Background Information on Ferrets
Ferrets are playful, friendly animals that can make excellent pets for the right person. Ferrets may not be the best pet for young children or in households with birds, rabbits, rodents, or lizards due to their predatory nature. Most ferrets sold in pet stores come from a commercial breeder where they have been neutered and de-scented. Even though they are de-scented, they still have a natural musky odor.
Diet Recommendations for Ferrets
Ferrets are strict carnivores and it is important to feed them appropriately to avoid many health concerns.
- We recommend feeding Marshall’s or Wysong Ferret diet.
- Due to their quick GI transit time, most ferrets eat many small meals in a day. So, food should be available at all times.
- Cooked meat, poultry, or fish can be offered as treats in small amounts.
- If you are interested in feeding a raw or whole prey diet, please discuss this with your veterinarian for additional information and suggestions.
- Clean, fresh water should be available at all times in a water bottle or heavy bowl. Rinse water bottles daily and clean bottles regularly.
Dog food, adult cat food, and vegetable-based diets are inappropriate for ferrets due to the high levels of vegetable protein and fiber which can lead to bladder stones.
Ferrets need to be housed in large, multi-level cages with wire sides. The cage needs to be durable and easy to clean with solid floors to prevent foot injury. The minimum cage size recommended for one to two ferrets is 24 x 24 x 18 in (60 x 60 x 45 cm). The cage should be placed away from direct sunlight and drafty areas.
- Cage Furniture:
- Ferrets enjoy burrowing and hiding, so provide bedding such as old towels or shirts for your ferret to curl up and sleep. A wide variety of sleeping materials are also commercially available including cloth tubes, tents, and hammocks.
- Make sure all burrowing material is free of loops, holes, or loose strings to prevent nails from getting caught.
- If your ferret chews on cloth, remove these items and provide a small cardboard or wooden box with clean straw or hay as a sleeping area.
- Litter Boxes:
- Ferrets normally select a latrine area by backing up to a vertical surface to eliminate. Most ferrets can be litter pan trained, especially when started at a young age.
- Place a small, low-sided pan in the cage corner your pet has already selected as a latrine.
- Provide a thin layer of litter. Pelleted litter such as recycled newspaper products or natural fiber litters are preferable as they are cleaner, absorbent, non-toxic if swallowed, and compostable.
- Ferrets do not cover up their waste so spot clean daily and change litter several times a week to minimize odor.
- Ferrets love toys, but be very careful when selecting them. Consider the individual ferret and their personalities, taking into consideration how destructive they are. Tunnel-type toys such as large cardboard mailing tubes, dryer hoses, paper bags, and PVC piping stimulate normal activity like burrowing.
- Do not give your ferret soft rubber, foam or latex toys since they are likely to be ingested.
Exercise and “Ferret Proofing”
Pet ferrets should be allowed time in a supervised, ferret-proofed exercise area for a minimum of two hours daily. Ferrets are very inquisitive and time and thought spent “ferret proofing” their exercise area should be similar to baby proofing. Make sure to get down on the floor and check under furniture for hazards. Ferret proofing an entire home is unrealistic for most households, so designate a specific play space for your ferret.
- Ferrets are capable of squeezing into very narrow spaces. Seal any opening with wire mesh or wood. Even holes as small as 2 x 2 inches (5 cm x 5 cm) should be blocked.
- Remove recliners and sofa beds from the ferret-proofed areas. The levers and springs underneath have crushed many curious ferrets.
- Prevent access to wires, sponges, rubber-soled shoes, pipe insulation, rubber bands, erasers, rubber toys or balls.
- Foam and rubber are the most common causes of GI obstructions in young ferrets. This is life-threatening and often necessitates surgery to remove the obstruction.
- Prevent your ferret from burrowing into the bottom of furniture or mattresses by covering these areas with thin plywood or Plexiglas. Burrowing not only damages furniture, but your ferret can eat the foam rubber inside and develop intestinal blockage.
- In addition to burrowing, they are adept climbers and will topple trashcans or gain access to restricted areas by climbing over barriers.
Ferret Behavior & Handling
- Ferrets are generally easy to handle, but like any animal they can bite when they become overstimulated or frightened. Do not hold a ferret near your face, especially if you are unfamiliar with its behavior. Ferrets also have poor eyesight and should never be placed where they might fall off a high surface.
- Ferrets normally play quite roughly with each other. Nipping is not painful for youngsters, because they are protected by their thick skin and fur coat. Kits normally grow out of their nipping stage, although some adults will occasionally nip for attention, a treat, or in an attempt to show dominance.
- Do not allow your young ferret to nip at you as tolerating occasional nips can encourage your pet to progress to painful bites.
- The most effective way to respond to nipping is to grasp your ferret by the loose scruff of fur over the neck, calmly ‘detach’ the ferret, then say “No” firmly and clearly while looking into your pet’s eyes. Then quickly divert the ferret’s attention elsewhere.
- This process may need to be repeated several times until the ferret learns what is expected of him.
- Products like Bitter Apple can serve as an excellent aid to prevent nipping. Spray Bitter Apple on your hands prior to handling or on your socks and shoes to deter ‘ankle biters’.
- Never hit or flick at a ferret (or any pet) for nipping as this can cause the ferret to bite out of fear.
- Toenail trims
- Ferret nails can grow quite long and sharp, becoming entangled in carpeting or cloth. Nail trimming is a fairly straightforward procedure, however, be sure to have an experienced person demonstrate toenail trims the first time. A treat can be used to distract the ferret during the procedure.
- Bathing ferrets is unnecessary unless they are truly dirty. Frequent bathing will actually cause your ferret to have a stronger musky odor.
Keeping your Ferret Healthy
We recommend yearly physical exams until your ferret is about 3-4 years of age. After that, we recommend physicals every 6 months. At these visits, we monitor for development of common diseases seen in aging ferrets, including heart disease, abdominal masses that can be suggestive of adrenal disease or lymphoma, dental disease and many others.
- Ferrets should be vaccinated against canine distemper virus and rabies virus. Most ferrets purchased from pet stores will have received their initial vaccine series at about 6 to 8 weeks. A booster vaccination is required by 10 to 12 weeks of age, and another at approximately 14 to 16 weeks of age. Repeat vaccines annually, thereafter.
- These vaccines are typically done in separate vet visits due to vaccine reactions. Talk to your vet for the best protocol for your pet.
- Heartworm prevention
- Ferrets are susceptible to heartworm. Your veterinarian can recommend heartworm preventive medication if your pet is taken outdoors routinely or if you live in a warm, humid environment.
Fun Ferret Facts
- Male ferrets are called “hobs”, females are “jills”, and juveniles are “kits”.
- A group of ferrets is known as a “business.”
- Ferrets live an average of 6 to 8 years.
Sources and Additional Information for Ferrets
- Lafeber Vet: http://www.lafebervet.com
- Veterinary Partner: http://www.veterinarypartner.com
- Marshall’s Ferrets: http://www.marshallsferrets.com