- About Ferrets -
WHAT IS A FERRET?
Ferrets (Mustela furo) are intelligent, lively, furry mammals (they are not rodents!). Ferrets are the only domesticated member of the Mustelidae family of carnivores. Cousins of the ferret include the otter, weasel, mink, ermine, skunk and European polecat. An adult female weighs about 1-3 pounds; whereas males are larger and can weigh up to 3-5 pounds. Ferrets come in a variety of colors with Albinos (white with ruby eyes) being the original color of pet ferrets. Other popular colors are sable (with raccoon-like mask, chocolate (brown), silver, and cinnamon--just to name a few.
IS THE FERRET A WILD ANIMAL?
THE DOMESTIC PET FERRET IS NOT A WILD ANIMAL. (Domestic ferrets should not be confused with the wild, native Black footed Ferret of the western U.S., which is an endangered species.) These DOMESTIC HOUSE PETS (estimated to be over 6 million kept as pets in the U.S.) have no hunting instinct left; they will chase and catch rodents, but do not recognize them as food on which to survive. Ferrets are domestic in the truest sense of the word. If a pet ferret escapes outdoors, he/she can only survive for an average of three days (possibly less depending on environment/weather conditions).
DO FERRETS MAKE GOOD PETS?
If healthy, ferrets retain a youthful, playful nature late into old age, about 6 to 8 years. Ferrets are small, quiet and relatively easy to care for (similar to cats); but require daily human companionship and interaction (like dogs). In addition to the initial cost of purchasing (or adopting) a ferret, there is the financial commitment of investing in food, housing (cage, bedding and litter), toys, and veterinary bills. A ferret is not the ideal pet for someone who is away from home a lot because it requires daily commitment of time such as feeding, providing fresh water, cage cleaning, emptying the litter box, and providing exercise (time spent outside the cage). Time invested in handling your ferret combined with consistent, gentle training is important to ensure that your ferret becomes a friendly and playful pet.
DO FERRETS BITE?
A healthy, well-trained pet ferret should not bite. Like cats and dogs, ferrets need to be gently but firmly taught what is acceptable behavior. Any animal that is frightened, injured or in any type of pain may bite. NEVER put fingers into a ferret's cage as one may take a nip mistakenly thinking your finger is an edible treat.
ARE FERRETS NOCTURNAL?
NO! They will adjust their schedule to yours and be eager and ready to play when you are! (Ferrets can become depressed if left alone or caged for long periods of time.)
DON'T FERRETS HAVE AN ODOR?
Ferrets have a natural light musky odor. The odor is greatly minimized when the ferret is spayed or neutered. Bathing and diet also have an impact on their scent.
WHAT ABOUT DESCENTING?
De-scenting is not necessary for ferrets. It only adds to the trauma of an operation, $$ to the vet, and does not make a ferret smell better. Ferrets use their scent glands only when startled or threatened, then it's like a "bad passing of wind" and airs out in a few minutes; and won't stain or permanently mark your household. ...AND "DECLAWING"? Ferrets are not destructive by nature and declawing is not recommended.
ARE FERRETS "CAGE" ANIMALS?
For their protection, it is recommended that your ferret be kept in a ferret-proofed area of the house or a cage when your are not at home. Wire cages with multiple floors are what ferrets prefer. DO NOT USE AQUARIUMS (no ventilation; bacterial buildup) OR CEDAR CHIPS (respiratory problems)!!! Ferrets are inquisitive, fearless, and capable of getting into places that you never imagined. Ferrets should not be left in a cage for an extended period of time. The need exercise, affection and human companionship to keep them happy and healthy!
High heat and humidity can be a killer. Ferrets should be housed in a climate controlled environment (indoors). Ferrets have poorly developed sweat glands and will die very quickly from heat exhaustion/stroke. Do not place your ferret's cage directly in front of an A/C unit or a window with direct sunlight.
