Raw Feeding Myths
Author: Katt Crouch
Feeding Raw will give me and/or my ferrets Salmonella
Myth. Ferrets are designed to thrive on a raw diet. They have strong immune systems, and extremely acidic digestive fluids that effectively kill most bacteria. In addition, their fast rate of digestion makes it difficult for any remaining bacteria to stay in the GI tract long enough to cause illness. Most bacterial infections in ferrets are caused by bacteria that are naturally occurring in their intestines called opportunistic pathogens. If a ferret’s immune system is compromised (stress, illness, etc) these bacteria go into overdrive and reproduce to numbers greater than normal, resulting in an infection. Antibiotics can help to eliminate the overpopulation and allow the GI tract to restore its normal gut bacteria levels.
Feeding your ferret raw will not give you salmonella either as long as you take proper percautions. Proper sanitation of surfaces, storage of raw meats, washing hands after handling meat, cleaning cages, and handling animals, as well as the removal of uneaten food before it spoils all contribute to effectively minimize the risk of salmonella.
Feeding bones can cause ferrets to choke and die
Myth and Fact. Feeding RAW bones will not harm your ferret. On the other hand, feeding COOKED bones (of any type – poultry or other) is very dangerous. When bone is cooked or completely dried it splinters. This can cause animals to choke, and the sharp splinters of bone can embed themselves into the mouth or intestinal linings, scraping the intestines or even causing punctures, choking, and death. In comparison, raw bones break into clean pieces. The edges are clean and do not splinter. These edges are then worn into smooth surfaces by the animal’s stomach acid. This produces a surface that helps to scrub the intestinal linings (without scratching or puncturing) to remove dead cells and maintain digestive health among other benefits.
Feeding raw is expensive – much more expensive than kibble
Myth. Feeding raw meat can save you a significant amount of money…
– Ferrets who eat kibble do not get enough of the proteins and nutrients that they need from kibble, so they have to eat more food to make up for this lack. (Think of herbivores who have to eat all day to accumulate enough nutrition out of the low-protein plants they eat, this is the same concept). On the other hand, a ferret on a properly balanced raw diet will receive all of the protein and other nutrients that he/she needs. In addition, the nutrients of raw foods are much more easily absorbed, allowing the ferret to get even more nutrition out of every morsel of food. This means that a ferret on a raw diet will consume much less than a ferret who is fed kibble.
– Eating less and absorbing more has an added benefit – less poop! This means less smell, less cleaning, and less litter used per day!
– Lastly, and most importantly, raw diets will significantly improve the health of your ferret, decreasing the need for expensive vet bills. Raw diets decrease the risk of insulinoma to almost zero (ferrets fed kibble before switching to raw will still be at risk, but the risk will be significantly reduced). It also makes insulinoma easier to manage without the high blood glucose spikes (and thus steeper drops) from the dangerous levels of carbs in most kibbles. Raw diets also improve digestive issues such as IBD. Think of rough, hard kibble traveling through a sore and sensitive stomach – this can be very abrasive and increase stomach pain. In comparison raw meat slides through the stomach easily while bones rounded by digestive fluids massage the intestinal linings stimulating blood flow for faster repair and better health. Also chewing on raw meat and bones helps to clean teeth naturally – no more dental cleanings or tooth decay! (Click HERE for more on raw diets and dental health) Raw diets improve ferret immune systems by ensuring that the ferret has the proper nutrients to stay healthy and defend its body against pathogens. It also improves muscle tone, decreasing risk of injury, as well as increasing energy – giving them the extra oomph they need to fight when they do get sick.
Feeding raw will make my ferret aggressive/viscous/more likely to bite/bloodthirsty
MYTH!!!! This is a myth, an urban legend, a fairytale. Feeding raw will not in any way make your ferret more aggressive. If anything it will reduce aggression and biting by allowing the ferret to channel its natural energy, prey drive, and desire to chew into the meat rather than human flesh. Think of it as having a little kid run laps to burn their extra energy and calm down. Chewing bones and ripping chunks of meat helps to stimulate your ferrets natural instincts in a healthy and safe manner.
Ferrets need fruits and vegetables
Myth! Not only is this a myth, fruits and vegetables are very dangerous for your ferret as they can contribute to the development of insulinoma!!
Ferrets should NOT be given fruits and vegetables. As obligate carnivores they are designed for a diet of strictly animal protein – MEAT. Fruits (and most vegetables) are very high in carbohydrates which ferrets are not designed to digest. This can lead to diseases such as insulinoma, or in some cases diabetes. While it used to be recommended to offer pumpkin to replace the fur (fiber) and stomach contents of the prey, this is no longer recommended for a number of reasons. Wild polecats and ferrets will typically remove the intestinal tract from their prey rather than eat it. Additionally, pumpkin has a high carb content and can greatly increase your ferret’s risk of insulinoma. To read more about the dangers of pumpkin, check out A Rant About Pumpkin. The ONLY time that pumpkin should be used is when abolutely necessary for a Blockage Protocol.
Another common, but dangerous, recommendation is to feed your ferret bites of banana for the potassium content to protect their heart. This is a MYTH – bananas are extremely sugary, and put a massive strain on your ferret’s pancreas. They are NOT safe to feed. Furthermore, potassium does NOT help to prevent or treat heart disease – too much potassium is actually quite dangerous for the heart, just as to little is. The only time you should supplement additional potassium is if your ferret has been specifically tested and found to be significantly deficient, in which case your vet will prescribe an appropriately dosed supplement.
As long as your ferret is on a balanced, healthy diet there is no need for supplementation – they will get more than sufficient potassium from their regular diet.
