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Ferrets make fantastic pets, but they need a lot of attention, space, and socialization to be happy. Before buying a ferret, you need to be sure you have the space, time, and money required to raise a happy, healthy ferret.
Ferrets can live up to 12 years — will children become bored of pet ownership in that time?
Will they leave home or go to university, leaving their ferrets at home?
Will you always be able to provide the space ferrets need?
Think about everything and do your research before you commit to ferret ownership.
Before buying a ferret –
Things to consider before becoming a ferret owner:
Are you fully committed to becoming a ferret owner?
Ferrets, similar to chinchillas, can live for up to 12 years. Are you sure you are fully committed to caring for a ferret for that amount of time?
Do you have enough space for a ferret?
A ferret needs plenty of space to run about and climb as they are very active and like to charge around.
Can you afford to care for two ferrets?
Ferrets should be kept in pairs or ideally small groups of three or four. They love to have another ferret who they can play with and cuddle up to for asleep.
Can you afford a ferret?
Have you considered the costs involved in owning a ferret? Setting up suitable accommodation for your ferret can cost hundreds of dollars. There are neutering costs, food, annual vaccinations, flea treatment, vet check-ups, pet insurance, money for purchasing new toys, and the price for microchipping too.
Do you have time for a ferret?
Ferrets benefit from regular walks out on the lead so they can stretch their legs and run about. They also need daily health checks and cleaning out. That’s a big-time commitment.
About the ferret
The ferret is a domesticated mammal that belongs to the carnivorous Mustelidae family of animals, including otters, badgers, skunks, and weasels.
The ferret is a very close relative of the polecat.
Ferrets were first domesticated thousands of years ago and were commonly used for rabbit or rat-catching.
Although ferrets are still used for rodent catching today, they are increasingly kept simply as pets.
A pet ferret that is adequately fed and cared for can live for up to 12 years. The average length is 20 inches, including a five-inch tail, although males are significantly larger than females.
They sleep for around 14 to 18 hours a day and are most active around dawn and dusk.
Is a ferret right for you?
Ferrets are very energetic and make very entertaining pets.
A couple of common myths are that ferrets give a nasty bite (if properly handled, ferrets shouldn’t bite at all) and are very smelly (like a skunk, they can secrete odor via their anal glands when scared).
However, this isn’t necessarily the case as long as they are handled well and neutered at a young age.
Ferrets are pretty similar to cats in that they bond very closely with their owners and will enjoy a cuddle.
If you socialize your ferret correctly and provide him with the proper care and environment, he will make a lovely family pet.
Domestic ferrets come in a variety of different colors, including:
- Albino — white coat with red eyes
- Sable — dark brown body, black feet, and masked face
- Dark-eyed white — all white with dark eyes
- Black — black coat with no patterns
- Topaz — light taupe color
- Champagne — golden color
- Siamese/chocolate — the lighter color of sable, with brown feet
- Red — mahogany colored.
Housing your ferret
While ferrets may sleep for up to 20 hours a day, they are very active when they are awake.
Your ferrets will need lots of space — your ferret’s outdoor enclosure should be at least 12-feet long and include warm areas for him to sleep.
A large cage or hutch, a converted dog kennel, or a garden shed attached with a runway make ideal ferret enclosures. This should be full of enrichment items for him to play on, the most important of these being another ferret.
Ferrets should be kept in pairs or ideally small groups of three or four, so they have someone to play with and cuddle up to.
Ferrets are amazingly flexible and will be able to squeeze out of the smallest of spaces, so your housing will need to be very secure. Remember too that ferrets like to dig, so your enclosure will need a solid base. Provide a digging tray for your ferret, so he has somewhere to display his natural digging behavior.
Your ferret’s sleeping quarters can come in all shapes and sizes.
During the summer months, he may enjoy a hammock outside or a basket lined with an old rug, while in the winter, a nesting box stuffed with plenty of shredded paper, a fleece blanket, old clothes, or dust-free hay will be very welcoming.
Ensure that there is enough space in the sleeping areas for your ferrets to curl up and sleep together.
Covering the floor of your ferret’s enclosure with shredded paper makes it fun and exciting for him.
Enriching your ferret’s environment
Ferrets are one of the pets your child would enjoy playing with.