WHAT ARE PROPER CAGING REQUIREMENTS FOR FERRETS?
Select a roomy (18"Wx36"LX24"H), well-ventilated, (preferably wire mesh no more than l"x2"), cage with two levels as you will need room for a litter box as well as separate areas for sleeping, eating and playing. Water bottles are suggested as many ferrets enjoy "playing" with (or IN!) water dishes and easily tip the bowls over. Towels or old sweatshirts/t-shirts are fine for ferrets to curl up inside. They all love HAMMOCKS! Since ferrets do not cover their feces, a small amount of the new recycled newspaper pellet litter (or unscented, clay litter) is plenty. Be sure to place the litter box in a corner! Additionally, a small cat sized carrier should be purchased for trips to the vet. Never leave your ferret in the car on a hot day and always provide a hanging water bottle in the carrier during transport. It is extremely dangerous--to both YOU and YOUR PET--to leave your ferret loose when traveling by car.
ARE FERRETS TRAINABLE?
Ferrets are very clever. They can recognize their name and with patience be taught to respond to verbal commands. They can be successfully trained to use a litter box or "paper trained", but be prepared for occasional "mistakes". Many ferrets have learned a few simple tricks.
SHOULD A FERRET BE NEUTERED/SPAYED?
Many ferrets sold are already neutered/spayed. (MARSHALL FARMS, the largest ferret breeding facility in the U.S., tattoos two small blue/black dots in the right ear of ferrets already altered and de-scented before shipping to pet shops). If your ferret is not neutered/spayed, it is strongly recommended that this surgery be done by an experienced ferret vet. Having a ferret spayed or neutered will not alter his/her personality. The stress and strong, pungent odor of intact males (hobs) is not desirable for a household pet. For this reason, neutering is strongly recommended.
Besides, due to over breeding, there are already too many great ferrets in shelters across the country waiting for a good home. WARNING: Females (Jills) may go into heat as early as four
months of age and stay "in heat". If a female is not brought out of heat, she can develop an
infection due to the enlargement of the vulva. additionally a hormonal suppression of bone marrow causes "aplastic anemia" and the ferret can die.
WHAT DO THEY EAT?
Good nutrition means good health! A dry commercial ferret food (such as TOTALLY FERRET, MAZURI) sold by pet shops, veterinarians or feed stores is preferable. There are new ferret diets appearing on the market all the time, but the ones that are fish-based are not liked very well by ferrets. Most ferrets prefer shaped pieces of food and do not care for pellet foods for this reason. Alternatively, a high quality (at least 32% protein), meat-based cat food (like WYSONG NURTURE or VITALITY; IAMS KITTEN; PRO-PLAN GROWTH) is acceptable. Although ferrets do require added fat in their diet, consult with your veterinarian before providing fatty acid supplements such as LINATONE or FERRETONE. DO NOT USE ANY GROCERY STORE KITTEN/CAT FOODS BECAUSE THEY DO NOT HAVE ENOUGH MEAT PROTEIN REQUIRED FOR A FERRET'S DIET AND SUPERMARKET BRAND FOOD CONTAIN DYES, FILLERS AND PRESERVATIVES NOT GOOD FOR FERRETS. Since ferrets have a 3 hour digestive system, CLEAN, FRESH WATER AND DRY FOOD SHOULD BE AVAILABLE AT ALL TIMES. Treats such as fruits or vegetables should be given sparingly. Ferrets should not be fed dog food, chocolate, sweets, raw meat or dairy products!
DO FERRETS GET ALONG WITH OTHER PETS?
Since ferrets are so playful, they get along well with most larger animals. When introducing your ferrets to another pet, LIKE A CAT OR DOG, a proper period of supervision is necessary. INTERACTIONS WITH BIRDS, RODENTS, RABBITS OR REPTILES IS NOT RECOMMENDED.
WHAT HEALTH CARE DO FERRETS REQUIRE?
