There are two types of ferrets found in the US. The domestic or European ferret and the black-footed ferret. The black-footed ferret is the only one native to the US and is highly endangered. The domestic ferret was brought over from Europe about 300 years ago by English settlers and is the type of ferret that is commonly kept as a pet.
Ferrets are becoming more popular as pets. They are small in size and easy to care for. They are very curious animals and can be very entertaining to watch and play with.
Ferrets are not recommended as pets for small children due to the severity of their bite if they are frightened or mishandled.
Ferrets are carnivores (meat eaters) similar to cats. They have highly developed anal sacs or scent glands that secrete a fluid called musk. The glands are usually removed in pet ferrets at the time of neutering. The sebaceous glands in the skin also add to the musky odor.
Ferrets can be bathed about once a month with a mild pet shampoo that has skin and coat conditioners. This will help control the musky odor. Use a soft brush on the coat. The nails need to be clipped frequently to prevent injuries. Brushing your ferrets teeth routinely will decrease tartar buildup and gum disease.
Ferrets are very active and inquisitive. They should not be housed 24 hours a day. They should be supervised in a ferret proof exercise area a minimum of 2 hours a day.
Cage size should be a minimum of 24 in. X 24 in. X 18 in high. Aquariums are not suitable due to inadequate ventilation.
Ferrets are able to squeeze through very small spaces so build a cage that has small openings that they can’t get through or get stuck in. Wire can be used if it is sturdy enough that the ferret cannot bend it. The floor should be solid and can be covered with newspaper. Remember these are very active animals with a large space requirement to keep mentally stimulated, with a large variety of play items that are safe. Anything easily torn apart and swallowed should not be provided. DO NOT USE CAT LITTER IN LITTER BOX. Use Carefresh bedding or Yesterdays News or other pelleted litter. This should be changed frequently.
Ferrets are strict carnivores (they are meant to eat whole prey items).
Ferrets should be fed a good quality commercial ferret such as Totally Ferret or Marshall Ferret food. You should also give them a hairball remedy such as Laxatone once weekly to prevent hairballs. Avoid overfeeding fatty acid supplements which can cause obesity. Avoid treats that are high in carbohydrates. Ferret or cat treats that are freeze dried muscle or organ meat are acceptable treats for ferrets.
Ferrets are usually friendly and rarely bite. Although, it’s not a good idea to hold them close to your face because they have poor eyesight and may mistake a nose or an eye for a play thing. The best way to carry a ferret is to place your hand underneath, between the front legs with the body stretched along your forearm. They can also be gripped by the scruff of the neck, supporting the body. This is not painful and causes the ferret to relax. They are easily distracted with food if you need to get their attention quickly.
When your ferret is out of it’s cage, be sure to watch it closely so that it doesn’t get into anything harmful. They are very quick, curious animals and can easily get into trouble if left unsupervised.
Ferrets should have a yearly physical exam just like other pets. They should be checked regularly for parasites such as ear mites and intestinal parasites. They will normally produce a lot of brown ear wax which can be wiped out with a cotton ball to keep the ears clean. They also may need annual vaccinations.
Routine teeth brushing will keep the gums healthy and decrease dental disease. It is important to have your ferrets teeth and gums evaluated at least yearly by your veterinarian to detect dental disease and address the problems with routine periodontal cleanings and possibly teeth extractions as needed.
Ferrets should be spayed or neutered. Usually this is done before they are purchased. Females that are not spayed will go into prolonged estrus causing fatal anemia if they are not bred. It is important to be sure that she has been spayed.
Ferrets over two years of age are much more prone to medical problems and your veterinarian should be consulted if any unusual symptoms occur. More frequent check ups are also a good idea to catch problems early.
Consult your veterinarian if you notice any of the following symptoms:
- Sudden weakness/loss of balance
- Hair loss
- Itching/dry brittle hair coat
- Weight loss
- Abnormal lumps or lesions on the skin
- Swollen vulva
- Lethargy (lack of energy)
- 8 Weeks– 1st distemper
- 11 Weeks– 2nd distemper
- 14 Weeks– 3rd distemper and rabies
- Booster both distemper and rabies yearly
- A yearly physical and dental exam is recommended at the time vaccinations are given. Routine dental cleanings should be done as needed for control of tartar buildup and gum disease.
After 2 years of age:
- Physical exam every 6 months
- Continue vaccinations
- Complete blood count annually
- Fasting blood glucose check
After 5 years of age:
- Physical exam every six months
- Vaccinations yearly
- Complete blood panel every 6 months
Things to avoid:
- Electrical cords
- Open dryers
- Unlatched screen doors
- Small pipes, escape holes
- Soft rubber or latex the ferret can chew and swallow
- Ferret balls
- Fabric covered cat toys
- Knotted cotton rope
- Socks tied in a knot
- Empty mild jugs with ferret sized holes cut into them
- Empty paper bags
- Cardboard boxes with small holes cut into sides
- PVC tubing large enough so ferret wont get stuck
- Waste baskets containing small items to play with
Do not leave your ferret unsupervised outside of the cage. They are very quick, curious animals and can easily get into trouble.