Message Number: YG2540 | New FHL Archives Search
From: RRC
Date: 2001-04-14 11:41:00 UTC
Subject: Bob C: Kibble diets

From a private email; my answer might be of interest to all.

>I don't understand why you promote a natural diet
>with one breath, then seem to endorse Tottaly Ferret
>with another. Have you been bought off?

>What do you recommend for feeding ferrets?

I wish I've been bought off, then maybe I could afford to spend a few
months in New Zealand documenting the feral ferrets and write a report
for the New Zealand Journal of Ecology, Mammalia, Journal of Mammalogy,
or Biological Conservation which would discount the California F&G claim
ferrets can go feral. As of yet, no one has offered to purchase my
silence. You are strongly encouraged to do so, however. All I need is
airfare, a rental car and food money. ;-)

I'll be blunt. Last year I solicited ferret food samples from around the
world, then compared nutrients, overall quality, hardness of product
(after being maintained at 50% relative humidity for 2 weeks prior to
measuring volume, density, and relative hardness), particle size (after
storage in distilled water for an hour), cost, and relative ease of
finding the product in a store. Then I compared those results to those I
computed for myself, based on published journal reports for polecat and
feral ferret diets, and compositional data for the various prey
carcasses. I added in the published diets of American mink, which is
relatively well researched, and American mink have transit times,
consume a diet and have nutritional needs similar to ferrets. I
researched the available published accounts for various pet foods
whenever possible (such as those published by Consumer Reports for cat
foods, etc.). Finally, I ground up the food, wetted it with distilled
water, measured pH, and tested for the presence of excessive salt and
sugar (used by some pet food makers to increase palatability of pet
foods). There were other tests, but the point is I extensively tested
most—if not all—foods available to feed ferrets, and those that weren't
tested were of minor concern.

I was writing this all up to publish on the FML when I left that forum.
But a few things happened afterwards which gave me cause to rethink
publishing the data. It was made obvious to me that I held considerable
influence over the opinions of many ferret owners, and any
recommendations I would make, however innocent, might cause more harm
than good. Second, I discovered most people feed their ferrets some type
of cat or kitten food because of a) the cost of ferret foods, b) the
difficulty in finding ferret foods, and c) frequent web-, book- and
magazine based recommendations suggesting high quality kitten foods, so
my recommendations wouldn't cause much change anyway. Finally, I had the
chance to met Dr. Willard (of Totally Ferret) and instantly liked him. I
was impressed by his obvious desire to provide as complete and
nutritious a ferret food as possible. I've been fooled by people before
(the risks of being a trusting person), but with some people you know
instantly when they are sincere, and I felt that way about Dr. Willard.
You need to understand that I had already decided Totally Ferret was at
the top of my list PRIOR to our meeting in Toronto, but after the
meeting I felt a strong recommendation would be seen as pandering, based
on friendship, or because of some hidden deal (none of which are true).

Thus, I have been more-or-less setting on my findings while searching my
ethics subroutines to decide which course of action is best. I guess now
is as good a time as ever to make a few general statements regarding
what *I* discovered about ferret foods (these are MY findings, and other
groups may disagree. You should make your decisions based on your own
needs and research).

1. There is not a single cat or kitten food that is better than ferret
food products. Thus, my recommendation would be to only feed foods
primarily designed for ferrets, and leave the kitten foods to kittens.
EXCEPTIONS: Sometimes ferret foods become regionally unavailable, or a
lost ferret may end up in a situation where they are fed some sort of
cat food. Since ferrets imprint on foods by smell, if they are not
allowed access to these types of foods when young, they may not accept
them when older. My solution is to add a mixture of various kitten foods
so they are about 20% by weight of the total kibble mix. For these
reasons, I also recommend ferret owners do not completely remove
commercially available dry, kibbled or extruded foods from the ferret diet.

2. Good ferret food is expensive because better ingredients cost more.
Cheap food is exactly that. NEVER skimp on quality of food based on cost.

3. Ferrets are not cats, nor are they dogs. They have a unique
odontological and gastrointestinal system designed to digest proteins
and fats as fast as possible, and many cat foods are not designed for
such rapid digestion. Feeding such foods may result in nutritional
stress, micronutrient malnutrition, or even depression of the immune
system because of a lack of specific nutrients. Thus, I cannot recommend
ANY cat or kitten food.

