Ferrets


Ferrets make great pets and have an average lifespan of 7 years. However, they're not for everybody. Read this info and see if they're right for you!

Before buying--

  • One or a pair? This depends on how much time you have to spend with your pet. If you have little time then get 2 (or more).

  • Male or female? Both make great pets. It's not the sex of the animal that matters, it's the personality. However, unneutered males can be more aggressive. Males are generally larger and have a more musky odor (but this depends on if you have him neutered). Unaltered males are called hobs, unaltered females are called jills, babies are called kits, altered males are called gibs and altered females are called sprites.

  • Different kinds or colors: Ferrets come in two basic coat lengths, standard and angora (which is long haired). Colors include: siamese (light colored animal with legs, mask, and tail showing darker complementary color), sable point which is sometimes just called sable (undercoat is white-cream, guard hairs and points are dark brown), white footed sable (same as sable but with four white feet), chocolate point (undercoat white-cream, points and guard hairs milk chocolate), butterscotch (undercoat same as sable, guard hairs and points are butterscotch vs. black), blue point (undercoat white to blue-white, guard hairs and points slate blue), red point (undercoat white to buff, points and guard hairs from red to rust to reddish brown), cinnamon (undercoat white or off white, guard hairs are reddish brown), lilac (undercoat white to blue-white, points pinkish or lavendar gray), albino (white with red eyes--white coat turns yellowish when mature), black self (solid black), blue self (solid blue), red (undercoat buff to orange, points and guard hairs orange to red), mauve (undercoat white to cream, points and guard hairs pinkish tan), silver (undercoat white to cream, points silver to silver-tan, guard hairs tipped with gray), bi-color (any color and white distributed in a 50/50 ratio), silver mitt (any color except albino or white, may have white paws, body markings, shields, tipped tails), and white with dark eyes.

  • Tips on purchasing: Have everything set up before you bring your ferret home. When picking out a ferret check the cages for loose stools, if the ferrets have diarrhea it's best not to purchase one of them. Healthy ferrets should exhibit inquisitive behavior with no lethargy (unless it has just woken up) or listlessness. If you buy from a petstore find out what shots if any have been given and if the animal has been neutered/spayed and descented.

  • Illegal?? Yes, ferrets are illegal in some states. Please check with your local (state, county, and city) laws before purchasing a ferret.

Basic Needs--

  • Cages: While you can keep your ferret(s) outside I don't recommend it as they are very susceptible to weather conditions (heat of 80+ degrees F. and extremely cold temperatures), they're escape artists, they're also susceptible to heartworm and other parasites, and you'll miss out on all of their antics. There are commercial cages that can be purchased just make sure the cage has wire that are somewhat close together as ferrets can squeeze into or out of holes the size of their head. Try to buy a cage with multiple levels and a detachable bottom (it's easier to clean). The cage should be large enough for your ferret (when it is an adult) to stand up on its hind legs without bumping its head, and to include a litter box.

  • Food: There are several different kinds of commercial diets for ferrets (Totally Ferret, Marshall Farms) on the market. The food needs to be high in protein so it's best to feed them a food designed for them. Food needs to be offered throughout the day because your ferret will eat small meals all day long. It's best to offer the food in a heavy earthenware bowl because then it can't be tipped. Water should be dispensed in a bottle. Many treats are available everything from commercial treats (Bandits) to raisins and cereals. Trial and error is the best way to find out what your ferret will enjoy--**stay away from chocolate**.

  • Toys: Most cat toys are great for ferrets. **Beware of feathers, as they can be choked on** A fishing pole type toy is great for interaction with your pet. In actuality ferrets will make their own toys out of things you have around the house. Things such as laundry baskets, cardboard boxes, socks, and you yourself will give your pet hours of entertainment. **Do not get soft plastic toys** Keep in mind when you let your ferret out of the cage that everything will seem new to it again and it will have to sniff everything out...old toys will seem like new ones.

Training--

  • Acclimation: When you bring your ferret home put it in the cage to explore and to settle in to its new environment. You can talk to it softly in this time. Most likely it will want to take a nap so while you let it rest you can start ferret-proofing the room. **Make sure there aren't any small objects that can be injested on the floor, that all holes or areas you don't want them to go in a room are blocked off.** Ferrets take a lot of time, because socialization is a must. Ferrets thrive on human contact. You can start playing with your pet on the second day (ferrets tend to settle in nicely) to get it used to you. I suggest letting it out a few times a day in small amounts of time, that way you'll be able to get yourself in shape for playing with your ferret and give your new baby plenty of time to rest and get aquainted with everything.

