Ferrets make wonderful pets. They’re friendly, playful and their antics will make you laugh. They’re also one of the most difficult pets to own-because of the amount of cleaning and expense involved.
Average life span is about six to seven years in the U.S. Expect to spend an average of $500 or more on the ferret per year. If you’re lucky, it will be less than that. If you’re not, it will be a lot more. The ferret can seem fine one night. The next morning it can be sick and need $350 in treatment. You must be able to afford the expense or this is not the pet for you!
A ferret has the brain capacity of a two year old child and must get a lot of stimulation and play time, mental and physical. If it’s kept in a cage, it should be allowed 4-5 hours out of the cage every day, preferably two different times a day. This is not an option. Why have the pet if it’s going to be confined most of the time? The younger the ferret, the more time it needs out of the cage.
Stimulation includes: playing with other ferrets, humans & other animals outside of the cage or room; having different things to play in (plastic/ paper grocery bags, boxes, pillowcases, pillows in pillowcases, tote bags, shoes, etc.), toys to play with and hide, you rearranging things, mats and sheets to burrow under, etc. They get bored with the same thing, so keep things changed. If you have several plastic bags out for them to play with, change it to paper bags for a few days. Throw a pillow from the bed on the floor and let them explore it. My ferrets check out every bag of groceries and stuff that I bring home from the store (first I remove anything they can hurt or that can hurt them). They love rooting through everything to see what they can find. Just moving things around in the cage or room is good stimulation for them.
Ferrets can be litter box / newspaper trained to about 80%, sometimes more. You’ve got to figure at least 20% of the time they are going to use the floor somewhere. You have to love ferrets enough to be willing to deal with that. If you’re expecting the ferret to run around and find a spot where there’s a litter box or newspaper, it’s not going to happen. This is a down side to having them. Some ferrets will not use a litter box or newspaper if another ferret has used it or it’s been used too much. So, the litter box must be kept scooped and newspaper changed. Use only dust free litter and do NOT use shavings of any kind.
Ferrets have a very fast metabolism with a high energy level. They need to be able to run & play to burn off energy. They will sleep some while they are loose; it is still stimulation to be sleeping somewhere different and to be able to wake up and go play. A young ferret needs about EIGHT hours of run and play time. As they get older four to five hours of run and play time is good.
Because of the fast metabolism, they MUST have food and water available at all times and they should have a very high protein / high fat food. They can’t be fed on a schedule. A protein level as close to 50% is best. Of course, the better the food, the more expensive it is. The cost of good food is one of the other bigger expenses.
Ferrets are natural hunters and will kill birds and other small animals, including rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils, rats, mice, chinchillas and sugar gliders. It is their instinct to do everything in their power to get to these animals to kill them.
Ferrets do not tolerate heat well because they cannot sweat. They can have heat stroke and heat causes a lot of stress, which can bring on ulcers or irritable bowel disorder. The temperature should be 78 or below. Veterinarians recommend temps from 68 to 76 degrees.
When sleeping, they prefer to sleep in a dark area. They are naturally a burrowing animal, so they prefer the dark. They will burrow under or through anything they can, including throw rugs, newspaper on the floor, tubes, long boxes, etc. So, they should be provided with things to burrow through and under. The burrowing is one of the cute and fun things about them. They prefer to sleep in sleepsacks or closed in areas, or in a hanging hammock. There should be at least two sleepsacks or hammocks per ferret in the cage.
Nearly all ferrets available have been descented and spayed or neutered. In the U.S. this is done when the ferrets are very young and, unfortunately, this affects the overall health of the ferret over its lifetime.
Descenting is removing the musk glands from around the tail. This gets rid of most of the musky smell. They have other musk glands & will still have a slight smell to them. Some ferrets have a stronger odor than others. I had one that got a small odor within a week of having a bath and another that could go four months without any odor. If there is a ferret smell in the home, it’s usually because the bedding, cage, or litter boxes isn’t clean. The sleep bedding should be changed every week.
Ferrets should be bathed very little, preferably no more than every three to four months. Bathing removes the natural oils from the skin and fur, which can cause skin and coat problems, as well as excessive itching. Too much bathing actually makes the smell stronger because the musk glands give off oil for the dry skin and coat, which gives off the musky smell.
Nails grow very fast & must be trimmed every 10-14 days. It’s important nails are kept trimmed, as they get caught in bedding or carpeting, which can rip out a toenail or even break a toe or a foot. Grown out nails also cause an abnormal walk for the ferret, which can hurt the feet and legs.
Ferrets are very smart and very fast. If they can find a way to get out of the house, they will. Any open door is a chance for it to get out. Everyone thinks they’ll see a ferret escape or it can’t make it out the door fast enough. There are a lot of ferret owners who can tell you differently and have dead ferret experiences because of it. A child does not shut doors well or quickly and cannot look for a ferret trying to escape. You must make sure children cannot let the ferrets out accidentally. Every hole an inch or larger has to be covered or blocked or the ferret can squeeze through. Anything that can be scratched through must be blocked, especially dryer hoses and screen.
Ferrets can catch bacterial infections and the flu from humans. They cannot catch colds. Most humans don’t know if they have a cold, the flu or an infection. If you or anyone in your household has the symptoms of a cold or the flu, it can be life or death to the ferret, so keep the ferret away from the germs. If a person with cold symptoms has to go around the ferrets, hands should be thoroughly washed and the ferret kept completely away from the face. Even better is to wear a face mask. Do not cough or sneeze around the ferrets if you have cold symptoms.
If you have any questions about ferrets, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
History of Ferrets
Ferrets as pets are not a new phenomenon!
It is believed their domestication began over 2,500 years ago. While used as a working animal in some places, they are primarily a pet in the United States.
In 425 BC the Greek word “ictis” occurs in Aristophanes’ play: The Acharnians. This could have referenced a ferret, polecat or mongoose and the Romans probably used ferrets for hunting, a practice known as ferreting.
The name “ferret” is derived from the Latin furittus, meaning “little thief”. Very appropriate considering the joy they take in stashing their treasures away.
In 1389, a book entitled “The Hunt” by Gaston Phoebus includes instructions on using ferrets to hunt rabbits using muzzles and netting placed over holes.
1489–1490, Leonardo da Vinci’s painting “Lady with an Ermine” is likely a ferret. Its white color meant to represent chastity.
“The Ferreter’s Tapestry” is a 15th-century tapestry from Burgundy, France, showing a group of peasants hunting rabbits with nets and white ferrets.
Conrad Gesner’s “Historiae Animalium” of 1551 shows a ferret with a collar and leash.
In the United states, they were rare as pets in the 1980’s, but estimates in 1996 placed their domestic population around 800,000.
Anyone with a ferret knows that if something is missing, they need to check the hidey-hole! Ferrets are known to stash a variety of objects that they find interesting. This could be anything from car keys to their approved toys. Many like the rubber protective casing for smart phones, so those are fair game as well to be hidden.
Is your ferret jumping around and making a chucking/dooking noise? It isn’t angry, but just dancing for you to play with it! This is also called the weasel war dance.