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Towards a More Natural Ferret Diet - Whole Prey and Raw Foods

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Pros

  • Better control over the quality of foods and ingredients -- can choose very high quality proteins and fat.
  • Whole prey diets automatically provide well-balanced high protein, low carbohydrate diet. Carefully formulated raw diets can provide the same.
  • Natural diets are high in moisture content, which is considered beneficial too.
  • Whole prey (and well balanced raw diets) more closely replicates the diet of the domestic ferret's wild ancestors
  • Whole prey and raw foods/bones promote better dental health
  • Owners who have switched whole prey or balanced raw diets report their ferrets have more energy and seem stronger, with healthier teeth, healthier fur (and less fecal output and smell) on teh whole prey or raw diets.
As supporters of a whole prey diet point out, the incidence of insulinoma is higher in countries where a processed dry diets are popular, and less common where whole prey diets are popular. No cause-and-effect relationship has ever been shown, but the incidence of insulinoma in North American ferrets is disturbing. Insulinomas are tumors of the pancreas involving cells that produce insulin for sugar metabolism.

Cons

  • Extreme care is necessary to make homemade diets balanced (e.g. meat alone is terribly imbalanced and an unhealthy diet -- whole prey diets are considered balanced because along with meat, the ferret eats everything including bones and organs). Commercial raw or freeze dried foods could be a better option, as they will likely already be well-balanced, but you need to search out ones that are primarily meat based (ones formulated for dogs usually have veggies, surprisingly many intended for cats do too).
  • It is possible that wild animals improve the balance of their diet by feeding on various ages of prey. Varying the ages of prey or types of prey or food may alleviate this concern.
  • Possibility of choking, obstructions, and injuries from bones including those from whole prey. The risks are minimal (and not as high as many people believe), but there.
  • Risks of bacteria or parasites that may be present in raw diets (though the digestive system of carnivores is better equipped to deal with bacteria than ours, the bacteria may be shed in the feces). Stick to high quality sources.
  • Concerns over hygiene and food handling issues (e.g. the possibility that Salmonella or E. coli may be present in raw meats/ Preparation areas and food bowls must be sanitized right after feeding.
  • Need to prevent ferrets from hiding bits of raw food around its cage or the house due to risk of spoilage or hygiene issues.
  • Whole prey sources may be expensive and somewhat inconvenient.
  • Preparing homemade raw bones and food diets can be expensive and time-consuming.

Advocates say that whole prey or raw diets are better for ferrets because they replicate the diet of their wild ancestors. In Ferrets magazine, Dr. Karen Rosenthal points out that we don't really know that the digestive system of ferrets is equal to that of their wild ancestors, nor do we have proof that wild animals do not have problems as a result of eating their natural diets.

Where It Stands

As a ferret owner you need to really do your research and be comfortable with whatever you choose to feed. But whether you choose a processed diet or whole prey/raw diets, you need to be sure it good qualitty and well balanced. I heartily encourage you to do lots of your own reading and research on the topic and to make sure you thoroughly explore all the issues surrounding ferret diets. Here's some places to start:

More About Ferret Diets
*New Ideas in Feeding Ferrets - By Dr. Louise Bauck (good look at requirements, not a proponent of natural diets)
*Rethinking the Ferret Diet - By Susan Brown, DVM
*natural Ferret Care - By Christie Keith
*Natural Ferrets Yahoo Group - will need to join to see messages or post

Raw Diet Information, Not Ferret Specific
*Veterinary Q & A - B.A.R.F. Diet - by Janet Tobiassen Crosby, DVM
*Raw Food Diet for Cats: A Natural Solution - by Franny Syufy

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