Raw Feeding Ferrets
Ferrets imprint on their food by the age of 6 months old. If your ferret was not weaned on a full, or even partial raw diet, then it can be a bit of a challenge to encourage your ferret to switch to a raw diet.... but it is not impossible! A ferret not imprinted on raw from a young age will take a while to understand that anything outside of a pelleted biscuit/kibble is food. Time, persistence, and patience is key to successfully switching your ferret to the diet their bodies are designed for.
A balanced raw diet consists of meat, bone and organ. This is often seen referred to as 80/10/10 or 80% meat, 10% bone and 10% organ. This ratio is a general guide to follow and is the rough composition of a whole animal (80% flesh, 10% skeleton and 10% internal secreting organs). Of course, feeding "whole prey" is the easiest way to achieve balance for ferrets... but it is often difficult to get a non-imprinted ferret to eat such a meal!!
To encourage your ferret to start raw it is often recommended to make "Raw Soup" to feed alongside their old food during transition. Raw chicken breasts with skin, and some salmon oil blended with water into a thin cream-like consistency is often a good start. Some ferrets may prefer this warm, or them may prefer this cold. It's worth smoothing this into the ferrets gums and encourage them to lick it from your finger or a spoon. Once your ferret is lapping at this "soup" the next step is to add more texture. Minced boneless meat such as chopped chicken/turkey, or even minced beef/lamb in the "soup" is a good step. Slowly removed the amount of "soup" until you have your ferret eating pieces of the minced boneless foods.
Once you have your ferret eating boneless meals is is worth cutting back the amount of old food. Kibble-fed ferrets need access to food 24/7 in order to keep up their blood sugar and energy levels. Raw fed ferrets get long lasting energy that doesn't require them to "graze" and therefore two meals a day is plenty for an adult.
If you are successful with minced boneless it is worth adding a little ground eggshell to the raw or moving onto a premade raw pet meat that includes minced bone. You do need to ensure your ferret is also eating organs and especially some heart meat long term (Ferrets cannot make their own taurine!).
How much to feed...
The amount your feed your ferret varies on age, and especially on season! A young ferret aged under 1 year can very easily consume 10% of their bodyweight (or more!) per day - that's 100g per 1kg of weight, per day! An adult ferret in the lead up to winter can also eat this percentage in order to bulk up and ready their winter coat. An adult ferret in summer is likely to eat just 3% of their body weight and be much slimmer with a shorter coat.
Feeding amounts vary greatly from season to season so it can be difficult to give a set amount to feed. As a rough guide, most ferrets generally consume around 60-80g in late summer, in autumn this can increase to 100-140g in preparation for winter. During winter the amount can drop to around 80g again, and then the lead up to spring will see a decrease again with some meals being as small as 50g during their shedding of winter coat and winter fat.
Long term considerations...
Variety is the key to raw feeding correctly! Poultry is usually the staple for ferrets as it is easily accessible and well liked. Complete raw mixes can be purchased with meat, bone and organ already ground together, and for those with only a couple of ferrets this can be much easier to feed! However, ensure your complete-raw-pet-mince has enough heart! This is vital for ferrets eating a raw diet. Poultry hearts are small and easy to portion, beef heart is often found minced from raw pet food suppliers.
Feeding a variety of textures is also a great benefit to keeping teeth clean. Ferrets can tackle chicken wings, necks and other soft poultry bones very well. Chunks of meat such as lamb chunks and beef chunks are often tough to chew but is a great way to stimulate your ferret at meal time and works the jaw muscles. Whole prey such as adult mice, rats, quails, pigeon and rabbits are brilliant, natural ways to feed and can keep your ferret very entertained. Juvenile prey such as Day Old Chicks, Day Old Quail and Pinkie Mice make good treats, however these all lack the full nutritional requirements to be fed as meals.
Try to feed at least 4 different proteins a week. Popular choices are chicken, turkey, rabbit and beef. If feeding a meal of 100g, ensure 80g is boneless meat, 10g is edible bone, and 10g is organ meat such as liver & kidney. Try to balance ferret raw meals daily, balance can be achieved over the course of a week, however feeding a meal of purely organs one day can result in some very unpleasant stool to have to clean up! The same with meals that are very heavy in bone - this can cause constipation. Trying for that balance in each day makes things easier to digest for your ferret and for you too!