Problems with Keeping Ferrets as Pets

It is a very, very tough job keeping ferrets as pets for a number of reasons. Here are some of the big ones below:

  • They smell. Ferrets smell really bad to most people. Animal lovers don't find the scent awful, but it is definitely strong. Some describe it as musky, but I find that the smell of strong artificial chocolate is the closest way to describe it. Males generally smell stronger than females, while neutered ones smell more mild. If you don't wash and dry one throughly an hour before traveling, you'll get many people turning their noses up at you and your pet on public transportation, which can be very embarrassing. I found out that that any smell = bad. People don't want to smell anything, basically.
  • They poop. A lot. How much? At least 10 times a day, and the consistency is like brown toothpaste. You can't stop them from going as much either, as their digestive tracts are very short. Not all can be litter-trained, and a lot of the time they'll still go outside of the litter tray. You have to put the tray in a corner where they choose to do their business, and most like doing it in more than one corner, which means lots of trays. You have to be willing to clean up accidents on a regular basis and to keep trays as clean as possible, because a dirty one will not be used. You will also have to smear some feces on it whenever you clean the trays, because otherwise the ferret might mistake it for a bed instead.
  • They might bite. You'll have to be very very careful in selecting yours. If it bites the human hand, it is next to impossible to train it not to. If you move your hand away, the ferret will learn that it will be able to do what it wanted, which was to drive you away, even if it its intention was to play (you became "it" when you moved away!) Some have luck in training them not to bite, but I have not and I have had mine for over two years. Others who are more experienced will say it is because I have been a bad parent or owner. But why is it that all the other pets I have kept have never bitten me? Basically, expect to be bitten with blood to be seen. This is why ferrets are not good for children. They also bite each other to induce play and this is their normal behaviour. Unless you teach it that it is unacceptable to bite humans, you cannot expect it not to bite. (Note: Be careful in London. I suspect there is a breeder out there breeding bad genes. London ferrets tend to be more prone to biting a lot, for some reason.)
  • They are difficult to walk. You can take it out for walks, but you can't expect them to walk with you. Most don't, and for those that do, they only run in straight lines against a wall, so it is hard to cross roads with them. It is very hard to take more than two out for walks with you. Speaking of . . .
  • You need to get more than one. You must always get ferrets as a pair or more. Although I wouldn't advise more than three.
  • They need a lot of freedom. Not only that, they need a lot of playtime. Keeping them caged for long periods of time is cruel, just like it would be cruel to cage a dog. Ferrets are highly intelligent animals, more so than rodents—they possess around the same intelligence as a dog or cat. They also have lots of energy that needs to be spent on playtime daily. Otherwise, they can be very destructive, messing up litter trays, food, water, and even chipping their teeth through constant biting of their cages.
  • The vet bills are expensive. So expensive. On top of that, it is hard to find cheap insurance for ferrets. They are often classified as exotic pets, when they're really domestic, and there is nothing exotic about them, they're just uncommon pets. They are very prone to genetical diseases—especially cancer, and treatment is very costly. Don't bother getting one, unless you have at least a grand saved for each that you plan on owning. Although they are becoming increasingly popular as pets, many vets still don't know what a ferret is, and some that do are very insensitive towards them, not wanting to touch them and are always thinking they will bite. Most don't know how to treat them for more ferret-related illnesses, and you have to be careful about the ones that claim that they do. You need to find the right one.

If you read all of this and none of this puts you off, then you are one of very few! If you are willing to go through the above, then a ferret may be the perfect pet for you. Otherwise, you should really consider a different pet.

A jill and hob, mother and son
A jill and hob, mother and son

Comments 34 comments

theherbivorehippi profile image

theherbivorehippi 6 years ago from Holly, MI

Brilliant Hub! It is so important that people understand the full commitment of what they are getting themselves into with all pets. It is so unfair to the animal when the owner isn't prepared to handle the responsibility of a more difficult species. Great job sharing this information!

fuzzbuttfun profile image

fuzzbuttfun 6 years ago from ferret cage

Great information. Too many people only focus on the cute ferret antics and end up buying a ferret without knowing exactly what they're getting themselves into. As much as I love my two bandits, they are more than a handfull... ;-)

mquee profile image

mquee 6 years ago from Columbia, SC

You hit on all of the key points that all who keep pets should be aware of. A commitment to give good care to any potential pet is a must. Some people confuse a trained animal with a domesticated animal, there is a big difference. Thanks for the plain facts regarding the care of ferrets.

