June, 2022

June 21, 2022

6 Fun Ways to Make Your Small Pet Work for Their Food

6 Fun Ways to Make Your Small Pet Work for Their Food
by Dianne Cook, LVT

If you’ve ever witnessed a rabbit or rodent eating in the wild, you’ve may have noticed their meals don’t always come easy. Instead, they use their keen senses and naturally athletic bodies to seek out and dig up or stretch to reach the very best morsels. On the opposite spectrum, our domesticated house pets have come to expect routine access to their favorite foods with minimal effort.  

While every pet parent delights in providing their furry family members with a comfortable life free from hunger, it is important to still encourage your little one to use their instincts and physicality as much as possible – even during dinner time.  

Why Should I Make My Pet Work for Their Meal? 

Exotic companion animals may have made the transition to life as a pampered house pet many generations ago, but they need to use their powerful bodies and sharp minds in meaningful, natural ways has not diminished.  

Encouraging your beloved furry friend to put in a little extra effort for their meals is a great way to help keep them fit and trim, while also providing an easy outlet for continued dexterity and mental acuity as your kiddo ages. Luckily, there are numerous ways you can add an extra (and fun) challenge to your pet’s daily dining routine.  

Will Work for Food 

Below you will find several options to make your fluffy little friends put more effort into their feedings, but they certainly aren’t your only options. For even more ideas on how to combine playtime with dinner time, check out our previous article, Fun Ways to Encourage Your Pet to Play with Their Food.  

It is best to observe your pet when first attempting these suggestions to ensure they are properly interacting with any enrichment items and that they are capable of safely reaching and/or “un-earthing” their food. 

See How Their Meals “Stack” Up 

One of the easiest ways to get small herbivores to work for their food is to provide a 100% all-natural, compressed hay product, like Oxbow’s Harvest Stacks. Harvest Stacks are tightly compacted into conveniently portioned “pucks.” These pucks can be broken up into an impressive volume of loose hay, but when provided in their pressed form, your pet will be forced to tear and dig at the puck to loosen the hay. Many small herbivores also find great joy in flinging Harvest Stacks around their environment, making this unique product just as enriching as it is nutritious.  

Can You Dig It? Your Pet Can Dig It! 

It’s no secret that exotic companion mammals love to dig, so why not use that to your (and your pet’s) benefit? Oxbow’s Enriched Life Dig Box is a fun way to hide your pet’s pellets or favorite greens, thereby encouraging your furry friend to unearth their meal one mouthful at a time.  

Don’t have a Dig Box? Never fear! Scattering your pet’s pellets throughout their enclosure, or in unexpected places throughout their secure play area, encourages your small friend to use their senses and natural exploring behavior to find all the stashes of food. 

Think Vertical at Dinnertime 

It’s important to frequently challenge your pet’s natural range of motion to keep arthritis and age-related muscle wasting at bay. Reaching above their heads (either by standing on hind legs or extending their neck) to eat low-hanging vegetation is a common movement exhibited in the wild by many small mammals. Unfortunately, this natural behavior is not always well supported in a domesticated setting.  

By hanging greens, species-appropriate veggies, or small pieces of fruit from the ceiling of your pet’s enclosure (or at various heights throughout their living space), your little one will be encouraged to fully extend their spine as they reach up to sample their favorite goodies. 

You can easily replace the balls and blocks that come with Oxbow’s Enriched Life Natural Kabob with fresh produce and hang it at a height that encourages your pet to reach for it. You can achieve the same effect by hanging small bunches of greens or herbs that have been tied and hung with all-natural sisal rope.

Provide Puzzles for Mental Stimulation 

As naturally inquisitive animals, our small pets love to explore their environment. If they happen upon any hidden food, this love is magnified. Oxbow’s Enriched Life Wooden Puzzler is a fun and easy way to turn dinner time into playtime. Use the cups to hide small piles of pellets, chopped herbs, or one of your pet’s favorite all-natural, species-appropriate treats. Your little one will have such a great time flipping each of the cups over and eating the reward within, they’ll have no idea you’ve put them to work.

Give the Gift That Gives 

As we’ve established, our small furry friends love to dig, chew, and unearth. One of the easiest ways to support this behavior during mealtime is to add a few pellets, a handful of hay, and some of your little one’s preferred fresh produce or supplemental foods to a small, all-natural paper bag with the top tightly rolled over. Allow your little one to shred and dig at the bag to their heart’s content. Once your little one has reached their meal and has finished gleefully shredding the paper bag, remove any remaining pieces to avoid excess consumption.

