Ferrets have very high metabolisms. As a result, unlike dogs, they should have access to food at all times. Their digestive systems work quickly and they will typically process anything they’ve eaten within a few hours. For that, and other aspects, to function properly, they also need lots of water.
Ferrets, though they sleep about 18 hours per day, are typically extremely active for the hours they’re awake. They’re exploratory and love to move things around. That means they’ll tip a bowl over, shove food out or hide it, spill and splash water. Getting gear to minimize those problems, and keep the ferret’s quarters clean, can be a challenge.
Fortunately, as you would expect, there are hundreds of choices on the market today. There are more styles and designs of water dispenser and feeding mechanism available than you could even look at, much less buy.
Some food dispensers are just a simple bowl. While not ideal, if that’s what you prefer, at least make sure it’s sturdy, heavy and non-chewable. A heavy enough bowl can’t be tipped over, even by a jumping ferret. It should be non-breakable and made of material that the ferret can’t break off with his or her teeth. Ferrets love to chew on things!
At the same time, it should be easy to clean, non-toxic and not subject to rust. Wooden bowls, while attractive, can retain moisture providing a place for bacteria to grow. Cedar, for example, emits odors that are bad for the ferret. Plastic, on the other hand, doesn’t have any natural compounds to oppose the growth of bacteria and many metals rust. Marble or other hard stone is ideal, but harder to find.
Automatic feeders, typically plastic, are a good compromise. A J-feeder (so-called because of its shape) allows you to provide several days of food. It dispenses a small amount gradually and can be attached to the side of the cage, making it impossible to tip over. At the same time, the shape helps minimize spreading of food. There are several other designs of auto-feeders, or gravity feeders, as well.
Selecting a water dispenser employs many of the same criteria. Here, though, the spill factor is even more important. Make sure that anything you choose can’t be tipped over. Many ferret owners will use a ball-and-tube style dispenser for this reason. Ferrets learn to push up the ball, dispensing a small amount of water, then the ball drops back down to close the tube.
Some dispensers have small sections for carbon filtration, or dispensing liquid vitamin supplements and other things.
Outside the cage, a heavy, low crock bowl is a common choice. They work well, but getting one with a rubber bottom will help keep your floor from getting scratched. It’s important, though, to keep the ferret from chewing on the bottom, which requires a very hard form of rubber that may defeat the purpose.
Whichever style of food or water dispenser you select, be sure to keep it clean. At least once per week, preferably more often, it should be completely emptied and scrubbed out with a dish detergent. Rinse thoroughly. For glass or porcelain dispensers use a mild chlorine bleach from time to time, then rinse very well.