Domestic Ferrets 6 years ago

I totally agree with all points except one concerning biting. I know that it's possible to learn ferret not to bite, cause I had such a problem with one of my ferrets. I just punished her each time she did it and now she doesn't do it anymore. The only thing I can't achieve is to learn her not to bite other ferrets.

This post is really very objective and useful not only for ferret-owners, but also for those, who sells ferrets. It's really not a god variant to misinform people, like: "It's really easy to keep ferrets at home" etc.

Goldy 6 years ago

Just rescued four ferrets. Not ideal but training is going well stopping a ferret biting is easy as long as you are consistant, also it needs to be done by an adult not a child.

I have found rather than pulling your hand away from the ferret as they bite put it in there mouth, they will begin to lick your finger (obviously don't push to hard and stop immediately as they bite)

Our ferrets now come over to us and lick our hands :) although they are not trusted with toes! :)

Another way of handling Biting is by scruffing and draging them along the carpet like another ferret would do to dominate.

neoyyf profile image

neoyyf 6 years ago from UK Author

Hi Goldy, thanks for your comment. The thing with biting ferrets is that they do not know that biting is wrong. Ferrets can bite each other really hard and even draw blood, and they handle it well themselves as they have such tough skin.

Not all ferrets bite, but for some that do, they really don't know that it hurts! Some will clamp and not let go, perhaps try to do a crocodile roll whilst they are at it and I have had some that actually chewed!

Whilst you are in excruciating pain,it is VERY difficult to stick your fingers in their mouth (but if you can, do so because it will cause them to choke and release).

For ferrets, biting is not always a dominance issue, they will bite regardless of what rank you are, unlike dogs. It is a PLAY behaviour, those that are very excitable and play lots tend to bite more. They need to learn that hands are not toys. So a good way is to smother your hands in codliver oil or something tasty and offer your hands to them that way.

It is painstakingly slow to teach a ferret not to bite. Anger and shouting doesn't help because they don't understand that. Try to scream very loud and high pitched instead, it may startle the ferret to let go but doesn't always work unless you have an ultra supersonic voice!

Stopping toe biting is indeed another issue. I just wear shoes around them, and everyone else puts their feet up! By the time you reach down to scruff them, they would have already weasel war danced a metre away! Ferrets are fast!

Also, scruffing and dragging them on the floor doesn't always work, it sometimes doesn't get the message across. First they need to get out of line before you do such an act. It may not even be a dominance ritual because ferrets will do that amongst themselves, and it is not apparent who is the alpha or beta. The lower ranks will do it to higher ranks, and the higher ranks will do it the lower ranks.

Until more ferret psychology is studied, us ferret owners will have to put up with these naughty babies and let them do what they do if we are to keep them anyway.

We also need to select more docile strains if they are to truly be domesticated. Dogs have been bred for thousands of years for temperament, ferrets have not. The wilder, faster and bitier they were, the better, to drive out rabbits from underground. They were never bred to listen to us.

ferret toys 6 years ago

I really agree on your post. Taking care of a ferret is not that so very easy. You have to be patience sometimes. But, the owner must know all the sacrifices he or she might encounter having a ferret as their pet. Know your commitments with your pet.

ttrash profile image

ttrash 5 years ago from Australia

I highly doubt there are any veterinarians which have sat through a five year degree without ever finding out what a ferret is...

neoyyf profile image

neoyyf 5 years ago from UK Author

I thought it was strange too, but you have to remember that vets come from all over the world and ferrets are uncommon in other countries. Also, receptionists are always changing and not always experienced in animals, many have called them rodents and rats.

Everyone's experience will be different, but I took my ferrets to East London in 2006 and had surprisingly negative responses. Maybe that has changed now?

Thankfully, ferrets are getting more and more popular as pets but I guarantee there are still places and new trainee vets who will have never handled or seen a ferret.

