The digestive tract of ferrets is anatomically simple, with no caecum, ileocolic valve or external differentiation between the transition of ileum and colon. The species has a short large intestine that provides minor contributions to the digestive process. Aiming to better understand the digestibility efficiency of ferrets, the present study compared the digestibility of extruded diets with different amounts of macronutrients fed to dogs, cats and ferrets. Three formulations for cat maintenance were used (values in % of DM basis): high carbohydrate (HC; nitrogen-free extract (NFE) = 54 %, protein = 31 % and fat = 8 %); moderate carbohydrate (MC; NFE = 37 %, protein = 41 % and fat = 10 %); and low carbohydrate (LC; NFE = 19 %, protein = 46 % and fat = 23 %). Apparent total tract macronutrient digestibility was determined by the method of total collection of faeces. Results were compared by ANOVA, considering the diet and species effects and their interactions. Means were compared by the Tukey's test (P < 0·05). Dogs and cats presented similar food intakes, but ferrets consumed almost two times more food (g/kg body weight). Species × diet interactions were verified for apparent total tract digestibility (ATTD; P < 0·05). Ferrets presented lower DM digestibility than dogs and cats for all three diets (P < 0·05), lower NFE digestibility than dogs for the three diets and lower NFE digestibility than cats for the HC and LC diets (P < 0·05). For crude protein (CP), ferrets presented lower ATTD than dogs and cats (P < 0·05), whereas for fat, dogs and ferrets presented similar ATTD, and higher values than those presented by cats (P < 0·05). Kibble diets had a lower DM, CP and NFE digestibility when fed to ferrets compared with dogs and cats. Fat digestibility was similar between dogs and ferrets and higher than that for cats.
Keywords: ATTD, apparent total tract digestibility; BW, body weight; CF, crude fibre; CP, crude protein; Canine nutrition; Digestibility; Feline nutrition; HC, high carbohydrate; LC, low carbohydrate; MC, moderate carbohydrate; Mustelidae; NFE, nitrogen-free extract.