Pet ferrets are playful and energetic, and they thrive with proper care. Many people lump these animals in with pet rodents, but that's incorrect and their requirements, as well as their overall demeanor, are different. With the right diet, housing, and care, these fascinating creatures can live 5 to 8 years, so find out what they need before you bring one home.
Feeding Your Pet Ferret
Feeding your ferret the right kind of food is essential to his health and well-being. Without the right food, health problems can develop in both the short- and long-term.
Meat Should be a Main Ingredient
Ferrets, like cats, are carnivores by nature. This means meat is an absolute necessity for optimal health.
The main source of calories in a ferret's diet should be fat, and it should be readily digestible, meat-based protein. Ferrets have a hard time digesting vegetable protein, which can lead to medical problems, such as bladder stones, skin illnesses, gastrointestinal (GI) disease, and stunted growth.
It's also worth noting that ferrets can't digest fiber, so avoid high-grain foods when choosing a diet for your ferret. When you take a look at the ferret food, make sure meat is listed as a primary source (it should be first on the ingredient list).
Although ferrets can consume a commercial ferret diet, the recommended diet to keep a ferret healthy includes whole prey meals, such as mice and rats. You can grab these at the pet store, too. Many owners are understandably hesitant to feed mice and rats to their pet ferret, so the next best alternative is either a ferret diet developed specifically for ferrets or a high-quality kitten food.
It's critical to note, ferrets require high-quality nutrients because they have a short GI tract and simple gut bacteria, or "flora (gut microbiome)," which allows their bodies only three to four hours to digest and absorb their meal. Food goes through their system quickly, so there isn't much time to break down low-quality, highly processed ingredients.
Foods to Avoid
Ferrets do tend to enjoy sweets, dairy products, raisins, fruits, and vegetables, but these should be avoided because they might cause diarrhea and dangerous blood sugar changes. As a treat, a piece of cooked meat or some meat-based baby food is fine.
Sweets, such as chocolate, are also fatal to ferrets. Before feeding your ferret any human food, especially snack foods, discuss what is appropriate and what isn't with your veterinarian when you get a check-up. Dietary changes can exacerbate problems, such as an unsettled stomach, diarrhea, and pancreatic issues. Ferrets can also quickly become overweight if they are given too many high-calorie treats or foods.
Creating Your Ferret's Habitat
Your ferret's habitat is where they will spend the majority of their time. Ensuring it's at appropriate standards is critical for their mental and physical health. The following guidelines will help you create a healthy habitat.
The Humane Society recommends housing a ferret in a cage that is at least 30-inches long by 18-inches deep and 18-inches high. However, you can easily find multi-level commercial cages that are much larger, and they offer the space necessary to create a more active environment for your pet. In fact, a multi-level cage usually offers enough space for two ferrets to live together.
Ferrets are great at escaping, so make sure the cage wires are spaced no more than 1 inch apart, and the doors need secure locking mechanisms. The cage should also have a solid floor rather than a wire one to protect the animal's feet.
You should never utilize an aquarium for your pet ferret. Although aquariums do prevent escape, they also have poor ventilation and could result in illness fairly quickly. Most aquariums also don't generally have enough room for the amount of activity your ferret requires to remain happy and healthy.
Your ferret's bedding may be the most significant item in their life. Because ferrets enjoy nesting and burrowing in both play and sleep, providing a suitable home is essential to their mental health. Extreme cases of "cage stress" have been reported in ferrets who do not have a spot to hide and call their own.
There are several commercially available sleep spaces, such as sleep bags, tunnels, cups, and hammocks, but your ferret might be just as happy, if not happier, with one of your old T-shirts. In any case, ensure your ferret's sleeping and burrowing requirements are met.
As with most small pets, avoid using pine or cedar shavings because they emit fumes that can cause respiratory problems.
Ferrets can't tolerate extreme cold or heat very well, so place the cage in a draft-free area out of direct sunlight. Bright, indirect lighting is best. Ferrets also enjoy interaction, so placing your ferret's cage in an area where they will receive the most attention is helpful for their mental health.
Once you have the right cage, it's time to add accessories that will make your pet's home more comfortable.
- Hammock or sleeping bag: Ferrets like a comfy place to sleep, and if it's secluded, that's even better. They can sleep away the better part of the day, so consider giving your own pet a hammock or a special sleeping bag to rest in.
- Sturdy food crock: These animals are very active, so they need a heavy crock that won't tip over.
- Water bottle: A water bottle is a better choice than a crock because it keeps the water much cleaner. This also means you won't have to change the water as often. Simply dump old water daily and refill with fresh. A bottle that has a double ball bearing drinking tube is also less likely to leak.
- Litter pan: Like many small pets, ferrets usually relieve themselves in a particular corner of their cage. Once you know which corner that is, put a litter pan there to make clean up easier. This can also become a prelude to house training.
Handling Your Ferret
Ferrets can bite hard if they are scared or accidentally injured. It's critical to acclimate them to being picked up when they're young. Ferrets who are handled from a young age become very relaxed, enjoy your company, and appreciate being lifted up for cuddles.
Ferrets are somewhat fragile, so always lift them with one hand under the chest and the other hand supporting their rear. Speak softly to your pet first so you don't startle them, and then gently pick them up.
