Is a Ferret the Best Pet for You?

Updated on January 26, 2019
Jana Louise Smit profile image

Jana worked in animal welfare with abused and unwanted pets. She loves sharing her hands-on experience regarding domestic and wild critters.

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What You'll Learn About Ferrets

  • Basic needs
  • Lifespan
  • Behaviour
  • The de-scenting debate
  • Why ferret care is expensive
  • Kids and other pets
  • Legal issues

Pause Before You Purchase

Ferrets are exotic pets. For this reason, one must think hard about the facts, the animal's needs and the law. There are several requirements to keep both you and your ferret happy. Neglect one or two, and things can go south really fast. Responsible ownership brings joy, but an impulse buy (as opposed to an informed decision), often leaves first-time ferret parents with an animal that's a chore and not a companion.

Basic Needs

  • Ferrets are related to weasels, badgers and wolverines. Just like their wild cousins, they're intelligent and active. Your ferret requires physical exercise and activities that are also mentally stimulating—and they need a lot of it
  • They adore companionship and won't do well when left alone for hours. Boredom and stress lead to health issues
  • A stimulating, safe environment
  • A balanced diet, including high-quality meat
  • Ferrets need to have their nails clipped every 7 to 10 days

They Need Lots of Love

A ferret cannot be left alone for most of the day. They do best with companionship, from both other ferrets and people.
A ferret cannot be left alone for most of the day. They do best with companionship, from both other ferrets and people. | Source

A Short Lifespan

Even if you are prepared to buck up to all those requirements, there's still the issue of lifespan. The tragic truth is that they have short lives. As pet owners and animal lovers, this is a devastating reality. Most people know the trauma of bonding with a pet and then having to say goodbye.

A golden age for ferrets is 10. However, that's exceptional and not the norm. Their average lifespan is 6 to 8 years—if they received great nutrition, exercise and little stress. An animal that lives in a stressful home or eat poorly will have a significantly decreased lifespan.

Their Age Chart

  • 1 year old—the ferret is now an adult
  • 3 to 4 years old—this is furry middle-age
  • 5 to 6 years old—old age

They Love Life (and Sleep)

This is the motto of ferrets everywhere: Love life, explore, steal. Yes, that's right. Some ferrets view anything that's not nailed down as theirs. Since they need interaction, consider adopting two instead of just one. That way, they can amuse each other when you really don't have time. A pair of ferrets are greatly entertaining to watch once they get into a game.

Did you know that an undisturbed ferret can sleep nearly the whole day? They play hard and snooze hard. However, these critters have been known to adapt to their owner's sleeping schedule. As a rule, one's pet mustn't give over to a sleepy lifestyle. Around 15 hours is enough, and they should be encouraged to remain active.

Manage Their Sleep

Ferrets are naturally active, but some can get extremely lazy. The owner needs to make sure that they don't sleep too much and get overweight.
Ferrets are naturally active, but some can get extremely lazy. The owner needs to make sure that they don't sleep too much and get overweight. | Source

De-scenting Debate

When excited or frightened, the animal releases a bad scent. Some owners prefer to de-scent their pets and some are sold as “de-scented.” However, this procedure removes the anal glands, without any medical benefit to the animal. At the end of the day, the operation doesn't solve the stinky issue. Ferrets have oil glands in their skin that cause a musky smell. A strong odor remains for as long as they remain unsterilized. The debate is ongoing. Some commercial farms de-scent their ferrets before releasing them into the pet trade, but many European countries have banned the procedure on ethical grounds.

Odour Control

Even the best-groomed ferret has a musky aura. Here are some tips to tone down the smell.

  • Frequently change the litter box and bedding
  • Bathe your pet only a few times a year, otherwise the oil glands are overstimulated and the odour grows worse
  • Discuss sterilization with your vet

Ferret Care Is Expensive

Those cute faces don't come cheap. Consider the following checklist regarding the financial implications of owning a ferret.

  • The basics include bedding, food and water dishes, toys and treats, cages and litter boxes
  • High-quality ferret food
  • Sterilization
  • Annual vet checks and vaccinations
  • Ongoing treatment for geriatric-related illnesses and conditions
  • Pet insurance
  • Spending time and money to ferret-proof your home

Ferrets and Kids

It doesn't matter the kind of animal you choose as a pet. When children are involved, supervision is required. When your kids ask for a ferret, make sure they're not merely enchanted by the novelty of it. They must be able to handle the creature (safely and humanely), and persist with the responsibilities. Ferrets smell, can nip and scratch, and come with loads of chores. This might not be the companion your child fantasized about. Be very honest about your child's commitment before purchasing this type of pet.

Kids and Ferrets

As with any other pet and young children, supervision and education can provide a good experience for both.
As with any other pet and young children, supervision and education can provide a good experience for both. | Source

Do Ferrets Get Along With Other Pets?

Interaction between different species is complex and often dangerous. With ferrets, one must keep in mind that they are small animals — the very thing many dogs were bred to kill. This hardwired canine instinct could activate by the sight of a new ferret, or even when a familiar ferret behaves like prey. It would be irresponsible to claim, across the board, that ferrets get along with other pets. One must assess on a case-to-case basis. In other words, know the limits of your ferret, cat and dog. Don't fall into the trap of believing animals think like humans all the time. Provide constant supervision and allow the ferret a safe place of its own to spend time away from the other pets.

Legal Issues

Before you get your first ferret, knuckle down and do some homework. Find out whether the law allows pet ferrets in your area. Many owners have experienced the terrible heartbreak of bonding with a ferret and then having that animal forcibly removed because of local restrictions. In places where they are allowed, they often require a license. It's best to jump through all those hoops before purchasing your ferret.

Ferrets Are Special Pets

More to the point, they're not for everyone. A “ferret person” must qualify in multiple ways. You must have the time and finances and the willingness to adapt to a ferret's wonderful but energetic ways. One must be willing to endure the tough times that include a short lifespan and sickly old age. All that aside, the ferret makes an incredibly satisfying pet. These intelligent clowns love to entertain their owners and are guilty of turning plenty of humans into hopeless ferret addicts!

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 Jana Louise Smit

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