Delight Them With the “Dine and Dash” 

This trick is commonly used to help your pet learn their name and to establish a strong human-animal bond, but it’s also a great way to get your little one moving during mealtime. As it is low impact and very food-focused, it’s also an easy way to keep senior pets moving. Gather a handful of your pet’s favorite food, hay, or supplementary food, then sit across the room from your pet. Hold up the food and softly call their name. Once your animal comes to you, allow them to take a few nibbles, then quietly get up (careful not to startle your little one), and move to another spot, again holding the food out for your pet. Continue this pattern, moving after each interaction until your pet has finished their meal or has lost interest in the game.

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June 20, 2022

Introducing Senior Rabbit and Guinea Pig Foods

Introducing Senior Rabbit and Guinea Pig Foods

Rabbits and guinea pigs have unique nutritional needs throughout life’s different stages.  For example, young animals require more energy, protein, and calcium to support healthy growth.  Adult animals, meanwhile, require ample amounts of fiber, but lower levels of protein and calcium.  But, what about senior pets?   

For years, you’ve trusted our Essentials Young and Adult Rabbit and Guinea Pig formulas to provide the right nutrition for your young and fully grown animals alike.  With more and more rabbits and guinea pigs reaching their golden years, there’s a growing need for daily nutrition designed to support the unique challenges that come with age.  That’s why we’re excited to introduce Essentials Senior Rabbit and Essentials Senior Guinea Pig!

Senior Rabbit and Guinea Pig Nutrition the Oxbow Way 

Our new Senior Guinea Pig and Senior Rabbit foods are specially formulated to support your aging guinea pig or rabbit’s needs.  With the same uniform nutrition in every bite that you’re accustomed to from Oxbow, Essentials Senior Rabbit and Senior Guinea Pig foods feature a number of key ingredients that are worth highlighting and celebrating.   

Antioxidants for Age-Related Support  

As rabbits and guinea pigs reach an advanced age, they are more likely to experience oxidative stress and other age-related symptoms.  Our Essentials Senior foods contain a variety of high-quality antioxidant ingredients (including ginger root, turmeric, chamomile and whole grains including oats and barley) to help mitigate these symptoms.  
 
Learn More About The Role of Antioxidants in Pet Health and Specifically for Senior Pets

Multiple Fiber Sources for Digestive Health

Fiber is essential to the health of all small herbivores, and senior pets are no exception!  Essentials Senior Rabbit and Senior Guinea Pig are crafted with a variety of high-quality fiber sources to support the aging digestive systems of senior rabbits and guinea pigs.
 
Learn More About the Importance of Fiber for the Digestive Health of Small Pets

Prebiotics For a Healthy Microbiome 

If you’re a regular follower of our blog, you’ve probably seen references to the microbiome – a name for the billions of microscopic living organisms residing in the gastrointestinal tract of small animals.   

As a quick refresher on the microbiome and why its health is so important:  

  • The billions (and billions) of microscopic living organisms which reside in the microbiome include bacteria, protozoa, fungi, and others.   
  • The makeup of the microbiome varies widely between species 
  • The microbiome plays a role in processes that include fiber digestion, immune system health, inflammation, mood regulation, and more 
  • Probiotics are living bacteria designed to help repopulate the healthy microbiome; Prebiotics are ingredients designed to feed and strengthen the good bacteria in the large intestine.   
  • Prebiotics are currently safer and more effective at supporting microbiome health in small, hindgut-fermenting species (e.g. rabbits and guinea pigs) than probiotics.  This is because microbiome research in this species is currently too limited to dictate appropriate, beneficial probiotics. 

Essentials Senior Rabbit and Senior Guinea Pig are formulated with multiple yeast ingredients which provide beneficial prebiotics proven to support microbiome health in rabbits and guinea pigs.     

Learn More About Prebiotics and Small Pet Health

Get to Know Essentials Senior Guinea Pig  

Essentials Senior Guinea Pig is specially formulated to support your aging guinea pig’s needs. We start with 6 high-quality fiber sources to support the aging digestive system and add natural antioxidants to help maintain physical and mental sharpness and activity. Essentials Senior Guinea Pig includes natural plant-based herbal ingredients like ginger root, turmeric and chamomile and provides 100% of your pet’s daily recommended vitamins and minerals with no artificial preservatives, colors, or flavors. 
 
