Can ferrets eat grain-free food?
Is grain-free food safe for ferrets?
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Are grains bad for ferrets? Yes, grains are a complex carbohydrate that breaks down into sugars, and can increase the likelihood of them getting insulinoma. So does that mean grain-free foods are good? Not necessarily.
What causes insulinoma in ferrets?
There is significant evidence that insulinoma is caused by low protein, high carbohydrate diets. This includes the vast majority of kibbles, with very few exceptions. But don't take my word for... read more
The problem is the phrase "grain-free". That can mean a few different things. No grains is good – the question is, what were those grains replaced with?
In most cases, the grains will be replaced with starches like potatoes. Guess what starches are? They're another type of complex carbohydrate! So replacing grains with starches offers no benefit at all. A good example of this is regular Zupreem vs. Zupreem grain-free. As you can see, the foods are very similar, they basically just replaced the wheat flour with sweet potatoes.
What's worse is that many grain-free foods also have peas. This is not always going to be the case, and some foods with grains will also contain peas. But a large number of pet food manufacturers decided that "grain-free" would also be a good opportunity to start adding peas to their diets. I'm not sure why - it was probably one or two that did it first and the rest imitated them.
Peas are a way for them to boost the protein percentage artificially. On paper it looks good, because grain-free diets will usually have higher protein content than their counterparts. But ferrets are obligate carnivores, and they're not able to process plant proteins.
And for ferrets, peas increase the likelihood of developing bladder stones. So grain-free diets can be extremely dangerous to ferrets if they contain peas.
So in summary, "grain-free" is really a marketing term. In most cases, the grains will be replaced with starches and/or peas. In either case, it's not helping the ferrets, and in the case of peas, it actually makes the foods potentially deadly. So be wary of any food that's described as "grain-free", but really just make sure to check my ferret food chart just in case, and it will always inform you of the bad ingredients (grains, starches, and peas) in ANY food.
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