Can ferrets eat cat food?
Is cat food safe for ferrets?
Artwork by Katelyn McManis for www.ferret.love. Do not reproduce without permission.
This is an extremely broad question. There are all different types of cat foods and ferret foods.
Ferrets and cats are both obligate carnivores meaning they need a strictly meat-based diet. So in theory, they should be able to eat the same diets. In fact, 78% of the foods in our database are cat foods!
The short answer is: high quality cat foods are the BEST option currently available for ferrets. But there are some important caveats.
Please no peas
The most critical difference between cats and ferrets is their sensitivity to peas in the diet. Many cat food companies are promoting their "grain-free" diets these days. The problem is that these grains are usually replaced with peas. In ferrets, even a trace amount of peas in the ingredients can cause bladder stones. Bladder stones are painful, expensive and risky to remove, and deadly if they are left untreated.
Peas can kill a ferret quickly - within a matter of weeks. But it can also take months or even years for them to show any signs. Then suddenly one day they’re straining to pee and you have less than 24 hours to get them into emergency surgery.
Many foods that score well on CatFoodChart.com (for example, Orijen, Acana, and Farmina) get an F here for ferrets, because they contain peas. You have to be especially careful with kibble and canned foods. Frozen, freeze-dried, and air-dried raw foods are usually safe.
What's worse is that even some ferret foods contain peas! Zupreem Grain-Free contained peas at one point, but thankfully they listened to research and changed their formula. However, Marshall is still guilty of selling "Carnivore-Plus" diet with peas that kills ferrets.
Grains and starches
The other issue is grains, starches, and plant-based ingredients. Large amounts of these ingredients will lead to long term health issues for ferrets such as insulinoma.
Almost every food that's labeled as "for ferrets" contains these, except some Wysong ferret foods. Most cat kibbles also contain them. In reality, those foods shouldn't be fed to cats either. But again, ferrets are much more susceptible to illnesses like insulinoma than cats.
The best foods for both ferrets and cats will be raw foods - whether that is air-dried, frozen, or freeze-dried. These only contain small amounts of plant-based ingredients, if any.
Very few brands make raw foods targeted towards ferrets (Wysong is the only one currently), so your best diet options will generally be raw cat foods.
There are some decent cat foods that are dangerous for ferrets because they contain peas. And finally at the bottom tier, there are junk cat foods (e.g. Friskies, Meow Mix) and junk ferret foods (Kaytee, Marshall, Wild Harvest) that will cause chronic health issues for your ferret.
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