Ferrets rely on having a complete and balanced diet to stay healthy in captivity. They are naturally carnivorous animals that should get most of their nutrients from animal-based foods rather than fruits or vegetables. However, you might be wondering whether you can offer your ferrets fruit like strawberries as an occasional treat.
Strawberries are juicy fruits from herbaceous perennial plants that are rich in vitamin C and antioxidants. They are low in fat and rich in fiber while containing complex carbohydrates and natural sugars.
It can be tempting to give ferrets strawberries as a treat, but are they truly safe for ferrets to eat? But no, it is not safe nor recommended to give fruit to ferrets.
Are Strawberries Safe for Ferrets?
It is not safe to give strawberries and most fruits to ferrets often. Although strawberries are non-toxic and will not likely harm your ferret if they eat small amounts of them occasionally, feeding strawberries to ferrets might do more harm than good. Ferrets do not need fruits in their diet nor reap the benefits from the fruit like most herbivorous and omnivorous animals would.
Below are six main reasons why ferrets should not be eating strawberries as a regular part of their diet, whether it is in a raw or dried form.
1. Ferrets are obligate carnivores.
The number one reason ferrets should not be eating strawberries even as a snack is because they are obligate carnivores. They do not naturally eat fruits and vegetables. Instead, the majority of their diet comes from meat. A ferret’s wild ancestor, the polecat, are carnivorous hunters that feed on live prey animals like rodents, poultry, and snakes. They enjoy feeding on all parts of the prey animals, including their feathers, skin, fur, organs, and small bones. Ferrets get all of their necessary nutrients from meat and do not require any plant-based foods like fruit in their diet at all.
2. They cannot digest fruit properly.
As carnivores, a ferret’s digestive system is not designed to digest fruits like strawberries. Instead, they need to eat a highly digestible meat-based diet that is low in sugar and carbohydrates, while being high in protein and fat. Most ferrets digest their food within 3 to 4 hours as their food has a relatively fast transit time.
Furthermore, ferrets do not have a cecum or ileocolic valve, which are parts of the digestive tract that aids in the digestion of plant-based foods. They have short intestines and lack the necessary enzymes to break down the complex carbohydrates, fiber, and sugar content of strawberries.
3. May lead to unstable blood sugar levels.
Ferrets have fast metabolisms and generally need to eat small meals throughout the day. However, their small meals should consist of species-appropriate foods like meat and not fruit. If you start replacing your ferrets’ meals with fruits instead, this could be risky for their health. It might even lead to erratic swings in their blood sugar, especially if they suffer from hypoglycemia.
Consult with your ferret’s veterinarian about including new foods, including treats, into their diet, especially if they have an existing health problem that requires specialized eating habits.
4. Could cause (or worsen) gastrointestinal problems.
Ferrets are sensitive to abrupt changes in their diet, which may cause them to suffer from diarrhea and abdominal pain. Since strawberries are already difficult for ferrets to digest, gastrointestinal problems may be expected. The combination of natural sugars like fructose along with the strawberry’s water and fiber content is a recipe for diarrhea. Moveover, dehydration is a serious risk for ferrets who have diarrhea and often requires prompt veterinary treatment.
5. Strawberries do not offer much nutritional benefit for ferrets.
Strawberries are packed with vitamins and minerals that would benefit animals that could digest the fruit. However, since ferrets cannot digest strawberries properly, their bodies do not process the nutrients that would make strawberries worth feeding to ferrets in the first place.
6. Tooth decay.
It is not normal for ferrets to eat fruit in the wild, and the acidic nature of strawberries can have a negative effect on your ferrets’ dental health. If your ferret is consuming a lot of sweet and acidic fruits, their tooth enamel may begin to erode and show signs of damage. potentially leading to further dental disease. Ferrets have very sharp incisors, molars, premolars, and canines which they use to kill and consume meat from prey animals. Their teeth are made for grinding up bones and tearing off chunks of flesh, and not for consuming fruits.
What Should Ferrets Be Eating Instead?
Instead of strawberries, ferrets should be eating a carnivorous diet consisting of animal-based ingredients. There are many commercial diets available. Please refrain from feeding cat food, while it may work in a pinch, there are diets better suited for ferrets available.
A ferret’s diet should be high in both animal protein and fat and low in fiber at no more than 4%. Ferrets cannot handle large amounts of fiber, complex carbohydrates, and sugary foods in their diet. Therefore, those types of foods (which include strawberries) should not form part of your ferret’s diet, even as a treat.
Ensuring that your ferret is fed a varied diet is essential for their health and well-being, but the variety should come from meaty foods, plain cooked chicken, and not from fruits or veggies. Furthermore, ferrets should have constant access to fresh water in a bottle or bowl.
While sweet fruits like strawberries are often given as a tasty snack to most pets, ferrets should be an exception. This is primarily because fruit is not good for ferrets and is not beneficial for their long-term health. Ferrets should rather be fed safe and healthy treats like plain cooked chicken or meaty baby food instead.