farm for ferrets. Horrible conditions, treatment, and they keep breeding diseases into their ferrets! Stay away from Marshalls ferrets and other big companies like that. Do your research and get a ferret from a breeder that can guarantee the parents do not possess the common diseases ferrets are so prone too, thank you very much Marshalls!

    • spyral says:

      50% is still 50%, that’s the practicality of percentages. 50% protein in a kibble is going to remain 50% in one cup or three. Your pet may eat one cup, or three, but either way they get the same “dose” of protein compared to the other nutrients. Generally, pets eat more of a food low in proteins and fats because chemical receptors their stomachs are telling their brains they aren’t getting enough food due to the processed fillers. That’s part of the reason to pay attention to percentages, so your pet doesn’t gorge or eat too little to get complete nutrition.

      I agree that ferrets are obligate carnivores (less than 7% of vegetable matter found in stomach contents), but I also don’t think you can just remove grain from a cat food and call it a healthier option for a ferret. There are no studies either way, so any commercial food can make claims that they are the better alternative as long as they have the marketing savvy and play up to people’s emotions and desires. Who’s testing them? Who’s doing scientific studies instead of relying on palatability tests or anecdotal evidence? It doesn’t tell us what is actually best, what helps ferrets live longer, etc. Especially when factory farms are breeding ferrets prone to tumors and other health issues to complicate longevity trends.

      Carnivores eat the entire carcass, including vegetable-based stomach contents. I don’t think that adding corn to meat products makes it a balanced meal, either, but I think it could be an acceptable practice to feed some grains to give fiber to the digestive system. This can be done with sweet potatoes, potatoes and other vegetables, but for what reason? I think ferrets in the wild are just as unlikely to eat a sweet potato as a grain. This doesn’t apply to those animals that may have a sensitivity to grain, in which case you should look for alternative sources of carbs. A wide variety of food sources should be utilized if they are safe and nutritious for your ferret, cat, dog, reptile or rodent. :)

      I am absolutely not a nutritionist, and I am not against grain-free, so I hope everyone takes this and applies their own experience to it. My main concern is to educate owners on feeding what they think is right for their pet. If their pet can’t eat grain, they should use a grain-free option. If they are concerned about costs, I’d rather steer them toward a high-quality, lower cost food than one that may make them “feel” better but not provide any better nutrition to their pet. Or worse, have them go with something low-quality just because it’s cheaper and they don’t realize how to find the more nutritious options.

      I don’t feel there is a “best” food, but there are bad foods. Even the leading brands, like Evo, can cause digestive upset in some individuals. People should feed according to the condition of their ferret, and switch brands if they aren’t seeing the results they would like. Just replacing grains with potatoes and throwing in some blueberries isn’t going to make it substantially more healthy. Hopefully, more research will be done as to what does make the BEST diet for ferrets, and it may in fact be grain-free or raw. But more scientific studies are needed, otherwise too much is left up to interpretation.

      Here are some well-written and descriptive discussions of ferret food written before “grain-free” became a buzzword. The first advocates raw, whole-food diet and the second a high-quality meat-based commercial food with at least 38% protein and 20% fat. Again, low grain is good, but what is gained by substituting other vegetables? We just don’t know – yet.

      http://www.veterinarypartner.com/Content.plx?P=A&A=479 was

      http://www.weaselwords.com/ferret-articles/new-ideas-in-feeding-ferrets/

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>