Long, lithe, intelligent and energetic, ferrets are predatory carnivores and need a diet containing at least 34 percent protein and 22 percent fat, according to the Humane Society. Before commercial feed was available, pet ferrets ate cat and dog foods, but these aren't really suitable. A variety of ferret pellets and raw food is the best diet. If fed a range of foods from a young age, these fussy eaters are less likely to develop food fads.
Ferrets are predators, and their natural diet is smaller animals, such as mice and chicks. Unfortunately, wild prey can contain parasites and bacteria harmful to ferrets. Raw meat intended for humans is safe, but ferrets naturally eat entire animals -- including bones, organs and intestines -- so a pure muscle meat diet is inadequate. Raw diets for ferrets, consisting of the correct proportions of nutrients, are available commercially. Perishable foods should be removed before they begin to spoil, so give your ferret an hour or so to eat before taking out any leftovers.
Dry, pelleted food, or kibble, offers the advantage that it doesn't spoil within a few hours, and it helps keep ferret teeth clean. Ferrets on dry-food diets need constant access to food and a water supply at least three times the volume of food available. Ferrets self-limit when eating, so they don't become overweight on kibble diets. They have quick metabolisms and short intestines, and they benefit from unrestricted access to food. Always seal dry food bags after opening, as damp pellets can grow poisonous molds.
Experienced ferret owners often give soupy treats to their pets from a young age. Ferrets are prone to becoming fussy eaters when feeling under the weather, and they're more likely to eat when ill if offered the soup. Soups are made from water-soaked pellets, baby food, oils and other appealing foods. Other healthy snacks include cooked eggs and meat, as well as commercial ferret snacks. Human snacks, such as potato chips, peanut butter, ice cream and marshmallows, are unsuitable for ferrets. Although fruit and vegetables are healthy for people, they're bad for ferrets as they cannot digest them easily.
Black-footed ferrets are native to North America, and their diet mostly consists of prairie dogs. Adaptable in their hunting habits, they can also change prey species according to availability. In areas where prairie dogs hibernate, wild ferrets switch to eating mice and voles. Fossil records and anecdotes indicate that ground squirrels used to form a major part of their diet. Other prey species include plains pocket gophers, mountain cottontails, upland sandpipers and larks. A single female with a litter living in a black-tailed prairie dog habitat requires 91 to 235 acres of land for sustenance.
A graduate of Leeds University, Jenny Green completed Master of Arts in English literature in 1998 and has been writing about travel, gardening, science and pets since 2007. Green's work appears in Diva, Whole Life Times, Listverse, Earthtimes, Lamplight, Stupefying Stories and other websites and magazines.