Q: I have a wonderful, 7-month-old, male ferret that we adopted just about six weeks ago. We started adding a second type of ferret food to his diet for no other reason than I had read somewhere about offering variety. He used to not have any interest in treats either. It seems that since the food switch he doesn’t eat much. He has a large decrease in the frequency of how much he has stools but seems to urinate normally. He now shows a vast interest in treats, which I am trying not to give too often to avoid sugar issues. The other thing is he seems to be chewing on toys more. Do I have a finicky eater or is teething causing this behavior? Is there any reason that I should provide variety in his diet? If he likes only one kind of food, is it OK to just offer that? I feel like I worry about him as much as I worry about my children!
A: I usually recommend feeding ferrets a variety of ferret foods so that if you can’t find one, you can still feed your ferret another. But not all ferret foods are as tasty or nutritious as others. Read the labels on the bags to make sure that your ferret is getting the optimum nutrition for his age and activity level.
When introducing your ferret to a new food, mix just a few pieces of the new food in with his original food every day. You may even want to offer it separately for the first few days to see if your ferret will try the food by itself. Buy a brand that is similar in size, shape, smell and texture as the original food. Many ferrets imprint on food when very young — at just a few months of age. The older ferrets get, the more difficult it is to get them to change, although some ferrets eat almost anything you offer them.
If your ferret does not like the new ferret food you bought, try serving a few pieces with a little bit of Ferretone on them or some salt-free chicken broth (be sure to dispose of the leftovers if the food isn’t eaten within a couple of hours). This may make the new food more appetizing. If your ferret still won’t eat it, you may have to try a different brand of ferret food or try it again at a different time. If you have friends who have ferrets, ask them if you can borrow a little of their ferret food so you don’t have to go buying bag after bag of different brands.
Do not give your ferret treats during this transition period. He will learn to rely on the treats as his diet and will constantly beg for more. When you do go back to offering treats, make sure you offer your ferret something that does not have sugar in it. Ferrets do not tolerate sugar or items high in carbohydrates. If they consume too much of these types of foods, they can develop pancreatic problems, such as insulinoma or diabetes.
An economical treat that I recommend is offering your ferret a couple of his own kibbles by hand or putting a few drops of Ferretone on the pieces of his kibble to make it a special treat. Just the fact that you offer it to him separately from his bowl will make it a treat for him. Some ferrets like Cheerios, too, but offer them in moderation and only the original kind — not any of the sugar-coated varieties. Remember that offering your ferret a couple of Cheerios is like us eating a donut. There’s no nutritional value in them for ferrets, and too many can make them sick in the long run.
Since your ferret seems to be having a hard time accepting the new brand of ferret food you already bought, go back to square one and just feed him the original brand for a few days to make sure that he is eating. If he returns to eating normally, then start the regimen I mentioned above with just a few pieces of new kibble at a time. If it turns out that he won’t eat any other ferret food brands that you try — even after adding the Ferretone or broth, then you may have to accept the fact that your ferret is extremely finicky. In that case, buy an extra bag of the food that he likes and store it in your freezer so if you ever have a problem with your local pet shop being out of your ferret’s favorite brand, you have a reserve on hand that you can use until the next shipment comes in.