And I would like to emphasise that ferrets do have their own diseases that are different from other animals which inexperienced vets will not know how to handle (often just give simple antibiotics and painkillers in hope that it will go away) and those that claim to be "specialists" are very expensive and do not seem to know that much more though they are more confident in handling them.

jamiesweeney profile image

jamiesweeney 5 years ago from Philadelphia, PA

What the cool pets, Thanks for this hub, very informative.

lovernotfighter 4 years ago

do you really have to have at least two ferrets??

Cluckabell 4 years ago

It is recommended you keep more than one ferret but not impossible. I have just the one which we rescued from our local centre. They were having trouble re-homing him as after weeks & weeks of trying he wouldn’t mix with other ferrets. This is pretty unusual but there are plenty who are the same. He was just a “loner”! The rescue centre we had ours from had another 4 who they couldn’t mix because of the same reason.

If you do want just the one ask at your nearest centre although please make sure it’s a true “loner” & not just “difficult”. It would be such a shame to rob it of the chance to have a happy life with his own kind. Also be aware that single ferrets require much more love & attention off you. You must play & interact with them everyday at least twice a day as they require the stimulation they would normally have with a mate.

Ferrets make such great pets if treated, handled & trained correctly. Ours is fantastic with small children and NEVER bites (although I allow him to nibble & wrestle my hand when playing – but he does know the difference!) – Just be prepared to clean up lots of poop on carpets (lucky as its pretty much odourless) & change poo corner papers regularly ?

shaunte 4 years ago

i actually really wanted a ferret but after reading this I'm having second thoughts

Nanuska 3 years ago

I have had and trained ferrets for over 15 years now and I must admit that I disagree with most of your ferret disadvantages. First of all the ferret smell can be dealt with by applying number a products for instance ferret deo. Alternatively, you can walk your ferrets and let them roll in gras or leaves and they will smell lovely and earthy. I personally think dogs smell even worse and still it is a preferred pet for many. Secondly, I have taught all of my ferrets to go for walks. The last ferret I taught, I got when she was five years old and she loves to cross the road and run in the park.Thirdly, I cannot recognise spending huge amounts on vet bills. Quiet to the contrary I have had several ferrets that have only gone to vet's for injections, but maybe you have been unlucky with yours. I will however agree with the fact that many ferrets are most comfortable with a ferret friend, but again it depends on how much time you yourself are willing to spend with your animal. As long as they are stimulated on a daily basis, they can thrive under many different circumstances. Finally, a really important and Scientificly proven fact; in the US ferrets are used to treat depression, because they evoke a sense of happiness in humans(if you don't believe me look it up). So all the more reason to get one or even better two.

neoyyf profile image

neoyyf 3 years ago from UK Author

Yes, they are social animals. They get a better standard of living when with another species of their own. It isn't fair otherwise.

neoyyf profile image

neoyyf 3 years ago from UK Author

I keep dogs now and the smell is completely different and definitely less "animal" like. If you are comparing ferret smells to a big dog smell, yes, big dogs like labradors stink, like something dirty. But small dogs like Chihuahuas smell delightful. Especially their paws!

When you keep ferrets there is no mistaking the smell when you walk into a house. With my Chihuahuas, you wouldn't notice it, and I rarely bath them.

Vet bills, we all hope that out pets only go for routine vaccinations but more often than not, this is not the case. A lot of vets will not give good treatment for your ferret because they just have no experience with them. I have had ferrets with tummy upset and was given Metacam (which i think is a painkiller) for it. Completely useless. So I had to trek outside the city to see a specialist who wanted a lot of money for tests (i don't remember what as this was 5 years ago) and so I had to refuse. Luckily the diarrhea passed on its own and it wasn't a big deal but you can imagine how frightening it is for a new owner. At the time my ferret wouldn't eat, drink and dirtied himself like he was dying. I guess my point is if you don't have money, don't get ferrets because you should expect to pay overpriced vet fees.

FrannieFerret 3 years ago

Maybe we just just got lucky, but our girl is super easy. She is litter trained and RARELY has accidents, but we are vigilant about putting her in her cage to use the box every couple of hours. She plays great with everyone, never bites. She's a marshall's ferret, and I've heard they tend to be bred more docile anyway. Oh and there's this great product called "pet head," we spritz her with it every other day or so and she never smells ferret-y. Washing her bedding once a week keeps the cage from getting funky too. We love our little fuzzy!

