Author: Joanne Rosser
Last Updated: July 11, 2020
Ferrets make excellent pets for the right owner. While ferrets generally require higher maintenance than cats or dogs, people fall in love with ferrets for their unique, enthusiastic personalities. Ferrets also don’t require a large living space in order to be happy, plus they keep to themselves and shed very little hair. Each ferret has its own individual personality and play behavior making every ferret unique.Just like other pet parents, it’s common for ferret owners to view their ferrets more as members of the family than as pets.
Thinking about getting a new ferret family member? Here are some of the ferret basics:
What Are Ferrets?
Ferrets are a domesticated offshoot of the European polecat. They are in the mustelid family, relatives of weasels, minks, and otters. They have long thin bodies and commonly weigh between 1 and 3 pounds. They are highly intelligent, curious, and energetic animals. Their personalities resemble a young kitten for most of their lives. Ferrets have been domesticated for at least hundreds of years. Historically they were used to aid in hunting, but in recent decades they have become increasingly popular across the United States and elsewhere in the world as household pets.
How Do Ferrets Behave?
Ferrets have two settings: asleep and hyper. While at play they love to run through tubes (a plastic dryer hose can make a fun toy), climb in laundry, chase rubber balls and steal stuffed animals. Ferrets are social animals who play well together. They also love people too! Ferrets have a natural inclination to ‘borrow’ things. It is common for ferret owners to find long-lost wallets, socks and other such household items tucked away under the bed or in the back of a closet during spring cleaning.
Can You Train A Ferret?
Yes, ferrets are intelligent animals who are fairly easily trained through gentle and consistent handling. The two main considerations are litter training and nip training. Litter training methods take advantage of their natural tendency to use the same spot over and over again. Ferrets tend to prefer the corners of a room and often need to use their litter box shortly after waking up.
What Is Nip Training?
Ferrets communicate, explore the world, and play with each other with their mouths. They have thick skin and can play roughly with other ferrets without causing any harm. Through gentle and frequent handling, they quickly learn that humans are more fragile than their other playmates and must be treated with care. Serious biting problems tend to be rare in older ferrets and are usually the result of fear, illness, previous mistreatment or lack of proper training.
Can You Walk A Ferret Outside?
Yes, many ferrets enjoy exploring the outdoors on a secure harness which loops both in front of and behind their front legs. You will never find a ferret walking in a straight line. They tend to head straight for bushes and other items of interest. Many ferrets also enjoy digging in the dirt and will create a nice tunnel or burrow for themselves.
What About Other Exercise?
Other than supervised walks outdoors on leashes, ferrets should mostly be kept indoors. Ferrets are too small and curious to survive the dangers posed by dogs, cars and wild animals. Ferrets do not readily change to a new diet and being domesticated would not know how to hunt for their food. It is always a scary position for a pet owner to be in when a ferret escapes from its home environment. If the ferret isn’t found and taken in by somebody, it will rarely survive on its own for more than a few days.
How Much Do Ferrets Sleep?
Ferrets sleep around twenty hours a day and are crazy hyper for the other four. As long as ferrets get several hours of playtime every day, their schedule is quite flexible. They do well with owners who work full time but allow them time to run around in the mornings and evenings.
Some owners choose to keep their ferrets safely in a cage while they are asleep, while others keep them in a well secured room when they are not supervised. Either way, ferrets usually enjoy snuggling down in dark enclosed areas. It is common to find them asleep in a chest of drawers, laundry hamper or linen closet. Some ferrets even enjoy sleeping in bed next to their humans. They especially like sleeping with other ferrets after a hard day of play – it’s very cute to find a pile of three or four ferrets asleep together in a tangled pile.
Do I Need To Ferret Proof My Home?
Ferret proofing a home with ferrets is just as big a job as child-proofing a home with a young toddler. In their quest for a new game, ferrets can be too curious for their own good. A new ferret owner needs to be careful and remove or secure dangerous objects and plug up small holes where a ferret could escape or become injured.
Here are common dangers that can be avoided by ferret proofing your home:
- Gaps in the baseboards under kitchen and bathroom cabinets
- Screen doors and windows that ferrets could scratch through and escape
- Soft plastic, rubber or styrofoam objects that ferrets could chew and swallow
- Rocking chairs, reclining chairs or lounge chairs
- Foods like nuts or chocolate which could cause an internal blockage or be toxic
What Sort Of Veterinary Care Do Ferrets Need?
Ferrets need annual veterinary checkups and should be vaccinated against distemper and rabies. Ferrets have a lifespan of 6 to 10 years. They are susceptible to several types of cancerous tumors, so any ferret owner should be prepared to pay several hundred dollars for surgery at some point in the ferret’s life.
Almost all ferrets are spayed and neutered, either before they are sold in a pet store or at 4-6 months of age if purchased from a private breeder. Spaying females is essential because allowing a female to remain in heat without breeding her can be life-threatening. Neutered males tend to be gentler and less musky smelling than whole males. The fact that almost all ferrets are neutered is one of several reasons why ferrets are unlikely to ever escape and start breeding in the wild.
Do Ferrets Stink?
Descenting ferrets is optional, though it is generally considered healthier not to. Ferrets with scent glands intact usually do not smell any muskier than descented ferrets, but when they are scared they will let out a strong odor which quickly dissipates.
What Do Ferrets Eat?
You might be thinking are ferrets carnivores or can they eat fruit? Ferrets are carnivores, meaning that they require a meat-based diet. They have short digestive tracts and require access to food at all times. There are a number of high-quality ferret diets which can be purchased in pet stores. These are usually chicken based and come in the form of a dry kibble that looks like cat food. Some owners may opt for a more natural diet and feed their ferrets unprocessed chicken or turkey. Many ferrets also enjoy a variety of fruits, raisins or cereals but these should be given in small quantities as treats only.
Ferrets make excellent pets provided you provide proper exercise and stimulation to satisfy their hyperactivity. If you’re thinking about getting a ferret, make sure you consider the requirements of ferret proofing your home and whether your furry friend will likely get along with any pets that you already have. Owning a ferret is a rewarding experience, you’ll easily fall in love with their mischievous and cheeky personalities!