Product Highlights:  

  • Sizes: 4 lb, 8 lb 
  • Specially formulated to support the unique needs of aging guinea pigs  
  • Six sources of high fiber ingredients help support the aging digestive system for optimum health and body condition 
  • Three sources of natural antioxidant ingredients help support physical and mental vitality & activity  
  • Beneficial herbal ingredients include ginger root, turmeric, and chamomile 

Get to Know Essentials Senior Rabbit  

Essentials Senior Rabbit is specially formulated to support your aging rabbit’s needs. We start with 3 high-quality fiber sources to support the aging digestive system, complement with targeted levels of protein to maintain muscle, and add natural antioxidants to help maintain physical and mental sharpness and activity.  Essentials Senior Rabbit includes natural plant-based herbal ingredients like ginger root, turmeric and chamomile and provides 100% of your pet’s daily recommended vitamins and minerals with no artificial preservatives, colors, or flavors. 

Product Highlights: 

  • Sizes: 4 lb, 8 lb 
  • Specially formulated to support the unique needs of aging rabbits 
  • Three sources of high fiber ingredients help support the aging digestive system for optimum health and body condition  
  • Added levels of targeted protein help support muscle maintenance in senior animals  
  • Three sources of natural antioxidant ingredients help support physical and mental vitality and activity  
  • Beneficial herbal ingredients include ginger root, turmeric, and chamomile 

Additional Resources on Senior Pets:  

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June 10, 2022

How To Prevent and Treat Parasites in Small Mammals

How To Prevent and Treat Parasites in Small Mammals
by Dianne Cook, LVT

Parasites are a pain. Plain and simple. Some parasites come to the party like a wrecking ball, causing immediate discomfort and obvious symptoms, while others prefer to hang back and stay quiet, only making themselves known when they’re least expected. Luckily, many of the most pathogenic parasites can be prevented and treated with the assistance of high-quality, species-appropriate diet, top-notch husbandry, and exotics-savvy veterinary care.  

What Are Parasites? 

A parasite is an organism that lives on or within another living creature (called a “host”), feeding and multiplying at the host’s expense. While some parasites, like lice, are species-specific (meaning they only target one kind of animal or closely related species), there are others that can infect any animal they contact. This includes zoonotic varieties of parasites that can be transmitted from animal to human or vice versa (i.e., E. Cuniculi).   

There are two classifications of parasites, each affecting their host in different ways:

Endoparasites

Otherwise known as internal parasites, are pesky creatures that live and multiply inside your pet’s body. Though many people think of intestinal worms when they think of endoparasites, there are also numerous varieties of parasitic protozoa (one-celled organisms) that can cause serious health concerns in our small furry friends. Though many internal parasites target the digestive tract, others may impact the lungs, liver, kidneys, or central nervous system.  

Common symptoms of endoparasites include (but are not limited to): 

  • Weight loss 
  • Abnormal fecal output (consistency, frequency, size, shape, etc) 
  • Lethargy 
  • Changes in appetite or thirst 
  • Head tilt (head tipped to the side) 
  • Ataxia (stumbling) or weakness 
  • Uncontrollable spinning or rolling

Ectoparasites

Also commonly called external parasites, are the tiny creatures that take up residency on the outside of your little one’s body, typically within the haircoat and/or ears. The most troublesome aspect of external parasites is the fact that many types can remain dormant for years and can easily be brought into the home and unknowingly spread throughout the environment through contaminated clothing, other household animals, or infested bedding. They also tend to be incredibly hardy and difficult to notice until they’ve multiplied to the point of a full-blown invasion. As if that isn’t bad enough, some species, like certain varieties of fleas and mites, are perfectly happy dining on any living being in the home, be that pet or pet parent.  

Common symptoms of ectoparasites include (but are not limited to): 

  • Dull, patchy haircoat 
  • Excessive itching and scratching 
  • Scabby or inflamed skin 
  • Flaky, crusty, or scaly skin 
  • Bumps, hives, or open sores 
  • Red, inflamed ears 

How Do Pets Get Parasites? 