Ferrets should be vaccinated against canine distemper every year WITHOUT FAIL! Canine distemper is always fatal, and as it is an airborne virus, you can bring it to your ferrets from almost anywhere. FERVAC-D™ and Merial's PureVax are the approved distemper vaccines for ferrets. Many states and municipalities require a rabies vaccination as well. (On February 7, 1990, the USDA licensed the first rabies vaccine for use in ferrets. It is known as IMRAB-3™, a killed virus vaccine and is approved for use in dogs and cats as well.) Your ferret should be examined by a veterinarian at least once a year, which should include a dental checkup, fecal (stool) exam, and ears should be examined for ear mites. Annual heartworm exam and preventatives are a must in many areas.
WHAT ABOUT GROOMING?
Proper grooming and maintenance are vital to a happy, healthy ferret. Ferrets are naturally clean creatures but their nails should be trimmed and ears cleaned on a regular basis. Baths can be given if necessary--try to keep shampoo out of their eyes and noses. (When bathing beware: Ferrets like the taste of soap--don't let them eat any!) Ferrets will shed twice a year and should be combed to help remove loose fur. They can suffer from hairballs during shedding periods--give a hairball remover twice a week as a precaution.
WHAT ABOUT FLEAS?
Ferrets should be kept free of external parasites such as fleas, which they usually acquire from other household pets that go outdoors. If a ferret is subjected to a major flea infestation over a period of time, he/she can get "flea-induced anemia" and possibly die. Any product that is labeled safe for use in kittens is usually safe for ferrets as well. Use of shampoos containing pyrethrins is recommended. NEVER DIP A FERRET! CAUTION: All flea collars and canine (dog) flea products are TOXIC to ferrets!
WHAT DISEASES CAN FERRETS GET?
Ferrets are susceptible to canine distemper, ringworm, sarcoptic mange, flea bite dermatitis, and Aleutian disease. Cancer and urinary tract stones are also seen in ferrets. In addition, they can catch the flu from humans, so exercise caution when you are ill.
WHAT ABOUT FERRETS AND CHILDREN?
Children and ferrets can make wonderful playmates with proper supervision by a responsible adult. If your family has a baby or a small child (under 6 years of age), a ferret may not be a good pet choice as ferrets can sometimes play rough and nip tender skin, much like puppies/kittens do, until trained not to do so. Also, a small child could inadvertently mishandle a ferret. And lastly, children often lack the sense of responsibility required to care for a pet. A child should be taught respect for all animals and, specifically how to hold and care for a ferret. Small children should never be left unsupervised with ANY animals, no matter how trusted the pet, even for a few seconds.
HOW MUCH TIME WILL I NEED TO SPEND WITH MY FERRET?
Two or more ferrets will have a blast playing with each other all day long, but if you only have one ferret, you should spend at least an hour with him/her, and then give the ferret another hour or two of play on its own.
HOW DO I PREPARE MY HOUSE FOR A FERRET?
Ferrets are curious by nature and can craw through any hole the width of its head. Contact your local ferret Club or Shelter for helpful hints on "ferret-proofing" your house. Reclining chairs and sleeper sofas are responsible for high incidence of accidental deaths in ferrets before their 5th birthday, as ferrets are crushed in the mechanisms. These pieces of furniture cannot be ferret-proofed, nor can you rely on children or guests to refrain from using them when ferrets are about. Ferrets love to dig in dirt, so potted plants should be placed out of their reach. Ferrets can not climb as cats do. They are able to jump and get a grip on something, then will either pull themselves up...or objects will come down with them. Items such as trash cans, tablecloths, laundry baskets, drink glasses, etc. are fair game.
Ferrets enjoy tossing pillows off sofas, pushing papers off desks, knocking over wastebaskets, stealing dirty socks, and hiding anything they can carry under furniture. RUBBER TOYS (and even chewing on certain types of rags, cloth, rubber bands, pencil erasers, or Styrofoam