Belinda 3 years ago

I have one ferret named Pixel, and she is absolutely the most wonderful pet in the world. When I got her, she was 3 months, she is now 3 & 1/2 years old. When she was young, if she tried to bite, I would VERY lightly tap on her nose and tell her "no", and when she "had an accident" outside of her cage instead of returning there to use her litter tray, I would put her back in her cage for the rest of the day, and playtime was over. Now she's the most well-behaved ferret I've ever seen. She follows us around the house, from room to room, pulling on our pant legs for attention. I take her for walks, and she loves going to the park and playing with kids. She plays with my stepsons, who are 5 and 2, and she lets them and other random kids at the park shake her, throw her, drop her in the sand, pull her, etc.. and she war dances away and tries to play tag other hide and seek. She knows the meaning of no, along with a few other words, and she loves to come and snuggle in bed with us. The only complaint I have - she steals all our stuff and hides it under the bed! But at least were know where to look! Next week, we're getting our second ferret. (:

melody 3 years ago

There is a lot of misinformation in this article. Most of the ferret smell is due to a poor diet. Feed them a raw diet & the smell goes away - no one knows I even have one until she walks up to say hi. Ferrets CAN be trained not to bite. They are actually not social animals (you are referring to an extension of juvenile behaviour) so it is not necessary to have more than one. It is necessary for their owners to spend lots of time with them since they ARE domesticated. As for Belinda's post regarding sticking her pet in a cage for the "rest of the day" if it had an accident - that's cruel. A couple of minutes is plenty of time. Ferrets are amazing intelligent fun pets for people willing to learn how to care for them properly!

melody 3 years ago

Belinda - I don't know how I missed that you are letting young random children "shake & throw" your ferret around. Do you understand that's an excellent way for it to get injured or killed?!! 3 years ago

We have six in our business and most of what you say I disagree with all six have different personalities and have to be treated differently. They are all very smart and come when called by name. they are all lovable and have their quirks which makes them special. they are our favorite pets.

We have 4 horses, chickens a bloodhound and a wolf and the ferrets would be the last to go.

Jessica L. D. 2 years ago

I love my little boy. I have had him for a month now. He is a bit of a handful sometimes. Like no matter where I put the litter box he poops everwhere else. He likes to squeeze in tight places and then he gets stuck. He bites all the time also. Even still I love him like he was my own baby. When he nips I know its hide and seek time. He licks me sometimes and he cuddles rarely, but I love my energetic little guy. There is nothing he could do to make me want him gone.

Nick 2 years ago

A lot of this is scaremongering. Maybe it's because I've kept working ferrets since I was 12; I'm now 29, I don't know if that makes me an 'expert';

"Wet Dogs" do smell; a different smell just like ferrets who are over bathed or whose bedding hasn't been changed often; but a smell nonetheless.

This smell is in my eyes the only drawback to ferrets.

Ferrets are easy to nip train; just like dogs/cats however you get some 'nasty' ones but even they can be 'taught' to behave better. Saliva on edge of finger to encourage licking; along with resisting the urge to 'pull away' and using the other hand to scruff the ferret when it does nip works best. If it clamps on, consider have you lifted them off the floor in reaction to the bite? The ferret can't see the floor. Push back and choke release as mentioned.

Ferrets live more comfortably in pairs upwards; Jills are usually a tad more grumpy than hobs but hobs smell worse.

Jill's cost a fortune if they are not spayed for various reasons that any good ferret book will tell you.

Litter training is a cinch.

As for the rough housing with kids; that's not an issue in my opinion, ferrets are tough as you like, and play really rough, in fact I push, roll and tap my ferrets about in quite a rough way when they start 'dooking' to play.

Ferret vets are best 'sought' because otherwise a vet charges by weight and gas cost etc, so you get inflated prices for neutering etc.

I think this article overly labours personal opinion. If you want to get a ferret, get a book written by those who use working ferrets like James McKay because we've been working ferrets since Egyptian times like cats, it's only since the 80's they've become fashionable pets for town.

