Basic Ferret Care and Facts
Fun Facts About Ferrets
To start, let's take a look at some fun, general facts about ferrets!
- The word 'ferret' is Latin for "little thief' (and that is extremely accurate!).
- Thousands of year ago, ferrets were tamed and domesticated so they could be used to chase rabbits out of their holes for hunting.
- Ferrets are part of the Mustelidae family. This includes weasels, minks and otters.
- A group of ferrets is called a 'business'.
- Ferrets are the 3rd most popular companion animal in North American (just behind dogs and cats).
Ferrets are extremely interesting creatures! They have gained a bad reputation and many people think that they stink and are aggressive. While it is true, ferrets have a musky odour, most people have their ferrets de-scented. This keeps that smell down and a healthy ferret does not smell much at all.
A Home That Is Safe and Sound
Keeping a ferret as a pet requires them to have a cage that they can spend time in for sleep and for safety. They do require a good amount of free time. This can be done with supervised free-roaming in the house or by giving them their own room to be in.
How their time is spent depends on a person's home and what they are able to do. You should plan to give them at least 4 hours of out-of-cage playtime a day.
- Ferrets tend to sleep 15 to 20 hours a day, in 4-hour intervals.
- Some ferrets perform a 'dead sleep'. This is when they are in such a deep sleep they appear dead even when picked up and moved around.
- A good quality cage can range anywhere from $60 to $600 USD.
- Getting the largest cage you can afford will give your ferret a happier life when they are in their cage.
- Cages should have plenty of hammocks and sleeping areas, litter boxes, food, water and toys.
A popular brand of a cage is the Ferret Nation, which comes in a variety of sizes and is one of the easiest to clean. Do not be fooled by these little escape artists! They can move their ribs in a way that allow them to escape some areas easily, so a proper cage made for ferrets is a great investment.
What Should I Feed My Pet Ferret?
Like any pet, it is important to feed your ferret good-quality food. While doing research, you will see an age-old debate about kibble vs. a raw diet. Keep in mind, this is a preference. Not everyone can afford or is comfortable feeding a raw diet, and there is no concrete proof that it is better. No matter what you choose, just make sure you are getting the best quality for your little fuzz butts.
It is best to avoid sugar, dairy, fruits and vegetables.
- Ferrets imprint on their food by the time they are 6 months old. This means that they will prefer and always want this food. Although not impossible, it can be very challenging to feed them new food after this age.
- A ferret needs to have access to food at all times. Their digestive system is short and they need to eat every 4 hours.
- Ferrets also should have access to water at all times. However, you may find a lot of spilled water as they also like to play in it!
- A good quality kibble should have at least 36% protein, 20% fat and as low of carbohydrates as possible.
- In the wild, ferrets would eat small mammals, eggs, fish and reptiles.
Treats can be given to your little furry friends and can be used to train as well. Always check the ingredients of treats sold at the pet store, as they are not always the best quality and full of filler ingredients. Cat treats are a good small treat. Many will take a bit of raw meat or a bit of oil. All ferrets are different and you will find what they like best.
Reproduction and Life Expectancy
Domesticated ferrets are bred in many colours, with the most popular being sable. Other colours include dark-eyed white, albino, black sable, silver, chocolate and cinnamon.
- Female ferrets that are not spayed are called a jill and a sprite once they have been spayed. Males are called a hob and then gib once he is neutered.
- Baby ferrets are called kits.
- The gestation period is 35 to 45 days and the female will have between 1 and 6 kits.
- Ferrets average lifespan is 6 to 10 years, but some can live up to 15 years.
- Baby ferrets are born deaf, blind and white. They see and hear around 34 days old and begin to get their coloring at 3 months.
- Un-spayed females can die if they go into heat and do not mate.
Many pet stores (here in Canada specifically) sell their ferrets already fixed and de-scented. This helps to keep inexperienced breeders from having litters. It is a high risk to keep an unaltered ferret, especially for the females. When an unaltered female goes into heat, she must breed. Otherwise, she runs the risk of dying.
Common Health Issues
These little creatures can be plagued with many health problems. Most of the time they are minor, but there are some complications that require some vet visits.
- Ferrets can catch human colds and flu.
- They are vulnerable to the same diseases as cats and dogs, such as distemper.
- Some ferrets develop an adrenal disease, which can require a surgical implant.
- Intestinal blockage is very common, as they are prone to chew and swallow things they shouldn't.
- Ferrets can also develop Waardenburg Syndrome, which leaves them deaf and socially awkward.
The best way to help your ferret is preventative medicine. Have them vaccinated, check and treat their ears for ear mites and keep their nails trimmed. If you have a cold, avoid cuddling and limit touching. Make sure you visit the vet if you notice anything unusual or distressing.
Fascinating Ferret Behavior
Even though ferrets can be a challenging pet to have, all the work is worth it when you see some of their behaviors!
- Ferrets do the 'weasel war dance' (see video below). This is where they bounce and make a dooking sound when they are excited and want to play.
- They will find and stash all sorts of things, no matter how big or small.
- When happy, many ferrets will wag their tails like a dog (which is so cute!)
- Many love to snorkel. This involves sticking their head into their water dish and playing.
- Two is better than one. Not only does it keep them busy and give them someone to play and sleep with, it can provide hours of entertainment for their owners.
Ferrets are happy, bouncy pets. They are curious, mischevious and love to play. You will find that they will get in and explore anything they can fit it. Ferret-proofing your home before they have free roam is crucial. Otherwise, you will find them in places you might not want them to be. They bond well with their owners and enjoy being with people. Some love to cuddle, others are just too busy for that!
Weasel War Dance
- PetMD: Ferret 101
- VetWest Animal Hospital: Ferret Care
- American Ferret Association
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.
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© 2018 Tanya Huffman