The decision to add a ferret to your family must never be made on impulse. Prospective owners are encouraged to learn everything they can before deciding to purchase. To many people, ferrets make the perfect pet, but as with cats and dogs and birds and iguanas etc., ferrets are not for everyone. Please, for the sake of the ferret, consider the following information before you make a decision.
Most unwanted ferrets are bought from pet stores which do not provide their customers with adequate information. This leads new owners to become "disconnected" from their new companion and doomed to failure from the start. These people become frustrated with their ferret and either give it away to someone else who has no knowledge of ferrets or they abandon it to a Humane Society. Even worse, many ferrets are locked in cages for the rest of their lives, completely isolated from human interaction while others are simply dumped outdoors to fend for themselves. Please remember, ferrets cannot survive in the wild and will die within days if not found.
Anyone who buy or sell ferrets should have knowledge and in-depth experience with ferrets of all ages. Only people who have lived with ferrets can offer advice on keeping ferrets. Sales clerks in pet stores who have never lived with a ferret cannot offer personal advice or answer questions regarding ferret behavior.
Ferrets are not a child's pet nor a bedroom pet.
Parents should not consider buying a ferret for a child unless it is a wanted pet by the entire family. Too often ferrets are given away because "the thrill" has worn off for the child and the parents have no interest in the animal. It is our belief that no child is mature enough to care for another creature's daily needs. Sooner or later the child will fail in his or her duties and the parent's threat to get rid of the animal will be carried out. As with all animals, children must be supervised when playing with ferrets.
Are you willing to meet the financial obligations?
As with any animal, the cost of upkeep will far exceed the initial cost. You must be prepared to supply your ferret with premium cat food and a good quality litter. Ferrets require annual trips to the veterinary clinic for a check-up and a distemper shot (canine distemper is 100% fatal in ferrets).
As with all animals, ferrets are susceptible to certain diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, dental disease, pneumonia and colds, to name a few. It is important to take time out each day to observe your pet's physical condition and behavior. Any changes in your ferret's health should be dealt with promptly. Intestinal blockages in ferrets are serious and can lead to death if surgery is not performed. Would you be willing to provide your ferret with the necessary medical care should expensive surgery be required?
Do you have time for a ferret?
Ferrets are delightful, social creatures who crave human attention. They must not be confined to a cage without the opportunity for exercise and interaction with you at least twice a day for several hours. You must be prepared to make adjustments in your daily life to accommodate the needs of your ferret. If you do not allow your ferret the exercise and companionship that it needs on a daily basis, it will become unhappy and stressed and will suffer from physiological and mental problems.
Are you willing to house your ferrets properly?
Ferrets do not mind being housed in a cage as long as they are allowed out for daily regular exercise. A proper cage is a must and should be big enough to hold a large litter box, food and water dishes and plenty of room for bedding. (Rabbit cages are too small for ferrets). On the other hand, an ideal living arrangement for ferrets is to house them in a small ferret-proofed room. This does not mean that they should be confined to the room for their entire existence. Ferrets are people-oriented. They must have human contact every day and become depressed when constantly left alone. They must be allowed to run and romp with you at least twice a day.
All areas where ferrets are allowed to play must be ferret-proofed.
Most ferrets love the company of other ferrets and will spend hours chasing and wrestling each other. Says one ferret owner, "I can't imagine having only one ferret. In fact, even though many sources say that one ferret alone will be very happy if you give it attention, compared to the fun of two (or three) can have, a single ferret owner is missing out big time. In fact the tactics used by ferrets when three of them are playing at the same time are quite amusing. (Probably because of the amount of backstabbing used)." Writes an experienced ferret fancier, "I have maintained for many, many years that the worst number of ferrets one could have in terms of demand on your time and patience is one."
Although some books indicate that an adult ferret will accept another after a short adjustment period, our experience has shown that this is not always the case. Some ferrets, when introduced to each other, become friends immediately, yet for others it takes weeks and even months of patience on the part of the humans before the ferrets will accept each other. In other cases, some ferrets will simply never learn to accept another. The bottom line is that it is much easier to integrate ferrets when they are younger rather than later after one has established territory.
If you are away from home all day, a pair of ferrets will keep each other company.
Ferrets are part of the Mustelidae family - their relatives include otters, minks, weasels and ermines. Unlike other members of their family, ferrets are not wild animals. In fact, ferrets have been so thoroughly domesticated that their ability to survive in the wild is virtually non-existent. They are intelligent, curious and joyful animals who love to run and romp and play throughout their entire lives. The males generally weigh 3-4 pounds and the females 1-3 pounds. Their average life span is 5-7 years. Ferrets spend 18-20 hours a day sleeping regardless of their age. For this reason they make perfect pets for people who are not home during the day. Many people who are allergic to cats and dogs will find that they are not allergic to ferrets.
Because ferrets have a high metabolic rate and eat 9-10 small meals a day, food and a constant supply of fresh water must be made available at all times. Water is essential as ferrets are prone to dehydration. The bulk of a ferret's diet should include a premium quality low ash dry cat food. Cow's milk should not be given as it will cause diarrhea. (Lactose-reduced milk can be given in small quantities and is especially good for older ferrets). All ferrets love Ferretone but it should be given in moderation, a few drops a day because it is a vitamin supplement. Linatone is not recommended as it contains too much Vitamin A, which is toxic in large doses. Fruits and vegetables (including raisins) should be should be given only as an occasional treat; ferrets are not able to digest fiber. Dog biscuits broken into very small pieces can be given in limited quantities. Sweets and sugar should be avoided. Heavy ceramic dishes make the best containers for food and water as they cannot be easily overturned.
