What do ferrets eat?

They’re members of a family of animals that includes wild weasels, stoats, martens, mink, badgers and otters, but they’re domesticated and can’t survive in the wild. They need to eat meat to thrive but can’t thrive on meat alone. Welcome to the fascinating world of ferrets…
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16th October 2020

They’re members of a family of animals that includes wild weasels, stoats, martens, mink, badgers and otters, but they’re domesticated and can’t survive in the wild. They need to eat meat to thrive but can’t thrive on meat alone. Welcome to the fascinating world of ferrets...

It’s thought that ferrets have been our furry companions for Ferrets for 4,000 years – images of ferret-like animals on leashes have been found on the walls of Egyptian tombs. It’s also believed that they first arrived in Britain around 2,000 years ago, accompanying the conquering Romans. It’s likely that they were adapted from the European polecat and the Steppe polecat by humans to become effective hunting partners, highly skilled in the art of flushing out prey. In recent years, their charming, cheeky character and endlessly entertaining behaviour has ensured their continued popularity.

Even though they are a member of the mustelid family, because they are domesticated, ferrets need to be cared for by humans. As ferret guardians, it’s essential that humans understand the very specific nutritional requirements of these smart, slinky animals to ensure they are given the correct ferret food.

  • Ferrets have a high metabolic rate and turn food into energy very quickly.
  • They have a short gut, which means food passes through them quickly and they need to eat every few hours.
  • Ferrets are strict or ‘obligate’ carnivores – which means, like cats, they have to eat meat to survive and thrive as it contains important nutrients they can’t get from other types of food.
  • However, feeding a meat only diet without calcium can lead to the softening of the bones
  • Ferrets can’t digest lactose (a sugar found in dairy products such as milk and cheese) or very high levels of carbohydrates (found in starchy foods such as potatoes and bread) so it’s best to avoid food with these ingredients. In addition, certain foods, including, grapes and raisins, are poisonous to ferrets.

So, what’s the solution? The answer is to choose a ferret food that contains a carefully balanced mix of all the protein and supplements these small carnivores require to thrive. 

Nutrition-packed nuggets 

Burgess Excel Ferret Nuggets are a single component extruded diet, which helps prevent selective feeding. This super premium food contains high levels of quality chicken, which provides the essential high protein levels that ferrets need. It’s also clean, convenient and easy to feed and does not attract flies as can happen with fresh meat, which can also contain harmful bacteria. This complete food features:

  • High in good quality chicken protein and fat for obligate carnivores
  • Mono-kibble to prevent selective feeding
  • A natural Prebiotic to aid healthy digestion
  • Natural antioxidants to support the immune system
  • Taurine for coat condition and all-round health
  • Linseed for coat condition
  • Fortified with vitamins A, D3 & E for healthy skin, coat, teeth and bones
  • No artificial flavours or colours 
  • No added preservatives

Fresh, clean water must always be available. Water bottles with a metal spout are ideal, but ferrets can also drink from a bowl – just make sure it’s a heavy, ceramic one that they can’t tip over.


Ferrets like to stow food away, so always remove any secret stashes before they go mouldy. 

Time for treats

Treats in small amounts can be provided occasionally – such as a little cooked chicken or half a boiled egg. Like any animal, ferrets can put on weight if they eat too much and don’t get enough exercise. However, be aware that ferrets tend to put on weight before winter so they have enough fat stored away to get them through the colder months. This is natural and they should lose it again in spring. If they don’t shed their winter weight, cut down on treats and make sure you weigh out all their food each day so you know they’re getting the correct amount. If you’re worried that your ferret is gaining or losing too much weight, speak to your vet, as it could be a sign of an underlying health problem. 


Ferrets are not known for being neat and tidy with their food and water so creating a splash-proof corner with some acrylic bathroom splashbacks will make cleaning up easier, along with newspaper under their bowls to soak up spillages. 

Food should mean fun 

Active, curious and clever, ferrets are natural puzzle-solvers and will enjoy foraging for their food. Measure out their daily allowance of nuggets and hide some of it in tunnels, in paper bags around their accommodation so they can have lots of fun searching for it. You could also try filling a Kong toy or treat ball with some of their daily ration, so they can keep both mind and body busy figuring out how to get their paws on their tasty titbits.

Intelligent ferrets need plenty to do to occupy their curious, questioning minds. Providing a range of toys is a good way to provide your clever little mustelids with the challenges and stimulation they need. You can even turn things lying around the house into fun ferret activities:

  • An old cardboard box can become an intriguing den if you cut a couple of wriggle-size holes in it and place something tasty such as some Burgess Excel Ferret Nuggets hidden in an old sock inside it. 
  • A tatty, worn out, rather stinky walking boot? It will make a great hidey-hole to pop out of and place to hide a small stash of food.
  • A cosy jumper that’s past its best? Your ferrets will love tunnelling through the sleeves to investigate if there are any treats inside.
  • Faded, fraying pillowcase? Stitch some sturdy rope to it, attach each end to the sides of their cage and it becomes a hammock for your ferret chums to clamber on for a post-lunch snooze.


While ferrets will play with almost anything, it’s important that they don’t get their little paws on anything hazardous. For example, chewy, squeaky dog toys are not recommended as they are easy for ferrets with their razor-sharp incisors to tear to bits, swallowing slivers of plastic and squeakers in the process. Check all of your ferret’s toys regularly for signs of wear or chewing and throw any worn toys away.

Why choose Burgess Excel Ferret Food?

Did you know that 92% of UK vets recommend our Excel range? What’s more, at Burgess, all our pet food is produced in line with FEDIAF (the European pet food industry federation) nutritional guidelines. These guidelines, which are based on many pieces of published research, helps us to calculate the nutrient content and dietary components required to ensure all our foods meet the detailed nutritional requirements for the pets they are designed for.


Introduce Burgess Ferret Nuggets gradually by mixing in the new food with the old over a period of 7-10 days until the new food completely replaces the old diet

If you are at all unsure about the best way of feeding your ferrets or have any concerns about specific nutritional requirements at different times of their life, ask your local veterinary practice for advice. 

You can also call our expert team on 44 (0)0800 413 969 who’ll be happy to help. They’re available 9am-5pm, Monday to Friday.

Alternatively, you can use our online form to get in touch.

Are your ferrets, Burgess ferrets? Join the Burgess Pet Club for exclusive offers and rewards.

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Sources: pfma.org.uk, pdsa.org.uk, cypresskeep.com, thespruce.com, ferret-world.com

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