A small selection of examples of potassium content of various meat products:
- Chicken breast: 71.4mg/oz
- Beef Heart: 80.4mg/oz
- Ground Beef: 80.9mg/oz
- Chicken Liver: 64.4mg/oz
- Pork Kidney: 64.1mg/oz
Kibble is made for a reason
Truth– kibble IS made for a reason – for pet food manufacturers to make money off of people’s desire for convenience.
Feeding Raw is unsanitary
Myth and Truth. Feeding raw can be unsanitary if proper cleaning measures are not taken. Any uneaten meat should be removed from the cage on a regular basis so that the meat does not go bad. Food dishes and feeding dens should be cleaned daily, and cages should be cleaned weekly. Washing hands after handling meat, and after handling your ferrets will help to prevent the spread of germs. Keep things clean and don’t let meat spoil, and the risk of contamination is extraordinarily low.
Feeding meat smells
Myth. Yes, raw meat does have a particular smell, however it should never stink. If the meat you are feeding has a strong odor it is probably bad and should not be fed to your ferret. Removing any uneaten meat on a regular basis, sterilizing food dishes and feeding dens, and regularly cleaning out food stashes will prevent any odor from spoiling meat. Some meats, such as rabbit, have a stronger odor than others; if this bothers you then you can avoid that particular meat as long as you are still able to provide a sufficient variety of protein sources (bare minimum of 3, but the more the better).
Feeding meat is gross!
Opinion. We do understand that some people don’t like to handle raw meat. If you are squeamish, that’s okay. There are several options to help you work around this. First, there are many varieties of commercial raw meats (in many forms) that can reduce or eliminate the need for preparing meals and directly handling the meat. Commercial ground raw for example is similar in consistency to feeding wet cat food, and you can always wear gloves when serving food or cleaning. A second option to consider is Freeze Dried Raw. Freeze dried raw offers almost all of the benefits of fresh raw meat, but the convenience of kibble. The only downer? The price! Places like Casey’s Hidden Pantry sell FD raw at low costs, but it will still cost more than fresh raw. FD raw meat comes in many brands, flavors, and forms so your ferret can still get the nutrition and variety it needs without you having to handle fresh raw meat. We do encourage you to wear gloves and try it out though, you might surprise yourself, and you will find that you become used to handling meat in a rather short time.
Raw Meat will make my ferret fat
Myth. It is very uncommon (though not unheard of) for raw fed ferrets to over eat. They are very good at self regulating and typically will only overeat if they are attempting to compensate for an imbalance in their diet, or if there are other underlying health problems. HOWEVER, it IS still possible for a healthy ferret on a balanced raw diet to over eat, but it is very uncommon. If you are worried your ferret may be overweight, please consult your veterinarian.
Ferrets Imprint on their food so I can’t get them to eat new foods
Yes, ferrets do imprint on their foods, but this does not mean that you can’t get them to switch their diet. It simply takes time, work, and patience – but the end result is well worth the effort! Holistic Ferret Forum has a great Mentoring Program to help you switch your ferret to a healthier diet. If you sign up, you will be paired up with a mentor to work with you on-on-one. Your mentor will guide you through the gradual switching process and answer all of your questions along the way. Ferrets can be stubborn, and our mentors are great at helping you push them over their plateaus. They will guide you through your journey, and teach you how to build a well balanced and varied diet that fits your needs and your ferrets’ needs. To read more on the Mentoring Program or to sign up click HERE. To read a general summary on the switching process, click HERE (LINK TO HOW-TO).
Feeding raw takes too much time!
Opinion. Feeding raw does take more time than feeding kibble. It is up to you to weight the cost and health benefits and determine what is the right diet for you. You can stock up your freezer with several months’ meals in one day, and then the only prep time will be to thaw out a new meal-bag every day. The most time-consuming processes are the initial switch to raw, and meal-prep day when you stock your freezer. After that, the time investment is very small – almost as little as feeding kibble.
I tried to feed my ferret raw but he wouldn’t eat it. I can’t switch him over.
False! Ferrets can be very stubborn. Like small children, they think they know what is best. Ferrets imprint on their food between 4-6 months of age, after which convincing them new foods are not “poison” can be a difficult and frustrating task. However, it is never impossible to switch your ferrets’ diet. Our Mentoring Program is great for guiding you through even the most stubborn of switches.
I fed my ferret raw once and he had diarrhea, it must be bad for him or he is allergic. He can’t eat raw.
False. If a ferret has never eaten raw food before it can take a while for his/her digestive tract to adjust to the new food. Kibble and raw digest very differently. It is normal when first switching to raw (or for almost any major dietary switch) for poops to be soft or strange looking. If in a few months after fully switching to raw this does not resolve itself, you should consider two possibilities. The first is that your diet is not properly balanced – you probably need more bone and/or a small amount of fiber in the diet. The second possibility is that your ferret has a chicken or poultry sensitivity. Poultry sensitivities/allergies are fairly common in ferrets. The poultry meat in kibbles has been baked at extremely high temperatures and the proteins denatured, so often poultry-sensitive ferrets may not react to kibble but then begin to show symptoms after switching to raw. If this is the case you can test for allergies, and you can design a diet that avoids the trigger foods. In most cases chicken is the culprit, but some ferrets are sensitive to all poultry and need a diet of foods such as pork, beef, lamb, rabbit, and goat. Our forum members are happy to help answer questions and aid you in figuring out what foods your ferret may be sensitive to.
Read more on testing for food allergies via a Protein Trial/Elimination Diet for Ferrets (Raw Diet)
If your ferret is still having problems, (s)he may have IBD, an infection, or some other medical issue so please consult your veterinarian.
Ferrets are Rodents