You notice your ferret’s food bowl looking sparse, so you reach into the bag for a scoop to top it off, only to find crumbs.
You could’ve sworn there was more, but you’re all out of ferret food, and your ferret will soon have nothing to eat! It’s not ideal, but don’t worry!
A ferret can go approximately 1 to 3 days without eating, although various factors, including overall health, age, activity level, and hydration, may influence this estimate.
While it’s prudent to get your hands on another bag of ferret food as soon as possible, you might have more time than you think.
Read on to learn about the factors that weigh in here and what you can do in the meantime.
Why do ferrets need to eat so often?
On regular days, ferrets eat every 4 hours. That might be as often as 6 to 8 times daily!
This is in part due to two reasons:
For one, ferrets have a speedy metabolism and need incredible amounts of calories to sustain themselves.
They’re busy, constantly moving, and even shake while at rest. This movement translates to expended energy, which needs to be replaced with more food.
In addition, they have a short gastrointestinal tract. Besides converting calories into energy, ferrets digest quickly and excrete waste.
This would leave their poor bellies empty, even if they were gorging themselves only a few hours prior.
How long can a ferret go without food? (4 factors)
Theoretically, a healthy adult ferret could last up to 3 days without food before showing signs of starvation and failing health.
Several factors affect this figure and could shorten it significantly.
Factor 1: Overall health
An otherwise healthy adult ferret with no pre-existing medical conditions will survive longer without food than ferrets that are managing illnesses.
Ferrets suffering from gastrointestinal stress or experiencing vomiting or diarrhea will purge food from their systems and leave themselves malnourished and dehydrated.
Sick ferrets like this may only last a few hours if food and water are not available to replenish what they are purging.
Conditions like insulinoma will also drastically shorten the duration a ferret can survive without food, as blood sugar drops may result in seizures, coma, or death.
Ferrets that suffer from insulinoma require careful dietary management to successfully manage the complications from this severe disease.
Factor 2: Age
Adult ferrets are best suited to wait for a meal, while young ferrets and older ferrets will be more delicate and require more subsistence.
Newborn ferrets are susceptible to dietary changes and should always have food available.
Depriving them of nutrition during these critical early stages may result in death within 24 hours.
For this reason, it is imperative to have food for newborn ferrets available at all times, whereas it may not be as much of an emergency for a healthy adult ferret.
Factor 3: Activity level
If your ferret is a couch potato, they expend less energy and thus require less food to sustain themselves.
Busy, active ferrets will burn more calories each day and need to replace them more readily.
If your ferret is bouncing from each end of the cage often, you might not have more than a day or so before they feel the effects of starvation.
However, ferrets that are often found lounging in a hammock or fast asleep will likely last the entire 3 days before showing signs of deterioration.
Factor 4: Hydration level
Well-hydrated ferrets with an available water supply will survive significantly longer than dehydrated ferrets.
A dehydrated ferret will not last long at all without food or water.
If you run out of food, be sure that fresh water remains available at all times to ensure your ferret at least will stay adequately hydrated.
Pay attention to the following signs of dehydration in ferrets:
- Dry gums
- Sticky gums
- Excessive squinting
- Decreased amounts of urine
If your ferret shows any of the above signs of dehydration but refuses to drink water, contact your vet immediately.
Ferrets that are not eating or drinking water may be in serious danger.
What can I feed my ferret until I have more food?
Ferrets are obligate carnivores. That means they must eat meat to survive.
Specially formulated ferret food is the best option for ferrets, but it is usually only available from pet retailers. This can be problematic if the closest pet store is too far or closes early.
In the meantime, dry cat food makes an excellent substitute for holding your ferret over.
Cats are also obligate carnivores, and their nutritional requisites are similar to ferret ones. Since cats are significantly more popular pets, many grocery stores and even gas station convenience stores sell dry cat kibble.
This will buy you time until you can replenish your supply of actual ferret food.
Can I feed human food in the meantime?
Human food can be fed, provided you steer clear of certain foods.
If you are waiting for ferret food to be delivered or can’t get to the store until tomorrow, try the following in the meantime:
- Raw meat
- Olive or coconut oil
If you have meat in the fridge, that’s more or less what your ferret would be eating if left in the wild. No need to cook it.
Ferrets happily consume raw meat and raw bones with no issue. Meat is an excellent option because it provides calories and proteins, including many essential amino acids that ferrets need to thrive.
No meat? No problem. You can serve your ferret with cooked eggs, olive or coconut oil, or pumpkin to hold them over for short periods.
What foods should I avoid feeding my ferret?
Some human foods are difficult for ferrets to digest, while some are poisonous and should be avoided at all costs.
Do not feed the following to your ferret:
- High fiber
Ferrets have a short digestive tract that struggles to process fiber and fibrous foods like fruits and vegetables.
Bread is also not recommended, as ferrets struggle to process grains, complex carbohydrates, and starch.
Sweets should be avoided, especially chocolate. Milk chocolate in small quantities will poison and potentially kill your ferret; even a morsel of dark or baker’s chocolate will most certainly lead to their death if it is not immediately purged.
Can I feed my ferret a homemade diet?
Yes, ferrets can survive while eating homemade food exclusively. The ingredients in your ferret’s food are not too different from things we generally eat ourselves.
By formulating recipes that include all the nutrients they need to survive and thrive, you are absolutely able to feed them a homemade diet instead of dry kibble.
Benefits of feeding a homemade diet to my ferret
There are many benefits to this approach, including:
- Fresher ingredients
- More control over ingredients
You get to source all ingredients yourself, so you know what you’re giving to your ferret, how fresh it is, and what quantity you’re feeding.
It’s not all pros, though. Drawbacks include:
- Fresh food cannot be left out 24/7
- Food must be carefully balanced or supplemented to provide the complete nutrient profile
Dry ferret kibble can be easily poured into your ferret’s bowl and left all day for them to eat buffet-style at their leisure.
With fresh, homemade food, you don’t have that luxury. It must be fed and consumed immediately, or you risk contaminating your ferret’s bowl and enclosure and even making them sick.
In addition, it’s difficult to simply cook a meal and be sure that your ferret is getting the appropriate levels of all nutrients and amino acids they need to survive.
This means you may be left guessing if you’ve done enough to balance their diet.
If it’s not balanced, you’ll need to purchase supplements to include in the food and carefully measure everything to ensure it’s right.
We recommend feeding a diet specifically formulated for a ferret’s needs.
This way, you know what you are feeding will provide all nutrients a ferret needs for life. Plus, it’s shelf-safe making it extremely convenient.
What to do if my ferret refuses to eat?
Ideally, a healthy ferret should be eating every 4 hours, but it’s okay if they’re not ravenous 24/7.
If you notice they haven’t eaten at all or begin rapidly losing weight, vomiting, or showing signs of lethargy, weakness, or exhaustion, it’s best to visit the vet ASAP and have your ferret checked.
There are various reasons a ferret may refuse to eat, including physical and psychological conditions.
A healthy adult ferret should be able to wait 1 to 3 days before eating, especially if you keep the water bottle filled full time.
For seniors, newborns, and ferrets with medical conditions, you may notice signs of deterioration within one day.
These ferrets may not be able to wait and should be fed alternate nutrition until you have more ferret food. Dry cat food and some human foods are great in a pinch.
So, you ran out of food. Don’t sweat it!
Your ferret will be just fine so long as you get some more food for them soon and follow our tips in the meantime.