Oh and walking on a lead? Lol I always laugh at that; I just can't quite see it myself being a 'ferret thing' but each to there own!

Jake 2 years ago

I don't fully agree with you but some things yeah. I think you've had a bad experience with ferrets and it clouds your judgement then again maybe my judgement is clouded by my love for them. I'm new to ferret owning and I just got a six month old female. She clamps down hard on my hand and wont let go. I think its fear bitting because she has been taken out of her home but she is improving and its only been 4 days. You don't have to get multiple ferrets some enjoy having you to themselves and others love the company of another ferret to attack. I will say this: If you arent willing or are unable to devote at least 3 or 4 hours a day playing with a ferret either you shouldn't get one or you should think about maybe getting two but to be honest it really should be the former choice there. Anyway despite all the bite wounds I have I love my fuzzy and I know with time and patience I can break her of her bitting. Plus its way too cute seeing her war dance across my room after nipping me like a naughty little bugger.

Me4"5 2 years ago

This is redicilous.

tim 2 years ago

I have always had only one ferret they play well with the cat and dog as company and seem to get better attached to us.

Only ferret i had that bit at all was my little girl and that was very light one the toes and my nose to play and never hard enough to hurt.

I have had a ferret as a pet since my first boy was born 21 years ago and love them, the hardest parts for me is the short life span (longest was 8 years) and the poop(they are poop machines lol).

Julie Forrest 2 years ago

By are people so stupid about albinos? The local pet I had 4 baby ferrets. 3 were little raccoon bandits and 1 albino. The 3 were gone the first day put out but the albino was there a week later. I held him each time I went in.The store manager says albinos scare people because of their red eyes. They are thought of as demonic. So i bought him. I've had ferrets many times over the years but never an albino. This 8 wk baby is the sweetest gentlest most mellow baby I've ever owned.He loves to play and bite and scratch but never breaks my skin. He kisses on the lips and never causes pain. He nurses on the skin between my fingers. I have fallen madly in love with this albino baby as he's brought out all my maternal instincts.Never have I had such a sweet natured ferret! Now for a name and find a good vet for him. I adore this baby!!!

rob 2 years ago

i don,t believe what you say is true about ferrets biting our jill bit like there was no tomorrow no after 4 weeks we can do whatever we want with her it,s the way you treat them and for moving your hand away yes ferrets love to chase your hand and anything else for that matter she still nips at play most people injure themselves when a ferret is play nipping do not pull away as this rips your skin if the ferret is trying to bite you push your hand towards it not away even i finger pushed into it,s mouth normally works for us , fun they are deffo fun more so than a hampster or rat even a guinea pig

mike 22 months ago

What a negative article. Ferrets are great and easy. 5 min per day to clean the cage, at least 29 min outside cage per day (i let them roam two hours per day).

Tex 19 months ago

Good stuff, neoyyf. I had a friend whose mate was keeping a pet ferret in their apartment. I was told the ferret was amiable. Before trying to pet the ferret, I put on a glove and left plenty of slack at the tip of one finger. I gently reached out to pet the ferret, and the ferret clamped down hard with its teeth on the tip of the glove. It didn't let go for some time, so I got a pencil out and gave it a thump. I don't think I will be getting a ferret as a pet.

Lilo's Mommy 18 months ago

**Please note: NEVER purchase an intact Jill (non-spayed) only respectable breeders should ever have an intact Jill. Ferrets will become locked in a heat if they are not bred and that will lead to their death. If you have a breeder offering you a Jill that has not been fixed, I, myself, would never buy from them.**

One thing that was never brought up in this article is the fact that most ferrets (whites at least) are very prone to losing their hearing and vision. All ferrets, unlike other domesticated animals are also very susceptible to human illness, ie. the flu or colds which is why I do not recommend having ferrets with young children who often pick up plagues at daycare.

My little girl is now fully def, just over 10 years, looking like a grandma but just as playful as the first day I brought her home. Her brother (Stitch) sadly passed away a number of years ago and she has been a lone ferret ever since as she does not have the patience to play with any other ferrets I have introduced her to for play dates. Although I believe it has made our relationship stronger and tighter, she does love to chase after our cats and our dog.

