What Do Ferrets Eat In The Wild

Many people who are not familiar with ferrets may be wondering what do ferrets eat in the wild? Ferrets belong to the weasel family of mustelids. They have been domesticated for thousands of years by our ancestors and are commonly kept as pets.

The only place where you could find a “wild” ferret is probably New Zealand.

In the 1880s, ferrets, stoats, and weasels were imported from Europe to manage rabbit populations that were out of control.

The ferret was already well established in the wild by 1900, causing the decline of native birds. 

The Ferret population there consists of hybrids—a result of crossbreeding between ferrets and polecats.

They are doing so well that the Biosecurity Act in New Zealand now considers ferrets to be unwanted organisms. As a result, the sale and public acceptance of ferrets as pets have decreased.

Did you know: Male ferrets are called hobs, and female ferrets are called jills

Wild Ferrets

The only other remaining wild “ferret” is the North American black-footed ferret, which is endangered due to habitat loss.

And while they share the same name, they are actually not the same as our domesticated ferrets! They are relatives but genetically different enough to be considered different species.

The black-footed ferret lives in prairies and shrublands, which is what they need to survive for food.

The Black-Footed Ferret

According to the WWF, the almost extinct Black-Footed Ferret population now reaches close to 300 animals across Northern America again.

You can find them in the Northern Great Plains.

Fun Fact: The black-footed ferret has a mask on its face that makes it appear black-eyed. You could almost call it the black-eyed ferret instead.  

So What Do Those Wild Ferrets Eat?

The Black-Footed Ferret is entirely dependent on prairie dogs, ground squirrels, and a variety of small animals, with the prairie dogs being their food source number one.

They will also eat birds’ eggs, rabbits, mice, and other rodents found on the prairie. Their high prey drive is what makes them such good hunters!

That’s your answer: Wild Ferrets eat Prairie Dogs!

The black-footed ferret feeds on prairie dog pups and hunts adults or other prey when they can’t find their favorite food source.

Ferrets in the Wild

If a domesticated ferret escapes into the wild, it will have a hard time surviving. Humans have bred them for at least 2000 years. Yes, they do have hunting instincts but would not do too good on their own …

But: The hybrid ferret populations in New Zealand can survive on small animals. Such as

  • reptiles
  • frogs
  • birds
  • rodents

A “regular” ferret that had escaped from its home would probably (if at all) try to hunt those animals too.

But to be honest: Our ferrets were not bred to survive in the wild. They rely on us humans, and if at all, they would only survive for so long.

Ferrets Closest Relatives

  • European Polecats
  • Steppe Polecats
  • Black-Footed Ferrets
  • American Mink
  • American Martens
  • Sable Martens
  • Long-Tailed Weasels
  • Short-Tailed Weasel (Stoats/Ermines)
  • Weasels
  • Asian Small-Clawed Otters

Domesticated Ferrets Are Strict Carnivores too

Domestic ferrets are carnivores, just like their wild relatives. Ferret diet includes meat. That should be it!

Due to their short intestinal tracts and reduced absorption of nutrients, ferrets need a high fat and protein diet.

This is easy for their bodies to digest, and they are a good source of energy. Your ferrets’ diet should consist of 30 – 40% protein and 15 – 20% fat

Fun Fact: Usually, ferrets weigh between 1 and 5.5 pounds and measure 8 to 18 inches in length. In comparison to the size of their body, their tails are approximately half that length. 

Food Imprinting

At a young age (up to four months) ferrets learn what foods they can eat. They are influenced by the foods they came in touch with.

If you adopt or buy a kit, make sure to feed a variety of meats and dry food to your ferret. Once they are older, it will be much harder to get them to eat anything else.

Ferrets are strict carnivores and get most of their nutrients from a meat-only diet, the same way as their wild relatives in nature do.

They cannot digest plant foods, sugars, fillers, and carbohydrates. Actually its more than that. Sugars will make them sick. Really sick.

Sugar is the biggest enemy of the ferrets. To avoid putting your ferret in danger, try to keep their diets as sugar-free as possible.

How Long Do Ferrets Live?

The wild Black-Footed Ferret has a life expectancy of between four and six years. There is only an estimated population of 300 individuals left in the wild, with 200 living within captive breeding programs.

A pet ferret can live up to 10 years. This is heavily dependent on where you bought your ferret. Ferrets from reputable breeders tend to live longer and healthier lives than the ones bought from pet stores.

Summary

There are almost no “ferrets” living in the wild. The Black-Footed-Ferrets of North America are the last of their kind.

Black-Footed Ferret populations have decreased a lot in comparison to the 1960s because they were mistaken as carriers of livestock diseases like rabies.

The wild cousins of our ferrets mainly feed on prairie dogs or other small animals. If your ferret would escape into the wild, chances are that it would not survive for very long.

Leave a Comment