Their environment should be full of enrichment that is changed regularly to offer them a good stimulation experience. They love things to climb on, run through, and wrestle with.
- There are loads of things you can include in your ferret’s environment; shelving to climb on,
- hammocks to swing in,
- tubes and tunnels to run through,
- digging trays or sandpits,
- old boxes and buckets,
- old children’s toys,
- cat toys,
- cat towers and scratching posts, even
- toilet roll holders
- paper bags can be fun for a ferret.
Be inventive; something doesn’t necessarily need to cost loads to be a great source of fun to a ferret.
Litter training your ferret
Ferrets are very clean animals. They will choose one area of their enclosure for toileting and use that space only.
A litter tray filled with cat litter or newspaper placed in this area is the best way to keep your ferret’s enclosure clean and fresh.
Remember to clean the litter tray out every day and, in addition, remove any soiled litter from the tray every day and thoroughly clean it out every week.
Cleaning out a ferret enclosure
You should fully clean out your ferret’s enclosure once a week. You should:
- Remove and wash all the enrichment items and any blankets that your ferret has been sleeping in
- Remove all the bedding and wash the floor and surfaces with a pet-safe disinfectant
- Thoroughly clean out the litter tray, replacing the cat litter
- Refresh your ferret’s bedding throughout his enclosure.
Feeding your ferret
Ferrets are carnivores, and they feed on special complete food. This is either fed from a bowl or using a feeding ball to make it more interesting for the ferrets.”
Providing your ferret with good-quality ferret food will ensure he receives all the necessary nutrition, vitamins, and minerals he needs. Ferrets eat small amounts regularly. Split this daily ratio into smaller feeds which can be offered at various times during the day to ensure that he gets all the nutrition he needs and that the food stays fresh. Remember to feed your ferret the correct amount according to the food manufacturer’s guidelines to stop your ferret from becoming overweight.
Treating your ferret
The following items can be added to your ferret’s diet as an occasional treat or a nice reward after completing your ferret’s health check or trimming claws:
- Raw egg
- Boiled chicken off the bone (cooked bones can splinter and are dangerous to feed)
- a tasty vitamin supplement
- Kitten food.
Giving ferrets water
Water should be available at all times for your ferret in a large heavy dog bowl that will not tip over. You should replenish the water every day. Give them a large plastic paddling pool filled with shallow water, they will enjoy splashing about in this, and it will also encourage them to drink.
Caring for your ferret
Do ferrets need an annual vaccination?
Yes, ferrets should be inoculated annually against Canine distemper, a virus that has is often fatal in ferrets.
Do you have to worm a ferret?
Yes, your ferret should be wormed and treated for fleas every three months.
In the wild, ferrets would naturally wear their claws down by digging in the soil. Ferrets in captivity don’t get the chance to do this, so they will need their claws to check and trim regularly.
Should you microchip a ferret?
Many of the ferrets that are currently looking for new homes in rescue are strays.
If your ferret is microchipped and manages to escape from his enclosure or slip his lead while out walking, then he is much more likely to be reunited with you.
Prices vary, but it is generally around $30 to microchip your ferret. There are often schemes running at veterinary practices or rescue centers, which means you may get this done at a discounted price.
Is it true that ferrets smell?
Like skunks, ferrets can secrete a scent from their anal glands when scared or startled, although this is not as pungent or lingering as the skunk’s scent. Getting your ferret neutered can also help to prevent the typical ferret smell.
Should you neuter a ferret?
Yes, ferrets should be neutered once they are fully mature (at around six months for males and eight months for females).
Neutering prevents unwanted litter, protects against disease, and can make your ferret less smelly.
Do ferrets enjoy being handled?
Yes, ferrets are highly sociable animals and enjoy interaction with people. They tend to become very closely bonded with their owners but should never be considered entirely child-friendly.
There is always a chance that you might be the victim of a playful bite, especially when handling young ferrets.
Handling sessions with your ferret should start from a young age.
Keep handling and play sessions to a short period only to begin with so your ferret can become used to the process.
Ensure that you are handling your ferret in a safe, secure place, either inside in a ferret-proof room or outside in your garden on a well-fitted harness.
It’s best to play games with your ferrets using toys — cat toys are ideal. This way, your ferret will not associate your hands with something to be played with and nipped.