  • Handling: Generally ferrets aren't scared of humans, but they are curious. If you hand feed your ferret some treats your ferret will associate you with good things and look forward to seeing you. It's really not hard to train a ferret because they are very quick learners. When picking up your ferret be sure to support its chest and its rump. If you get a baby (kit) it might nip you when playing or while you hold it, but it just has to learn it can't bite you as hard as it bit its littermates. When or if (some ferrets never bite and some never stop) it bites you tell it "NO" sharply. The best way to avoid being bit is not to roughhouse with the ferret.

  • Dangers of being on the loose: Becareful to have small swallowable things picked up off the floor (anything you wouldn't want your baby to swallow should be picked up). Make sure there aren't any holes for your pet to get into (ferrets can squeeze into a hole the size of their head). Also beware of open doors and windows. Ferrets aren't much for chewing but some have a fascination with electrical cords. Another danger is aggressive pets (dogs and cats in particular). Some words of advice: Just when you think you've got your ferret figured out and think it's predictable...they'll surprise you.

  • Other pets and children: While your ferret may get along with dogs and cats it's best not to leave them unsupervised. As for animals such as rats, and rabbits...not a good idea as ferrets were used...get this...to ferret them out of holes. I don't generally recommend getting ferrets if you have children under the age of 5, because accidents happen. Kids under 5 tend to be a bit more rough and don't always understand that ferrets can be hurt by their "hugs", plus kids that age tend to roughhouse a little bit more and that usually leads to bites. So it's best to supervise your small children when or if you have them around ferrets.

Health--

  • Illness: A healthy ferret should be inquisitive and it's fur should be soft with a sheen, no bald spots or scaly patches. Check the teeth for chips. Eyes should be clear with no discharge. Ears should be clean. The nose should be moist if the ferret is awake. The abdomen should not be swollen. Rapid heaving of the chest may indicate lung or heart problems. If your ferret has the opposite of what I've listed you need to get ahold of a vet. Ferrets require canine distemper shots (it's a different shot than what dogs get though...one is Fervac-D) when they are 8 weeks old and 3 months old, and annually after that. Rabies shots (one shot is called Imrab-3) are also recommended at 6 months of age and annually after that. A distemper shot is very important, because distemper can be brought into your home on your clothes, shoes or hands, and is fatal.

  • Cleaning: The ferrets litter box should be cleaned out at least once a day, and the entire cage should be cleaned out once a week. You can give ferrets bathes but don't give them too many as it can dry out their skin (which in turn causes them to create more oils, which can make them stinkier). One or two bathes a year will suffice unless your ferret gets really dirty. Ferrets need to be brushed every few days when they're getting in new coats (more if they're angoras) every spring and fall/winter. Of course brushing everyday won't hurt. Ears need to be cleaned out whenever they are dirty and nails need to be trimmed when you notice they're getting long.

  • Breeding: If you're not going to breed it's very important to get your female spayed, because if she is not bred when she comes into heat she can develop aplastic anemia and it is fatal. Males that are neutered are less aggressive and less smelly. I don't recommend breeding for the average ferret owner because too many things can go wrong and there are already tons of ferrets out there looking for homes. However, should you decide to breed, the female should be at least 4-5 months old and be bred on the 10th day of her heat cycle to a male 9 months or older. The male and female should be left together for 48 hours. Then return the male to his cage. Gestation is approximately 42 days. About a week or 10 days before your jill's due date provide her with a nesting box with a small towel. Birth will take about 2 hours. Don't disturb the female and kits for 48 hours, then look for dead babies and remove them. Don't clean the nest box for 3 weeks. It's vital to have contact with the kits from 3 weeks on to domesticate them. At the age of 8 weeks the kits can be adopted out.

For more information please check out my pet resources page!

There's a disease that's on the rise that all ferret owners need to become aware of...it's called Aleutian Disease. There's not a lot of information out there about AD and research is desperately needed. Please do your part and at least read about Aleutian Disease!


Dooks88, 2000

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