Parasite transmission depends on several factors, but most often occurs when a pet comes into contact with a contaminated environment or infected animal. Endoparasites usually invade the body when the host animal (e.g., your pet) inadvertently ingests parasitic eggs or spores from infected soil, food, water, feces, or urine. Ectoparasites tend to nestle into fabric, carpets, bedding, and upholstery and remain dormant (sometimes for years) until an unsuspecting pet or human walks by and wakes them up. Both internal and external parasites can also be unknowingly brought into the home via another pet (like a dog or cat) or on a pet parents’ shoes or clothing. Some parasites can also be passed from mother to offspring in utero or via nursing.  

Parasite Prevention 

Prevention is often much easier, not to mention less costly, than treatment. Luckily, the simplest and most reliable way to keep parasites at bay is by providing a tidy living space, wholesome diet, and routine veterinary care for all species of companion animals living in the home. 

Following a daily spot cleaning and weekly deep cleaning routine for your little one’s enclosure and exercise space(s) will help keep external parasites at bay and will ensure you are promptly aware of any stool abnormalities or changes in appetite or water intake. Feeding a high-quality, species-appropriate diet will help your furry friend remain in peak systemic health, allowing their bodies a better chance of resisting a parasitic assault. Make sure to remove any food, hay, or water that becomes contaminated with urine or feces as promptly as possible. It is also important to remove any fresh fruits or veggies before they start to wilt or mold. 

Keeping up with routine veterinary well-visits for all your furry family members is also strongly recommended. Not only will your trusted veterinarian help keep your exotic munchkin(s) in good health, but they can also develop an appropriate parasite prevention protocol for any larger companion animals in the home. By ensuring all household pets are parasite free, you can feel confident you are doing everything you can to keep each of your furry friends as happy and healthy as possible. 

Treatment Time 

Unfortunately, despite our very best preventative efforts, there are times parasites still raise their ugly little heads. Appropriate treatment is different depending on what kind of parasite(s) your pet is dealing with, so it is imperative to work with an exotics savvy veterinarian for proper diagnosis and effective treatment. While there are numerous “over the counter” animal-centric medications intended to cure parasites, many of these products are ineffective and can be quite unsafe for small mammals. Only use meds or other treatment options as prescribed by your veterinarian. 

Because cross-contamination between household pets is a genuine concern, all animals within the home will typically need to be treated, even if they are asymptomatic (not showing any signs or symptoms). Once treatment is complete and everyone in the home is officially parasite free, it may seem like a good idea to put your small pet on a monthly topical parasite preventative (like those used on cats and dogs). While intentions may be pure, do not use any of these products unless it is explicitly suggested, and properly dosed, by your veterinarian.

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June 09, 2022

Introducing Essentials Ferret Food!

Introducing Essentials Ferret Food!

For more than three decades, we've been steadfastly committed to supporting the unique nutrition and wellness needs of a menagerie of small animal species who take residence in your homes and hearts.  We take great pride in partnering with leading experts – from leading exotics veterinarians to expert nutritionists - to create quality nutrition that meets the specific nutritional needs of the furry family members of homes all over the world.  Today, we are excited to share that we've extended that commitment to a new species with the introduction of Essentials Ferret Food.

Get to Know Essentials Ferret Food

We enlisted the guidance of leading ferret veterinarians and expert nutritionists to help formulate Essentials Ferret with high-quality animal proteins for energy and muscle mass while purposefully excluding unnecessary ingredients like corn, peas, and potatoes. The result is a scrumptious, species-appropriate food that ferret lovers can feel good about offering to their beloved little carnivores!

Essentials Ferret Food makes an ideal foundation for the daily nutrition of ferrets of all ages.  New to ferrets?  We invite you to learn more about how to provide a complete picture of ferret nutrition!

Key Features of Essentials Ferret Food:

  • Contains a minimum of 40% protein & 20% fat
  • The first 5 ingredients are animal-based proteins and fats for body condition
  • No corn, peas, or potatoes to limit starch consumption
  • Includes Omega fatty acids for heart, skin, and coat health
  • Contains 100% of a ferret's daily recommended vitamins and minerals

Learn More About Essentials Ferret Food

Other Ferret Must-Haves from Oxbow 

The right nutrition is absolutely essential to the health and wellbeing of ferrets, but there’s more to providing the total picture of health and happiness for your wondrous weasel.  We are proud to provide a variety of habitat, care, and enrichment essentials to help you make sure your ferret is living the happiest, healthiest life possible!   