Ferrets NEED time. When they are awake, they need to play and bond with their humans although something else that was left out, is that they tend to sleep for about 16 hours a day, so your day as an owner is not spent running around after them with a poop scoop, bleeding hands, and trying to also find time to play.

They can learn boundaries, they can be 'taught' not to bite (and no one should ever encourage any animal to lick their fingers- with a tasty treat or otherwise-ferrets especially, of course you will get nipped as they try to run off with the tasty treat and 'ferret it away' for later. Never EVER try to stop nipping by slapping something delicious on your appendages and shoving it into their face to 'lick' bad bad bad)

Each ferret is unique. Stitch was a cuddler, and never wanted to play, Lilo is a digger and chaser and does not really wish to be held for long periods. So just like with biting, most ferrets will respond well to consistent correction, once you figure out what speaks to them. Lilo responded to scruffing while Stitch needed a yelp from the bitten person. When ferrets play they play rough and hard with each other since their pain receptors are not the same as ours. So when ferrets are rough housing with each other (it can even appear to be fighting) usually a shrill cry from one will get the biter to let go and back off. Lilo is def, so that was not an option for her, but Stitch quickly learnt what MY pain tolerance was and learned with play I did not appreciate being nipped at.

Now onto odors:

Ferrets, de-scented or otherwise smell distinctly like ferrets. It is unique, and distinct, but it does not need to be overtly over powering or even the first thing picked up on when guests are entering the home. Lilo and Stitch had baths once a month, their bedding was changed and laundered every week. After bathtime both Lilo and Stitch would be sprinkled with some baby powder and get to roll around and play in their towel bag for as long as they desired. This kept the scent down. Frequent bathing dries out their skin and produces more of their scented oils. More baths=more stink. ((**Now I know some will tell me the powder from the baby powder is not good for them to have enhaled, my girl is now over 10 years old, and her brother lived to 7 years and died of cancer, not caused by talc either**)) Also after bath time they would have their bellies rubbed with some vasoline. This is a super way of helping them keep down any 'hairball' like blockages which could be fatal to them. Unlike cats they don't vomit, they have to pass everything they ingest via the back door. They will get hairballs so they do need a laxative. Vasoline after a bath aided in the passing of the hair that they would be injesting after licking themselves dry.

Ferrets and Vets:

Ferrets are fearless, curious and problem solvers. These traits can be a dangerous combination. They will climb, fall, get stuck, bury in things they shouldn't and open anything that is not locked or sealed off. Many owners of ferrets, despite their due diligence, can anticipate and should have budgeted for an unplanned emergency vet visit; and vets that are familiar with ferrets are not as common as those that look after dogs and cats. They are out there however, and should be found first before picking up a ferret. Besides, you always want to have a vet check your new family member out before bringing them home to your other ferrets, pets, or children. Ferrets are brilliant creatures, too brilliant in some regards. child locked cupboards, plastic covered plugs on outlets...if they have seen that the plug can come out, or the cupboard can open, they will try their darndest to get around any of the barriers you have put in place to protect them. So when you have your ferret in an environment where there can be hazards, you can not sit back an entrust that that danger is unreachable by them. They do need your constant supervision, as well as you need to have your eyes on them at all times because they are so fast, you may have just seen them a room away, take a step back and accidentally step on your little guy or girl.

Ferrets are not a pet for a lazy owner. But realistically no pet should be. They are the bridge between the "dog" and the "cat" person. They sleep most of the time like the laid back cat, but they will rush to meet you when you come home from a long day at work, they are loyal, affectionate and rely on their owner for companionship and interaction like the dog.

Lilo's Mommy 18 months ago

***correction to my earlier post. I was referring to spayed and intact female ferrets as both 'Jills'. Jills are the term for non-spayed females. Sprites are spayed. An intact male is a Hob while a fixed male is a Gib***

Archer6 6 months ago

Half of this article is total BS. Ferrets are easily litter trained, can be broken of biting, and the smell can be managed to almost 0 with proper care (ex. Not bathing them too often, a common mistake which increases their scent).

Jett 5 months ago

very useful planning on buying one

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