We are seeing a large number of ferrets at our hospital, as we have the expertise of Dr. Tracey Ritzman, DABVP. This week’s post will just offer a broad overview of Ferret Ownership.
Ferrets (Mustela putorius furo) are members of the weasel family that have been domesticated for over two thousand years.
Ferrets have a lifespan between 6 to 8 years. They will require routine visits to your veterinarian for regular vaccinations (including canine distemper and rabies virus) and annual examinations. Ferrets are at risk of heartworms and fleas, so monthly preventative treatments should be used.
Ferrets are social pets that do best in small groups, so we recommended you consider adopting a pair of ferrets so they will always have a companion to socialize and play with. Ferrets are also extremely intelligent and inquisitive, so having a pair of them will keep you busy keeping them out of mischief in your home. As a result ferret proofing your home is a must so they do not injure themselves exploring. Ferrets should be housed in a secure cage when their owners are not home to keep them safe and prevent them from getting into trouble or injured.
Cage – most ferret cages usually have two levels to explore/exercise and a place to hang a hammock. The cage should also contain a dark enclosure where they can can make a nest for sleeping or relaxing. Towels make good bedding, which should be washed frequently as the cage itself too. It is best to avoid using bedding that contains foam or stuffing as ferrets may ingest this which could lead to a gastrointestinal obstruction.
Litter Boxes – one for the cage and several outside the cage to use when they roam the home.
Pet Carrier – To transport your ferret safely to the veterinarian, you will need a pet carrier with small gaps. Ferrets can fit through tiny spaces, so you don’t want them getting out of the carrier in your vehicle or the animal hospital lobby. Many clients also find a leash and a harness work well to safely transport their ferrets for shorter trips.
Bowls/Bottle - Heavy or lock-on bowls are good dishes for ferret food, and a water bottle to prevent that bowl from being turned over.
Ferrets love to play. They will bounce back and forth and sideways with their teeth bared and looking quite ferocious. When they do this, they are inviting you and any other ferrets to play with them. Bounce along with them, and they will be happy. Ferrets may also puff up their tail and make little giggling like sounds (dooking) to show they are having a great time, some even wag their tails! Some ferrets will “speed bump” as they play, this means they suddenly lie very still on the floor, assuming you cannot see them.
They also like to wrestle and play-fight. They tend to play rough, but they learn to be careful with humans if their human playmates yelp when nipped. A firm “no!” will also get the job done. It is normal for ferrets when playing to nip at each other, especially on the back of their necks.
Caution should be taken with having pet ferrets out with other pets such as cats and dogs. Some cats and dogs may see a ferret as prey and may attempt to bite them.
Ferrets are carnivores, so they need meat and a high level of protein in their diet. They also have very high metabolisms (this should not be a shock at this point), so they need large amount of animal fat in their diets too.
Ferrets tend to be picky eaters, so we recommend purchasing small quantities (so the food does not go bad). Like with other pets, changing food or flavors abruptly could make the ferret sick. We recommend a variety of foods are introduced at an early age so as to accustom your ferret to a wide variety of flavors and food. Ferrets should be fed a high quality ferret food rather than cat food. There are very few cat foods able to meet the nutritional needs of ferrets and some ferrets fed only cat food develop medical problems. There are many good ferret foods available on the market. Also, some fetter owners like to feed fresh meat to their ferrets. This can be acceptable provided the meat is fresh and from a good source.
Fresh water must be available to your ferret at all times.
Ferrets will need a bowl of water in order to wash their faces, and they clean the rest of their coat/fur in the same fashion as a cat does. Baths should be kept to a minimum, as regular bathing strips the ferret of its natural oils and dries out their skin. If you bathe them frequently, they will overcompensate and produce even more oil for their fur.
If your ferret lets one go from the poofy valve while playing, or just rolls around in muck its best to just give them a wipe with a soap free baby wipe or even better, just a warm damp towel. You can also let them swim around in some water.
Their ears do get quite waxy, so cleaning them on a regular basis is recommended.
Nail clipping is also required, and can be achieved with a small pair of nail clippers for a child or cat clippers should work. A ferret can be distracted with a small amount of ferret treat in order to allow their owner to clip the ferret’s nails.
The room and areas that ferrets live in should be cleared of materials the ferret may chew. All rubber and plastic items should be removed from the room. All wires and electrical cords should be covered in a cord cover (these can be purchased a most hardware stores). If a ferret were to bite an electrical cord there is the potential risk of electrocution. Ferret owners should use caution with folding recliner chairs as ferrets like to crawl into these chairs and often get caught in the folding mechanism of the furniture.
The most common household dangers to ferrets are similar as those for dogs and cats. Wire and electrical cords should be protected. Small rubber and plastic objects should be removed. Ferrets should not have access to household cleaners or chemicals or other products that could be toxic. Any product that may be toxic to children could also be toxic to your ferret.
Ferrets are comfortable at the temperatures humans prefer. It is best to make sure they never become overheated or left inside a closed vehicle in the warm months.
Ferrets are easy to train when you use positive reinforcement such as a tasty ferret treat. A clicker trainer (typically used for dog training) can also be used with ferrets for training.
ADOPTION or BREEDER
We suggest that ferrets should only be adopted from your local ferret rescue organization when possible. In Western Michigan there is non-profile ferret shelter called West Michigan Ferret Connection which has many wonderful ferrets looking for good homes. This organization rescues and adopts approximately 50 ferrets per year in Michigan!
TRAINING TIPS VIDEO
From DVM360.com – Those furry, floppy, fun-loving ferrets can heap tons of trouble on their nearly shoulderless bodies without meaning to. Help new ferret owners protect their furry little friends with these quick tips from Tracey Ritzman, DVM, DABVP.