Pure, Comfortable Bedding Fit for the Most Fabulous Ferret

Our pure, never-printed Pure Comfort bedding makes the perfect substrate for ferrets.  In addition to being highly moisture and odor absorbent, Pure Comfort is 99.9% dust free and super soft and comfy for the health and happiness of your ferret.

Enrichment for Your Favorite Ferret’s Play, Rest, & Exploration Needs  

As curious, highly active animals, ferrets need regular opportunities for enrichment to be at their happiest and healthiest.  We are proud to offer a variety of enrichment items to support the instincts of your little loved one.

Looking for great ways to support your ferret’s instincts to play and explore?  The following innovative enrichment items are great for ferrets:

We know your ferret’s daily routine isn’t all fun and games.  It’s about snoozing as well!  Knowing that ferrets are super sleepers, we proudly offer a variety of quality items to support all of your pet’s rest and relaxation needs:

We encourage you to learn more about ferret enrichment and why it's so important.  And, while you're reading, be sure to learn more about our top 10 toys and accessories for ferrets
 

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June 09, 2022

Ferret Enrichment

Ferret Enrichment

Ferrets are inquisitive, mischievous, and an absolute joy. They are extremely social and intelligent, so they are prone to boredom and will even exhibit destructive behaviors (like chewing and biting) if they do not get enough socialization. Providing enrichment that helps encourage them to engage in natural activities is key to helping them living their happiest, healthiest life. 

If you’re a new ferret pet parent, or maybe considering adding a ferret to your family, this article will outline some fun and important ways to support your ferret’s instincts playing, hiding, and exploring instincts each day.   

Playing 

Ferrets are high-energy and playful. Ideally, ferrets should spend at least 3-4 hours each day outside their habitat to explore, play, and express their natural behaviors in healthy ways. Ferrets are very social animals, so keeping two or more ferrets is beneficial, particularly if you are not home all day. The human-animal bond is an amazing thing, but not nearly as important as your ferrets having a companion who can keep them company and play with when the human family is not available. 

The ferret’s name is derived from the Latin furittus, meaning “little thief,” and it certainly suits their mischievous nature. Provide plenty of small, ferret-appropriate toys that are easy for your feisty little friend to carry. Otherwise, you will likely find other household items disappearing. Ferrets love to carry their special treasures to their favorite “nest” where they store all their loot.  

Ferrets exhibit lots of cute body language to try to initiate play with you and each other. One of the most common and adorable ways is the “Weasel War Dance,” a series of hyperactive random leaps and jumps backward and forward. If you see this, know that your ferret is ready to be silly. They will also hop forward and then skitter backward, similar to the canine play bow. 

Suggested Products

Garden Variety Rocker | Garden Forage Puzzle |​ Play Garden

Hiding 

Ferrets sleep around 16 hours a day, so it is essential to offer them comfortable spots for snoozing, one more bed than there are ferrets (i.e., three beds for two ferrets) so they have plenty of options. Ferrets prefer to sleep in enclosed areas, following their ancestral preference for borrowing rabbit dens to make their homes. Covered beds, sleep sacks, or fleece blankets work well, but ferrets also enjoy the comfort of hammocks. 

Ferrets love to get under things and it can be surprising what they can squeeze under (e.g., refrigerators). They love getting into every nook and cranny and often don’t realize something is dangerous until it is too late. For this reason, it is critical to ferret proof your house and make sure that every unsuitable hole is covered or filled in.  

You can help distract your ferret from less desirable hiding places by providing safe alternatives to support this behavior. Hides, tunnels, covered pet beds, and boxes are all great options; just make sure they are made of high-quality and safe materials. 

Suggested Products

Cozy Cave | Corner Fleece Hide | Woven HideoutFleece or Honeycomb Hammock

Exploring 

As previously mentioned, ferrets just love sticking their little noses into every nook and cranny. They will sneak into cabinets, under couches, and into places you couldn’t even imagine. Ferrets are also avid climbers but can be a bit clumsy. They tend to leap before thinking it through so they should be supervised as they play outside their cage. 

Ferrets also like to have a set schedule. They wake, eat, play, and then settle down for a nap. It is quite important to keep a close watch on your friend because they will find a good nap spot and disappear. Then you may have to wait until they wake up again before you find them! 

