Feeding Raw will give me and/or my ferrets Salmonella
Ferrets, as obligate carnivores, are designed to thrive on a raw diet. They have strong immune systems, and extremely acidic stomach acid that effectively kills most bacteria. In addition, their rapid gut transit time (~3hrs) 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 is unlikely to give you salmonella either as long as you take proper precautions. Handling raw meat for your ferrets is no different from handling raw meat when preparing your own dinners. 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
While there are rare exceptions, feeding RAW bones will not harm your ferret. They are designed to eat whole prey - bones included.
On the other hand, feeding COOKED bones (of any type – poultry or other) is very dangerous. When bone is cooked or completely dried it becomes brittle and easily splinters. This can cause animals to choke, and the sharp splinters of bone can embed themselves into the mouth or intestinal lining, scraping the intestines or even causing punctures, choking, and death. In comparison, raw bones break into pieces with clean edges that not easily splinter. These edges are then worn into smooth surfaces by the animal’s stomach acid. This produces a surface that helps to scrub and stimulate the intestinal linings (without scratching or puncturing) to remove dead cells and maintain digestive health, among other benefits.
However, nothing is without risk and bone accidents can happen, just as kibble fed ferrets have been known to choke on kibble and die. There have been rare instances of an immune-compromised ferret with slowed gut transit not digesting bone properly, or of a ferret swallowing an abnormally large, thick piece of bone and developing a blockage. These cases are rare and almost always an underlying issue affecting digestion is found. Nothing in life is without risk - it is up to you to balance the small risk of a rare bone accident on a raw diet against the very high risk of the development of insulinoma and dental issues on a kibble diet.
Feeding raw is expensive – much more expensive than kibble
On the contrary, feeding raw meat can save you a significant amount of money when compare to feeding high quality kibble.
Kibble has less of the proteins and nutrients that ferrets need per unit of volume than raw meat, 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 and calories that he/she needs from a much smaller volume of food. 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 typically consume a smaller volume of food 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 greatly decrease the risk of insulinoma by eliminating the pancreas-damaging carbohydrates from their diet. Note that ferrets fed kibble prior to switching to raw will always be at risk of insulinoma rearing its ugly head later in life as any existing damage cannot be undone, and diet cannot eliminate any genetic predispositions, but it will greatly reduce their risk and prevent further pancreatic damage. Raw diet also makes insulinoma easier to manage by eliminating the dangerous blood glucose spikes and steep drops that result from the carbohydrates in kibbles. (See our page on Dietary Cause and Control of Insulinoma). Raw diets also drastically improve control of digestive conditions such as IBD. Raw meat is more easily digested and absorbed (critical in an inflamed GI tract that already has impaired nutrient absorption ability), with none of the extra additives that can contribute to allergies/intolerances; it gives you complete control over what goes in. It also significantly improves hydration which is absolutely crucial for digestive health. 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 and hydration 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
Feeding raw will not in any way make your ferret more aggressive. If anything it can greatly help to reduce aggression, biting, and chewing behaviors by allowing the ferret to channel its natural energy, prey drive, and desire to chew into their food 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.
If you are struggling with a ferret who is biting or chewing, please have them examined by a veterinarian to rule out an underlying medical condition, and refer to our pages on Common Behavioral Problems.
Ferrets need fruits and vegetables
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 NEVER be given fruits or vegetables. As obligate carnivores they are designed to eat diet of strictly animal protein – MEAT. Fruits (and vegetables) are very high in carbohydrates which ferrets are not equipped to digest. This can lead to the development of insulinoma. 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 absolutely necessary for an emergency 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:
Kibble is made for a reason; it must be the best/safest thing to feed my ferret
True, kibble IS made for a reason – for pet food manufacturers to make money off of people’s desire for convenience. Just because something is marketed "for ferrets," does not mean that it is safe or appropriate for them.
While they have been domesticated for thousands of years, ferrets remain obligate carnivores (they can eat meat and nothing but meat). They lack a cecum, a piece of intestine required for the digestion of plant matter. They also produce little to no amylase in their saliva, an enzyme that breaks down starches and carbohydrates. To put it into perspective, ferrets have been domesticated for thousands of years, but kibble was not invented until 1956, and was first marketed towards dogs - it did not become a popular item to feed cats or ferrets until much later. Instead, ferrets have historically been fed what they hunt - whole prey, and rabbit, as well as other leftover meat cuts. (Furthermore, feeding an animal something does not directly trigger them to develop/evolve new anatomy). This means that pretty much ANYTHING THAT ISN’T MEAT IS NOT HEALTHY FOR THEM (read your kibble ingredients). A raw diet is the best choice (for many reasons) for your ferret.
Feeding Raw is unsanitary
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
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. [That said, just as you know not to eat that funky looking leftover casserole in the fridge, ferrets also typically know when food is too spoiled for them to eat and will refuse to eat off-meat.] 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 or fish, 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).
Overall, the level of odor with a raw diet should be drastically lower because your FERRETS will smell better. The musky odor ferrets are known for comes from the musk they secrete from the sebaceous (oil) glands in their skin. When an animal is dehydrated, the skin is more dry, and the oil glands kick into overdrive to try to compensate. Ferrets are designed to get the majority of their hydration from their food (raw meat is mostly water!), and have a low thirst drive. They do not drink enough water to keep up with a dry diet, and a dry diet (kibble) pulls moisture from the body into the intestinal tract during digestion leading to dehydration instead of hydration. As a result, ferrets fed a kibble diet are chronically dehydrated, this causes them to produce more oils – which means more musk. A raw fed ferret is much more well hydrated and will have a much healthier skin and coat, with drastically lower oil production and thus FAR less odor. Raw is also more effectively absorbed with less indigestible bulk and fillers, so your raw fed ferret will produce far less (less frequent, smaller, and less odiferous) stools. The better hydration of raw means more dilute urine, which reduces litter box ammonia odor. What goes in comes out! The better nourished your ferret, and the less chemical and filler additives your ferret eats, the better they will smell.
Feeding meat is gross!
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. If your obligations are moral in nature consider this…the meat products in your kibble still came from cute animals, but those were raised in a the mass meat market, typically in poor living conditions, fed a poor diet, and processed in poorly regulated facilities. By feeding raw, you can control where your meat comes from an source humanely raised and properly handled meat products!
Come visit our Facebook page – we have many vegan and vegetarian members who have overcome their squeamishness to feed raw who are happy to lend their emotional support and practical suggestions!
Raw Meat will make my ferret fat
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! With enough patience and persistence, ANY ferret of ANY age can be switched to a raw diet. 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 start learning more, check out our page New to Raw Feeding.
Feeding raw takes too much time!
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. Of note, it is extraordinarily time consuming caring for a sick ferret with insulinoma. Your time investment now could save you time and heartbreak in the future.
I tried to feed my ferret raw but he wouldn’t eat it. I can’t switch him over.
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. (Read the FAQ above on diet imprinting).
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.
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 any major dietary change) 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 three possibilities. The first is that your ferret has an underlying health issue – you should always pursue evaluation by a vet for health concerns. The second possibility is the diet is not properly balanced – you may need more bone for example. The third possibility is that your ferret has a protein sensitivity or “IBD.”
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 sensitivities to specific foods via an elimination diet, and you can design a diet that avoids the trigger foods. Our forum mentors 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.