The word Ferret comes from a Latin word meaning thief. The origin of ferrets is unclear; however they have been dated back as far as the Ming Dynasty. They are not rodents; ferrets are part of the weasel family and are related to minks, and the Newfoundland martin. Ferrets are a social animal, and normally do well in pairs or small groups of three or four. Ferrets love to spend time with their Ferrants (ferret parent/owner) and will provide endless hours of entertainment. Ferrets can come in a range of personalities, colors and breeds. How will you know which one is right for you?
Choosing a ferret
Before getting a ferret, you must consider some important facts.
- Ferrets are a mid to high range maintenance pet (depending on how many you wish to own)
- Ferrets do have a distinct odor, but can be managed with proper cage cleaning and grooming
- Ferrets are NOT always a cuddly pet
- Ferrets can nip until taught not to
- Ferrets are Carnivores
- Time to spend with your ferret
- Possible future health issues
- Life time commitment (life span 8-12 years)
If you decide to adopt a ferret, ask the foster family if you can spend some time with the ferret first. Watch for playfulness, nipping issues, and general behavior. An experienced ferret foster parent can give you great insights to the ferrets overall behavior. Ensure the ferret is healthy and eating good food.
Housing your ferret
The best cage available is the Ferret Nation Cage by Midwest. These cages were designed just for ferrets and easy cleaning. The cage comes in one or two storey. If you have one to two ferrets a one storey is fine. 2-4 ferrets the two storeys is best, if you have more than 4 ferrets then two two storey cages will be needed.
Some people allow their ferret to live cage free, and roam their home like a cat of dog would. If you have the space and can ferret proof your home, then this may be an option.
Within the living space ferrets will need
- Hammocks and/or soft bedding such as old blankets, jeans and t-shirts ( NOT SHAVINGS)
- Large water bottles or bowls.
- Food dishes
- Litter boxes
Cleaning your ferrets cage is a thank less job. The cage needs to be cleaned every three to five days depending on the number of ferrets living in the cage. Ferrets will let you know when the litter box is past cleaning time, by not using it. Keep all litter boxes cleaned and filled with a non-clumping cat litter. The one must recommended is yesterday’s news; it is harder for ferrets to dig in and easy to clean. Daily scooping of the litter box will help keep down on odors.
Clean all bedding once a week and replace any bedding that is torn or fared, as this can lead to serious injury or death. Wash all levels with a vinegar and baking soda mixture. (1 cup vinegar to 2 tablespoons baking soda to 5 cups water)
Feeding a Ferret
Ferrets are obligate carnivores, plus they have a very short digestive track and will eat every three to four hours, so it is best to have food available constantly. For this reason, a ferret diet must be high in animal protein (35-40%), high in fat, and low in fiber (less than 15%). There are many ferret foods available but all foods intended solely for ferrets, are not created equally, so be careful what you are feeding your ferret. However the best readily available food here in Newfoundland are the 8 in 1 Ultimate Crunchy and Chicken Soup for the Kitten Lovers Soul. Yes kitten food can be used however it must be a very high quality food.
A large amount of water needs to be available all day. Ferrets can drink up to a litre of water a day. Treats are ok in small amounts. However you should read the package to ensure that vegetables and rice are not in the first three ingredients listed. Dehydrated chicken and n-bones are the most recommended.
Some people like to feed their ferret a diet of Live. Live is when the ferret only eats raw meat, such as chicken and fish. However because many of the ferrets here in Newfoundland are pet store animals, they may not like or take to Live feeding.
Go to Ferret Universe Ferret Food Chart for a downloadable pdf file:
There is much debate on grooming a ferret. However you will know when it is time for certain things to take places. Generally ferrets need their nails cut every two to three weeks. Their nails grow very fast and can get snagged, causing pain and sometimes resulting in a broken leg. Baby nails clippers work great. Also you may need two people.
Ferrets do need baths. The rule is three to four times a year and normally during and after shedding. This helps to keep oils and odor at a minimum. Not all ferrets like bath time. Some however love to swim. You will need to have plenty of towels on hand as well as either ferret shampoo or baby shampoo. Place your ferret in the tub with about 3-4 inches of lukewarm water. Ensure not to get the head or ears wet. Get your ferrets coat nice and wet; add a small amount of shampoo to the back of your ferret and wash. Rinse off your ferret very well. Dry with a towel as much as possible. Then lay several towels on the floor and enjoy the show. If you notice that your ferret is a bit oily but it’s not bath time yet, try a rice bath. Fill a box or container with uncooked rice, place your ferret inside and watch him have fun, while getting clean.
Ear cleaning should take place at bath times. You will need Q- tips and some water. Wet one end of the Q-tip, squeeze out the extra water. Whiling holding your ferret on your lap, quickly wipe the inside of the ear with the wet Q-tip. Then dry with the other end of the Q-tip. Do not go in to far.
Ferrets love to play. They are always playful no matter what age. Ferrets require up to 2 hours a day out of their cage for playtime. The best toy a ferret can ask for is you. They love to chase, climb and play hide and seek. If you want to add toys to the mix, empty cardboard boxes, old socks, wireless dryer hoses and hard plastic balls are great ideas.
Ferrets love to hide under and in things, so be sure to ferret proof any area you do not wish your ferret to get. Ferrets also love to steal things, shoes, wallets, iPhone cases, toys, and anything they can get their mouths on. Place any items that are not for your ferret out of their reach. Also watch where your ferret hides items, just encase you are missing something in the future.
Ferret health is a tricky.
Rat tail: this is a condition where all the hair falls off of the tail only. It normally happens during shedding and the hair will grow back on its own.
Blockage: this is when ferrets eat something they are not supposed to and it has blocked their digestive track. You should take your ferret to a vet if you suspect a blockage.
Diarrhea: ferrets can get diarrhea from eating something they shouldn’t, change in foods, stress and other health conditions. Eliminate the first few causes before contacting a vet.
Adrenal disease: the adrenal gland is making too much of not enough hormone. Bald tail and back end, diarrhea, weight loss and swollen genitals are signs of adrenal. Contact vet immediately.
Ferrets make a very distinct and recognisable sound. Many people refer to it as ‘dook’ or ‘dooking’. This is a happy sound and means your ferret is having a great time.
A puffy tail is a sign of anger or fear. It is best to leave your ferret alone if the tail is puffy or bushy.
Hissing means back off, I don’t like it, leave me alone.
Scream or squeal, is a sound of pain and your need to help your ferret right way.
Owning a ferret is not like owning any other pet. You will laugh, and you will get frustrated. But it is a joy to have them in your home.