Support your ferret’s inquisitive and adventurous nature by offering challenging puzzles that allow you to hide treats for them to hunt for.  

Cages with multiple levels offer opportunities to explore and adventure while you are away. Rotate items around and provide a variety of challenging toys to keep things fresh and interesting. Make sure your ferret has time outside the cage as well, so they can fully engage in this natural behavior. 

Suggested Products

Dream Cottage | Customizable Play Place

Pull & SeekForage Pot | Wobble Teaser | Rolly Teaser 

Many of Oxbow’s ferret-friendly Enriched Life products help support multiple natural behaviors to make it easy for you to add excitement and stimulation to your ferret’s daily routine. For example, our Enriched Life Playplace offers support for Exploring, Hiding, and Playing. Our Enriched Life Wobble and Rolly Teasers support both Playing and Exploring. Check out all of our ferret-approved items and give your feisty little friend the Enriched Life they need to thrive! 

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June 09, 2022

What Do Ferrets Eat?

What Do Ferrets Eat?

When answering the question, “What do ferrets eat?” it’s important to start by looking at their nutritional classification.  Ferrets fall into a category called obligate carnivores, sometimes referred to as “hypercarnivores.” This group of animals requires very high levels of protein in the diet and consumes almost exclusively animal matter in the wild.  
 
Other carnivores, such as foxes, can consume and utilize a greater level of plant material and generally require less overall protein in the diet. Because their natural wild diet does not require the digestion of much plant material, ferret’s gastrointestinal anatomy and physiology are completely lacking some of the components and processes need to utilize plant-based nutrients in the diet.  

What Do Ferrets Eat in the Wild? 

In the wild, ferrets largely consume small mammals such as rabbits, mice, rats, and other rodents. However, they are very opportunistic hunters and will also eat other species such as fish, birds, reptiles, and sometimes even insects.   
Ferrets have been documented eating carrion (dead animals) on occasion but prefer to catch and consume live prey and are equipped with a great sense of hearing and scent, a strong bite, and short powerful legs which make them capable hunters.  
 
Typically, the only plant-material that ferrets consume comes from the gut contents of their prey. Research into their natural feeding habits indicate that ferrets require a diet that is:  

  • High in protein (>35-40%) 
  • High in fat (≥20%) 
  • Low in carbohydrates and fiber (<5%).  

The natural diet of wild ferrets should be used as a reference point for how to best feed these species in captivity. 

What Should My Pet Ferret Eat? 

Using a wild diet as a template for your pet ferret’s nutritional needs is a great starting place. Though domestication can change some characteristics, the nutrient requirements of a pet ferret closely mimic that of a wild animal.  

  • The natural diet and prey items of a ferret tell you that they do not need many plant-based ingredients and furthermore, cannot digest and utilize them.  
  • When equating this to what to look for in a bag of commercially available ferret food, a good rule of thumb is that the first five ingredients should be animal-based.  
  • High starch and plant-based protein ingredients like corn, potatoes, and peas as well as any fruits and vegetables should be absent from the ingredient list entirely as they aren’t optimal for your hypercarnivore's digestive health and could predispose them to disease or illness.  
  • Looking at the guaranteed analysis on a bag of ferret food, nutrient concentrations should mimic those of ferret’s natural prey items so look for a minimum of 35% protein (>40% is best), at least 20% fat, and a fiber concentration less than 5%.  

Can Ferrets Eat Cat Food? 

It is not uncommon for people to still recommend ferrets be fed cat and/or kitten food. Though cats are also hypercarnivores and do require high levels of protein and fat, many domestic cat foods still utilize a lot of plant-based ingredients such as corn which should always been avoided in ferret foods.  

Furthermore, even many high-quality kitten foods may not contain adequate levels of protein and fats that ferrets require. Thus, it is always best to utilize a species-specific ferret food to ensure you are meeting the macro and micronutrient needs of your little one.

How to Transition Your Ferret’s Diet 

Transitioning your ferret from one diet to another can sometimes pose a unique challenge. While some ferrets willingly transition between foods in a couple of weeks, some are more reluctant and require a more gradual transition over six to eight weeks or longer. This often stems from what is referred to as “nutritional imprinting” where young ferrets develop an affinity to the taste and structure of the food they were first raised on and become reluctant to try anything else.  

