BARF Diet for Ferrets
What do you know about the BARF diet in ferrets?
The ferret (Mustela putorius furo) is the domestic subspecies of its wild predecessor, the polecat (Mustela putorius), which is a strict carnivore in the wild, hunting prey like rodents, rabbits, or small birds to feed on. Therefore, its physiology and anatomy are adapted to this type of diet. The ferret’s diet should be as similar as possible to that of a wild polecat, with the same proportions of muscle, fat, bone, organs, and fiber. In other words, this is the basis of the BARF diet for ferrets.
These nutritional needs can be met by providing them with a commercial dry diet (a good pellet) or by giving them meat (muscle, fat, bone, and skin), raw eggs, whole fish, organs, hearts, and whole prey like chicks, mice, or quails.
BARF, which stands for Biologically Appropriate Raw Food (or ACBA, which stands for its Spanish equivalent), means feeding animals with biologically appropriate raw foods.
Advantages of a Natural Diet
Feeding our ferret a natural diet allows us to control that they receive the proper proportions of each nutrient. It can be challenging to find high-quality ferret pellets in the market that cover all their nutritional needs. Moreover, pellets often contain an excess of carbohydrates, which ferrets are not equipped to digest. This puts a strain on their pancreas and can lead to insulinoma, one of the most common causes of death in ferrets fed with pellets. The risk of developing insulinoma is significantly reduced with a proper natural diet.
Raw, unprocessed food retains more vitamins and minerals and promotes better absorption.
A natural diet, being unprocessed, improves your ferret’s hydration level and supports proper kidney function.
The right balance of fat and protein in their diet provides all the energy they need. Therefore, ferrets on this diet tend to be stronger and more energetic, with a higher proportion of muscle to fat compared to those fed with pellets.
Raw bones and cartilage in the natural diet help prevent tartar buildup on their teeth, promoting better dental hygiene than animals fed with pellets.
Planning the BARF Diet for Ferrets
It is necessary to plan your pet’s diet on a weekly basis, ensuring that by the end of each week, they have ingested the necessary nutrients in the correct proportions. In other words, you don’t need to monitor these proportions daily, but you should ensure that the foods over 7 days are in the correct ratio.
Appropriate Foods and Proportions for a BARF Diet in Ferrets
Muscle (40%): This includes lean meat from rabbits, hares, chickens, turkeys, ducks, quails, horses, beef, and lamb. Pork should only be given occasionally, and only the lean part. Twice a week, you should offer white fish like hake, grouper, turbot, dogfish, whiting, sole, monkfish, or sea bass, preferably fresh. If it’s canned fish, it should have low salt content.
Heart (20%): The heart is technically muscle but is considered separately due to its nutritional importance. Ferrets require high amounts of the amino acid taurine, primarily found in the hearts of birds and mammals. A deficiency in taurine could make your ferret sick, so it’s essential that 20% of their diet consists of hearts, whether from chickens, beef, lamb, horses, pigs, etc.
Fat (20%): Fat is the main energy source for ferrets. You can provide it by offering poultry and rabbit with skin, choosing fattier cuts (beef has the highest fat content), or oily fish like salmon, sardines, anchovies, trout, tuna, or bonito. You can also add fish oil to their diet, which not only serves as a fat source but is necessary to prevent dangerous hairballs in their stomach (do not provide malt for this purpose since it is primarily sugar, which, as mentioned, can cause insulinoma in your ferret).
Organs (10%): Organs are essential for their vitamin content. The most crucial organ is the liver, which should make up half of the total organs you give your ferret. The other half can include kidneys, brain, lungs, or intestines.
Bones (10%): Bones are the primary source of calcium for ferrets. It’s crucial to give them raw bones, never cooked, as cooked bones can splinter. It’s also important to provide bones in the proper proportion, as both an excess and deficiency can be dangerous to their health. For ferrets that have never had a natural diet or for puppies, start with easy-to-chew bones like chicken or duck necks, rabbit or chicken ribs, and wingtips. They can eat nearly any chicken, rabbit, or quail bone, leaving out the larger ones they can’t chew.
Mush: You can grind your ferret’s food and give it to them as mush. This can be helpful during recovery periods when you need to force-feed them because they won’t eat on their own. It’s also useful for animals that have difficulty eating bones or organs, as you can hide these nutrients among other more appealing ones.
Eggs: You can give them the yolk alone or a beaten whole egg. Never provide just the egg white, as it’s high in avidin, which could eventually lead to deficiencies in your ferret. However, the yolk is so high in biotin that it compensates for the avidin content of the egg white. You can also give them crushed eggshells (added to mush) as a calcium supplement. Another ideal recommendation to prevent Salmonella contamination is to give them boiled eggs. In this case, being cooked inhibits avidin, reducing the risk of inhibiting vitamins.
Whole Prey: Ferrets often enjoy whole prey like chicks, mice, or quails. It’s an easy way to provide your pet with all the nutrients they need in the correct proportions in a single meal. Do not gut the animals you provide them. Do not remove hair or feathers either, as these are an essential source of fiber for ferrets.
Prepared Diets: Some companies sell a variety of chopped food preparations specially designed as a natural diet for ferrets or other animals. It’s a convenient way to provide a natural diet if you don’t want to invest much time in planning the diet and calculating amounts and proportions of food. One of these companies is Puromenú.
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