Frequent handling will help keep them tame and bonded to you, which will also cut down on nipping. You can offer them a little piece of chicken or turkey as a treat for letting you hold them, and they will quickly learn to associate you with positivity, whether it's cuddles, treats, or play time.
Ferrets are notorious for their musky odor, despite the fact that they are normally clean animals. The odor of a ferret will never completely disappear, no matter how many times they are bathed. This odor is significantly stronger in ferrets who are not neutered or spayed, but in North America, practically all domestic ferrets are fixed at the time of weaning.
They also have anal glands, which are similar to those seen in cats and dogs, which produce very strong-smelling secretions. Unless they are extremely fearful, they rarely release these anal glands, and the aroma usually fades after a few minutes. The glands in most ferrets sold in pet stores have already been surgically removed, so you'll only have to cope with a minor musky odor caused by the oils in the skin.
Bathing should be limited to once or twice per month at most. Bathing a ferret removes all of the natural (mildly stinky) oils from its skin and coat, causing the body to overcompensate and produce even more. Basically, bathing a ferret too much can make their odor worse. They, like cats, usually do an excellent job of cleaning themselves. If you give them a bowl of water, they will wash their body with it. If your ferret is experiencing some type of skin or flea issue, on the other hand, bathing may assist in relieving the itching. If you're going to give your ferret a bath, be certain to use ferret-safe shampoo and warm water to wash them.
Ferrets require exercise and mental stimulation, so they should not be kept in a cage 24 hours a day. Ferrets are high-energy, outgoing animals who thrive on play and interaction. Ferrets need at least two to four hours outside their cage each day to stay healthy, although more time outside of the cage is recommended. Any chance you have to supervise your ferret, they should be out of their cage enjoying some extra play time and running space.
When they are not in their cage, they should always be supervised. You should strictly ferret-proof the areas you allow your ferret to explore. Make sure they can't touch any electrical lines, harmful liquids, or breakable goods, for example. Fill in any spaces they can fit through, such as those found under doors, windows, and dryer vents. To avoid accidentally injuring your ferret and preventing their escape attempts, make sure you know where they are at all times.
You can encourage them to play by giving them a ball to roll and chase. They also love playing in tunnels, whether these are homemade or purchased from the store.
House training isn't generally an overwhelming process with ferrets. It can be compared to house-training a kitten, as they already naturally seek out quiet corners to relieve themselves. Once your ferret becomes accustomed to using a litter pan in their cage, place one or more similar pans in the corners of the room where you let them exercise, and place a few of their droppings in them to help draw them there to relieve themselves. Eventually, they will likely use these litter pans on a regular basis.
Litter should be picked with two considerations in mind: ferret safety and odor management. While there are litters made specifically for cats, they are not necessarily the ideal choices for ferrets. When wet, clay becomes hard and cement-like, sticking to your ferret's paws, nose, and eyes as they search for the perfect area to go. They can also cause a fatal blockage if some of it is consumed, and they're dusty and difficult for a ferret's sensitive respiratory system to handle.
Because wood shavings contain essential oils that evaporate and are hazardous to ferrets' lungs, they also are not a good choice.
The ideal material for ferret litter boxes is newspaper, recycled paper, corn cob, or wood pellets. The most absorbent materials are recycled paper and wood pellets, which means they offer the best odor management.
Interaction with Other Pets
Ferrets are happier if they live with at least one other ferret, but don't keep a female and male together unless you have them spayed and neutered. Otherwise, you'll end up with babies, also known as kits.
As for other pets in the home, it's safer to keep them separated from your ferret. According to Judith A. Bell, DVM, ferrets are carnivorous predators, so they aren't the best companions for other small pets, such as rodents and birds. They also tend to nip when they play, and this could cause problems with cats and dogs. Although, if you feel your cat has the ability to play well with your ferret, there are many happy videos and reports of ferrets and cats playing together.
At the very least, you should supervise your ferret very closely if you let them interact with other pets. One bite or scratch could potentially lead to injury or death of your pet ferret.
Health and Veterinary Care
Although most ferret owners don't take their ferret to the vet on a continuous basis, there are several steps to be completed with the vet if they haven't done so prior to adoption. According to Greg Rich, DVM, ferrets need to be vaccinated against distemper and rabies on the following schedule.
- First distemper vaccination at 6 to 8 weeks
- Second distemper vaccination at 8 to 10 weeks
- Third distemper vaccination at 16 weeks, plus a rabies vaccination
Dr. Rich also recommends having routine blood work done every 2 to 3 years to look for undetected problems, as well as seeing your veterinarian if you notice any signs of poor health, including:
- Swollen abdomen
- Nasal discharge
- Hair loss
- Skin irritation
Ferrets are also at a high risk for fleas and should be treated with a flea preventive on a regular basis. Some flea medications may not be recommended for your ferret due to their small size, so it's best to consult with your veterinarian to determine the best option for your pet.
Understand their Requirements and Let the Fun Begin
If you choose to invite a ferret into your family, ensuring they have the best life possible is critical. Understand their requirements, be ready for their active and outgoing demeanor, provide them with the correct diet, and make sure you have time for interaction. Take care of them well, and they will provide you with years of fun and entertainment.