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Do Ferrets Eat Snakes? Vet-Reviewed Facts

Jana Blagojevic

By Jana Blagojevic

black footed ferret in the field

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Dr. Chyrle Bonk Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Chyrle Bonk

DVM (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Here’s a question that’s up for interpretation. That’s because pet ferrets, as we know them, are a species that doesn’t exist in the wild, so it’s unlikely that a pet ferret would come across a snake unless you happen to have a pet one of those as well. To answer the question ‘do ferrets eat snakes?’ we’ll have to extrapolate from what we know about pet ferrets and some related wild species, the Black Footed ferret and European polecat. Wild ferrets are indeed able to kill and eat snakes.

ferret_divider_grey_hepper

Ferret Diet In the Wild

Again, it’s important to make the distinction that wild ferrets are a different species than our domestic pets. Wild ferret species include the Black Footed ferret and the European and Siberian polecat. It is believed that domestic ferrets descended from the European polecat.

Ferrets are obligate carnivores. They need meat to survive. In the wild, these animals largely prey on small mammals. Black Footed ferrets, in particular, eat Prairie dogs almost exclusively, while polecats tend to eat mostly rabbits. Their long, slender bodies are easily able to get into dens of Prairie dogs and rabbits making for an easy hunt. They may also devour mice and other small mammals along with the occasional bird, amphibian or even worm.

Snakes aren’t on their list of common foods, but based on their other regular prey, it would make sense that a wild ferret, or polecat, might eat a snake if the opportunity presented itself. Killing and eating snakes would likely be more of an act of defense of their den rather than a preferred hunt. Given a wild ferret’s muscular body and razor-sharp teeth, it would seem likely that a ferret could kill and eat an appropriately sized snake.

black footed ferret in the hole
Image Credit: Kerry Hargrove, Shutterstock

Ideal Diet for Pet Ferrets

On the other side of this are pet ferrets. Pet ferrets are slightly different from their wild ancestors because rather than hunting, they depend on their owners for food. The food they eat in captivity is very similar to what you would feed your cat, another obligate carnivore. They can’t digest plants effectively, so their diet should consist of only meat. There are a lot of commercial foods for ferrets that can be great, just be sure to always look for only meat ingredients and ask your veterinarian for recommendations.

You may find that some people recommend feeding cat food to your ferret, but we wouldn’t suggest it because ferret diets are often higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates. Long-term consumption of cat food can lead to nutrient deficiencies and digestive issues in ferrets.

Can Ferrets Kill and Eat Snakes?

So now that we’ve touched on the differences in diets between the Black Footed ferret and European polecat versus our domestic ferrets, we can see that there are some similarities and some definite differences. All species are obligate carnivores, need to eat animal protein. In the wild, this protein is procured through hunting. Since domestic ferrets are likely descendants of European polecats, it would make sense that they still harbor some of those hunting instincts. Even though those instincts aren’t necessary for their survival in captivity, they may still come out when confronted with animals such as snakes.

All this is to say that if your pet ferret were shown a snake, they may be able to kill and eat it, especially if they feel threatened by it. Of course, this would depend on the size of the snake. Pet ferrets may have come from great hunters, but they will more than likely back down from snakes that are a lot larger than they are.

black footed ferret running
Image Credit: Kerry Hargrove, Shutterstock

Predators of Ferrets

Fortunately, ferret-snake interactions are few and far between. However, one of the worst enemies of wild ferrets are birds of prey, such as eagles and owls. Bobcats, badgers, and foxes are also considered predators of ferrets.

It’s also important if you keep a pet ferret with other animals, such as dogs, you should carefully introduce them to one another to avoid any fighting or unwanted behavior from either of them. Only allow interactions under supervision and make sure your ferret has a safe cage to be in when you’re not around. And if you have a pet snake along with a ferret, we suggest you keep them separated.

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Final Thoughts

Even though ferrets look very sweet and cute, they have descended from very skilled hunters, the European polecat. The polecat, along with a close relative, the Black Footed ferret have skill and ferocity which takes them up against different kinds of small mammal prey. This may even include snakes from time to time. With this in mind, it’s important to keep pet snakes and ferrets separated and even use caution and supervision when allowing ferrets and other pets, such as dogs and cats, to interact as well.


Featured Image Credit: Kerry Hargrove, Shutterstock

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