4. Dry, kibbled or extruded foods are too hard on the teeth, resulting
in microfracturing of the enamel, pitting, excessive wear, long-term
gingivitis, caries, and in some cases, premature loss of teeth. I have,
in the past, hypothesized that the commonness of gingivitis in pet
ferrets may have something to do with the frequency of cardiomyopathy,
but have done no research to support the idea. I would estimate from my
research that approximately 3/4ths of all pet ferret skulls I have
examined display reactive bone tissue at the gumline. I have estimated
tooth wear rates for ferrets consuming kibble or extruded foods to be
between 2 and 5 times the "normal" wear rates, as exhibited by wild
polecats, New Zealand feral ferrets, and pet ferrets eating an
evolutionary (natural) diet. HINT: If you live in a dry or low humidity
area, only buy small quantities of food at one time so you minimize
dehydrating the food, making it all the harder, or store it in a sealed
container in a refrigerator.

5. Dry, kibbled or extruded foods are composed of fine ground particles
which increase surface area to maximize nutrient digestion. I have
hypothesized such foods are an important contributing factor to the
formation of hairballs because they lack appreciable bulk to help move
the material through. If you feed dry, kibbled or extruded foods, make
sure you regularly feed a hairball preventative.

6. Dry, kibbled or extruded foods contain a large amount of processed
carbohydrates. These carbohydrates are required to form the shape of the
product and allow it to dry to not more than 10% moisture (they also
provide some of the bulk protein). It is the lack of moisture which
preserves the food, allowing the product to be left in bowls for days at
a time without worry of decay. The dryness also helps in controlling
odor (number one complaint about ferret foods? "It smells too
fishy..."). I have hypothesized in the past that the high dose of
carbohydrates may be a contributing factor in the development of
pancreatic problems. Additionally, I have hypothesized that the large
number of sugars afforded by such a diet might contribute to providing
excess nutrients to intestinal bacteria, increasing the incidence of
bacterial overgrowths and other bacteria-mediated gastrointestinal pathology.

7. Modern mink diets are maximized to produce excellent growth and fine
fur quality, but do not necessarily promote long term nutritional
health. There exists a USA government publication which documents the
nutritional requirements for mink, which I have estimated to be very
close to those of the ferret. Commercial mink diets may or may not meet
those government recommendations, and you will never know.

8. Minced, or wet canned (tinned) ferret foods MAY have less
carbohydrates (read the ingredient list), but the small size of the food
particles promote dental problems. Only occasional use is recommended
UNLESS the ferret has access to whole bones, animal carcasses, or dry,
kibbled or extruded foods to help clean the teeth.

9. If you have ever read the introduction to my original post regarding
Bob's Chicken Gravy, I never intended it to be a REPLACEMENT food, only
a food to bridge the gap between a duck soup and a normal diet. When I
make it as a regular part of the diet, while the ingredients are the
same, it is NOT ground to teeny, tiny particles. What I do is chop the
chicken into parts about 2 inches square, bones included. The rest is
about the same, and I generally serve large chunks of skin, flesh and
bone in a light soup, not something which is double screened to remove
the tiniest bone bits.

10. Regardless of manufacturer, ALL high quality ferret foods are
acceptable for ferrets. For that matter, even the higher quality kitten
foods and most of the lower-end ferret foods provide acceptable
nutrition (not optimal, just acceptable). I know of no peer-reviewed or
juried report or publication which has been able to prove ANY ferret or
kitten food has harmed ferrets, regardless of my personal hypotheses and findings.

11. IF I was FORCED to pick a single dry, kibbled or extruded food for
my own ferrets, I would choose Totally Ferret, based on Dr. Willard's
level of research on ferret diets, high quality of prime ingredients,
relative hardness of food, and availability. Cost would not be a factor.
(This recommendation is NOT based on friendship nor professional
association, but on the scoring system I discussed above).

12. Diet is only a single part of a comprehensive health strategy for
ferrets. Just as important (maybe more so) are often neglected aspects
as reducing cage stress, moderate to heavy cardiovascular exercise,
daily intellectual stimulation, frequent positive bonding, and periodic
(as in regular) veterinary care. The best diet in the world will not
make your ferret healthy if these other areas are ignored.

Bob C