Palatability of lower quality foods containing high starch levels may also play a role in uneager transitions as you attempt to upgrade your ferret’s diet. No matter the reason, transitioning your ferret to a higher quality food (low starch, high protein, high fat) is one of the most important decisions any ferret owner can make and can help avoid serious health problems in the future.  

If your ferret doesn’t easily transition foods, don’t lose hope. You can try the following to help encourage them to transition: 

  • Slow transition: replace only 5-10% of their current diet with the new diet weekly 
  • Add water to a mix of the current and new kibble 
  • Utilize Oxbow's Carnivore Care 
    • Add some with water and the new food to make a gruel or soup for them 
    • Top dress with dry or reconstituted product  
  • Hand-feed some of the new kibble if your ferret responds well to direct interaction 
  • Top kibble with a small amount of a high quality/preferred fat or oil (like salmon oil)  

Supplemental Nutrition 

Many complete, balanced and fortified ferret foods are offered free choice (always available) as ferrets tend to self-regulate dietary intake. Your ferret’s food should make up about 80% of his overall diet. Ferret-appropriate supplemental foods and treats can make up the other 20% of a ferret’s diet to provide training or bonding opportunities, variety, or just extra protein and fat.  

Offer

Supplemental nutrition should consist of high quality, animal-based proteins and fats and can come in the form of homemade morsels such as boiled or cooked muscle meats such as:  

  • Chicken 
  • Cooked eggs 
  • Dehydrated organ meats.

If appropriate in the household and properly handled/stored, raw or dehydrated diets, raw meat, and whole prey (mice and rats) can also provide supplemental nutrition and enrichment for ferrets.  
 
Avoid

Dietary items like fruits, vegetables, cereals, and grains should be avoided. 

What to Look for in Commercial Ferret Treats 

Commercially available treats are another option and, like the diet, should avoid plant-based ingredients like fruits and vegetables.  

  • Store-bought treats should also focus on providing animal-based proteins and fats while limiting carbohydrates and artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives are never necessary.  
  • Freeze-dried animal proteins provide a good treat option if they are palatable to your animal.  
  • You can also work with your veterinarian to acquire Oxbow’s Critical Care Carnivore to offer as a treat and supplemental protein and fat in this format.  

Don’t Forget About Enrichment! 

Providing the right daily nutrition for your ferret is essential to his health and happiness.  However, it’s important to remember that there’s more to ferret wellbeing than nutrition alone.  The benefits of daily enrichment include both mental and physical health.  If you’re interested in learning more about enriching your ferret’s world, we’ve created this article to help.

Ferret Life Stages 

Diet and nutrient requirements can be impacted by a ferret’s life stage.  

  • Ferrets are generally considered to be adults at one year and prior to that are often referred to as kits.  
  • While highly dependent on the animal as well as history and husbandry, ferrets older than 3-4 years are often considered geriatric or senior. 
  • The typical captive lifespan of ferrets is in the 7-to-8-year range.  

Most commercially available ferret foods are formulated to meet nutrient requirements at all life stages from kits to senior; however, supplemental foods can be adjusted in early and late-life to accommodate specific health needs.  

You should always consult with your veterinarian to assess the needs of your individual animal, but young and growing ferrets may benefit from more supplemental proteins and fats to meet nutrient and energy needs for growth. Older ferrets may suffer from gastrointestinal and renal disease or can alternatively lose muscle mass so working with your veterinarian will ensure the correct dietary adjustments, if any, are made. 

A Quick Snapshot

Ferrets are obligate carnivores who consume very little plant matter in the wild. In turn, their domestic counterparts are not equipped to digest and utilize carbohydrates and plant-based ingredients. Thus, domestic ferret diets should be high in protein (>35-40%) and fat (≥20%) and low in carbohydrates and fiber (<5%).  

Transitioning ferrets from one food to another may be cumbersome for some animals, but the potential health benefits of a higher quality diet far outweigh the difficulties sometimes experienced. Additionally, supplemental animal-based proteins and fats are a great way to add variety to your pet’s diet, supply extra protein and fat, or just provide bonding or training time.  

As your ferret grows and ages, some nutritional requirements may change. However, these potential changes to requirements are not universal and depend on your individual animal’s genetics, diet, husbandry and so much more. So, it is always best to have regularly scheduled health checks with your veterinarian to assess your pet's needs to keep them happy and healthy. 

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