Ferret handling tips
Ferrets can be slightly short-sighted, so you must ensure they know you are there before you approach, or they may nip or become startled.
When picking a ferret up:
- Approach confidently and be sure of what you are doing
- Place your hand on your ferret’s shoulder blades, placing two fingers in front of his front legs. Wrap your fingers firmly around him, but don’t grip him too tightly. Keep your fingers away from his head and mouth.
- Once you have picked him up, hold him to your body so that he feels secure and support his back end with your other hand. Alternatively, let him rest his body on your folded arm.
- To relax your ferret, gently swing him from side to side.
- Remember always to supervise children handling ferrets.
Ferrets will also enjoy regular walks on a harness to run about, play games, and explore new places.
Being such mischievous characters, they will attempt escape from the harnesses, so it’s important to ensure that you use a well-fitted harness specifically designed for ferrets.
Ferrets don’t have a great homing system and, unlike dogs, are not likely to come when called.
It’s essential to keep your ferret on a harness when he is outside and make sure that he cannot slip it off quickly and get loose. Remember to have your ferret microchipped should he escape and become lost.
Do ferrets bite?
Yes, ferrets can and do bite, but this is rarely out of aggression; they more commonly bite when they are young and new to being handled or when they have become over-excited.
Is your ferret healthy?
How can you tell if a ferret is healthy?
It’s important to conduct a daily visual health check and a thorough health check once a week to identify any health issues quickly. Check that:
- The ears and eyes should be clean. Ferrets are prone to wax build-up in the ear, which can lead to ear mites
- Your ferret’s coats should be clean and shiny. Check the coat for signs of ticks and fleas, especially if you have a multi-pet household or you take your ferret out on walks regularly
- Check for any wounds, lumps, and bumps on your ferret — being so playful and energetic, they can be prone to injuries
- Check and trim claws when necessary
- Check that your ferret is eating an average amount
- Check your ferret’s teeth to ensure that they are in good shape.
Common ferret illnesses
A ferret kept in the correct environment and on the proper diet should be a very healthy pet with few health issues. Some of the conditions occasionally seen include:
- Parasites including ear mites, ticks, fleas, and worms are reasonably common in ferrets and should be checked for regularly. Ear mites are particularly prevalent and present in your ferret as scratching around the head area, shaking the head, and a build-up of wax in the ear canal.
- If any of these symptoms present themselves, take your ferret straight to the vet. Treat your ferret for worms and fleas every three months with a product suitable for ferrets that your vet recommends.
- Canine distemper. Ferrets should be inoculated against canine distemper, and booster vaccination is needed annually. Symptoms of distemper include loss of appetite, nasal discharge, blinking of the eyes, and a fever.
- Dehydration. Ferrets can become dehydrated quickly, so access to plenty of fresh, clean drinking water at all times is essential. Paddling pools in the summer are ideal for encouraging your ferret to drink and help him keep cool in the summer months.
- Diarrhea can be fatal in ferrets. Changes in diet can be the cause, but green or black diarrhea can indicate a severe issue. Monitor your ferret’s feces production and if you notice any changes, consult your vet immediately.
- Hair loss. Middle-aged ferrets often lose hair on their tail, but the reasons for this remain unknown. Hair should grow back within a few months. If it does not, or if the hair loss spreads to other parts of your ferret’s body, take your ferret to visit the vet.
- Overgrown claws can be very painful for a ferret and can cause issues when your ferret is walking. Claws should be clipped every four to six weeks to keep them comfortable and in shape.
- Flu. Just like us, ferrets can get the flu. There is no treatment for this, and your ferret should get over it on his own between five to seven days. Symptoms include sneezing, coughing, a fever, lethargy, wheezing, diarrhea, and a lack of appetite. If you suspect that your ferret has the flu, pay close attention to his symptoms; if they persist for longer than five days, consult your vet. Ensure that during this time, your ferret drinks lots of water to avoid dehydration.
- Hairballs and blockages. Ferrets love to chew, and blockages caused by the items he has chewed can be expected. Ferrets can also suffer from hairballs, especially when molting. Blockage signs include difficulty toileting, coughing, a lack of appetite, and pawing at the mouth. If you suspect a problem visit your vet.