Note: Ferrets do not like pellet shaped 'ferret food' but will eat it if it is the only food made available. They prefer food which is flat-shaped which can be held in their mouths without rolling out giving them time to chew the food.
Neutering and Descenting
Along with the obvious reason to neuter or spay pets (i.e. to control the number of unwanted animals), ferrets require this procedure for health reasons. If females are not spayed they can develop uterine infections or aplastic anemia (caused by constant heats) which is usually life-threatening. If males are not neutered they can become aggressive and are harder to litter train. Descenting is necessary because ferrets have anal scent glands which give off a strong odor. The odor of a descented ferret comes from oils in the skin. Neutering and descenting should be done at about six months of age.
Canine distemper is 100% fatal in ferrets - the only protection is vaccination. Never assume because your ferret never goes outside that it cannot contact canine distemper. You can bring the virus into your home on your clothes, shoes, etc. and not even know it. Your ferret does not need to come in contact with another infected animal to contact the disease (as is the case with rabies). Ferrets should be vaccinated against the disease at 6-8 weeks and again at 10-12 weeks. Booster vaccinations must be given annually. Since your ferret lives indoors with the occasional excursion outdoors on a leash, there is very little chance of it being exposed to rabies. But should your ferret nip someone, its life could be on the line, not because of rabies but due to the overreaction of hysterical humans. The surest protection is a documented history of annual rabies vaccinations. All ferrets should have an annual check-up.
Ferrets should be housed in a ferret-proofed room or a proper sized cage at night or during the day when no one is home. It is of utmost importance to ferret-proof all areas where a ferret will be allowed to play. Ferret cages can be made of 1" welded wire mesh (never soldered) and should be large enough to provide adequate space for a litter box, sleeping area and food and water dishes (2' x 1 1/2'). Two doors are a must - one in the front and one on top to facilitate litter cleaning. The floor must be solid as ferrets' feet are not equipped to walking on a wire bottom. Ferrets love to burrow themselves in layers of soft blankets to sleep in (old sweatshirts are a favorite). Wood chips must never be used as they are hazardous to a ferret's health. It is a good idea to cover the outside of the cage with a large towel or blanket to prevent injuries caused from rough edges and this will also provide privacy. Ferrets do not object to sleeping in a cage as long as they are let out for play and exercise several times a day.
Ferrets should have their nails clipped about every three to four weeks. Regular nail clippers can be used or you can buy clippers designed for pets. Extreme care must be taken not to cut the veins (the red part). Ears can be cleaned periodically with a Q-tip dipped in hydrogen peroxide or mineral oil. Ferrets ears are very complex and again care must be taken. Your veterinarian can clean your ferret's ears during its regular annual check-up. A bath is normally not required but should you feel it necessary, two or three times a year is more than enough. One should use ferret shampoo, and not overdo it, as too much bathing will dry out their skin. Ferrets shed only twice a year (in spring and in the fall when their coats change). These are good times to bathe to help prevent hairballs. Prevention is the key thing to dealing with hairballs since ferret do not vomit them up as cats do. Talk to your vet about a hairball remedy during shedding seasons. Brushing your ferret with a soft brush will also help. Hairballs in ferrets can lead to intestinal blockages which can result in life-saving surgery. It is therefore extremely important to make sure the hair your ferret swallows passes safely through the intestinal tract.
Taking ferrets outdoors
Ferrets cannot be permitted outdoors on their own. Because of their natural curiosity they may wander away and not be able to find their way home. Since they are domesticated, they are not equipped to deal with the outdoors. For this reason, they can be allowed outside but only when wearing a harness or leach. When traveling in a car, your ferret should be confined to a pet carrier so it does not distract the driver or end up under the brake pedal.
Ferrets and snow go very well together provided you have climatized them previously by continuing to take them outside as the weather slowly gets colder. The same cannot be said of hot weather, unfortunately in some cases it can kill a ferret. Taking the precautions outline in the below article will help protect your ferret. The frozen bottles of water (such as plastic pop bottles) should always be wrapped in a towel, sweatshirt, etc. to keep the ferret from direct contact.
With summer and hot, humid weather at hand, I'd like to clear up one misconception about keeping ferrets cool. A fan by itself will not cool a ferret. A fan merely blows air. It feels cool to a human because the air blowing over sweaty skin causes evaporation and evaporation causes cooling. Ferrets don't sweat, therefore blowing air over a ferret will not cool the ferret. There are a couple of things that you might try if you don't like the frozen water bottles. Blowing a fan over a pan of ice can blow the cold air around the ice over the ferret. If you put a bucket of water near the cage and drape a towel over the cage with one end of the towel in the bucket and aim the air from the fan at the wet towel, the moving air will evaporate the water and cool the air (if the air is not too humid). Personally, I like the idea of frozen water bottles - cheap, easy and the ferrets can curl up around them or not, depending on how they feel about it.
Discipline: Nose flicking - A Definite No No!
Several ferret books and many individuals claim that you can discipline a ferret by flicking its nose with your forefinger. I hope that anyone using this method will think twice before using it again. It is not unheard of to be rushing a ferret to the vet because of a nosebleed. Injuries such as this are avoidable.
Safer methods should be employed such as scruffing the ferret for a time-out or squirting it with water from a plant mister (set on stream) and using a forceful "NO". The water startles them and generally they do not like getting wet. Aim for the back of the neck or the hind end near the base of the tail being very careful not to squirt in their eyes or ears. Should the problem persist, try placing the ferret back in its cage for a short time.
Remember that they are ferrets and it is their nature to be inquisitive and get into trouble. Be patient and enjoy them for who they are and not what you want them to be.