The domesticated ferret is the 3rd most popular pet to own in the United States. And one of the most misunderstood. Not quite like a cat and nothing like a rodent. These fun creatures were domesticated even before the cat and dog and often, like other weasels, they were kept in the homes to control the rodents/pests. Being small they fit well in a home and they didn’t have to feed them. Later they were used for hunting and are even still used today to hunt rabbit and other small creatures. This is still very popular in the UK and the ferrets we see here in the United States are usually a lot smaller then the European polecat that is used there.
The ferrets you see in the US pet stores today are no longer able to fend for themselves. They don’t even know that rodents are food. So much for helping around the house. Almost all pet stores carry ferrets who are mass bred in large breeding facilities across the US and Canada. These are spay/nuetered and descented before entering the market. Although descenting has been found not to help lower the smell, it is a marketing tool that we don’t see ending anytime soon. In the UK, it is even illegal to descent a ferret unless it has a medical need.
So most will come into a home from the large factories and the new owner will not have to concern themselves with the possibility of them breeding later on. A good thing. Breeding can be stressful and financially draining. Unless you are breeding for show or to keep all the babies, it is not recommended. Also a female that is not fixed can get medical complications and have to be spayed anyway.
Typically US factory farmed ferrets will be about one to two feet in length, including tail and weigh anywhere from one pound to four. They are very low to the ground creatures who are often nicknamed Carpet Sharks. Not only because they are so short but because they love to go under rugs and into blankets on the floor. Bouncing out and springing up to “attack” from their hiding place.
Most owners feed the standard dry kibble ferret food but remember that just because a packaged food says Ferret Diet does not mean it meets the requirements of this fuzzy critter. A high protein diet is critical and low grain content is a must. You see, this long bodied bundle of energy processes it’s food within 4 hours of eating. They also are missing part of the digestive tract that breaks down and processes fiber (the cecum). This makes them an obligate carnivore – only eating meat. The internet has provided a ton of good information on keeping your animals healthy and a must research site to bookmark is the one all about ferret food: http://moredooks.herobo.com/ In the US, ferrets were fed low quality cat food for years. That is, until manufacturers saw the need for a ferret specific diet. And as time goes by, even cat food improves and often you can find that cat will sometimes surpass ferret in quality of diet. Research is the key to a healthy furkid. One key element to know about ferrets is that they are very picky eaters. They need to learn what food is edible. And just because they like it doesn’t mean it is good for them. Milk products are bad but sometimes are used on treats labeled for ferrets. Owners should feed a mixture of good quality foods as manufacturers have been known to discontinue their products. One last note about food, make sure the container can be attached to the cage. Ferrets are notorious for tipping bowls over because of their very curious nature. And don’t get mad if they dig out all their food – again, they are trying to figure out what is at the bottom. Never restrict their food intake unless instructed by a veterinarian.
Ferret homes/cages are also critical to their health. Think about it. Generally these speed demons are out of their cage a minimum of 4 hours a day so that means they could be caged for 22 hours. Generally they will just sleep until you let them out – not so great if you don’t allow them time to come and play. Ferrets have been known to almost starve themselves to death because they were not allowed out of their cages. A suitable cage can be found all over the internet and in stores. Please remember it must be taller then wider but at least 2 foot wide. Cages should never have uncovered wire shelves or floors of complete wire – they will get their foot caught and will often damage a foot so severely it has to be removed. Often you will find they like to cuddle in a bunch of blankets on the bottom of their cage next to their litter pan. And unlike rodents, these little kids will litter box train. A big plus when they run around the house.
Hammocks are synonymous with ferrets. But that doesn’t mean they don’t want to snuggle in a blanket in the bottom, middle or top of the cage. They must be provided a place to hide. And you do not have to buy the most expensive one as you can even make some yourself out of pillow cases. More the better!
Then there is their water supply. Simply add a water bottle for rabbits or ferrets and it is recommended to put a dish under the bottle as most will drip a bit. This is also a great practice as many ferrets will not drink from a water bottle. The dish under the water bottle should be secured to the cage and can be either a crock that screws onto the cage or even a snap on food bowl that is made for travel kennels. Securing it is very important as ferrets are just into tipping things over.
So again, what is the stink all about?
Well these little energy balls are part of the animal kingdom that has scent glands that help them mark their territory and defend from larger predators. Being as they are related to the skunk, they will have a musky odor whether or not they are descented. Keeping the smell manageable is very easy. First, they can be given baths in a sink with ferret shampoo (or mild shampoo) once a month but really should be kept to just about 4 times a year at most. The bedding is the one that retains the smell. Washed weekly it really will help keep the musk to be very light. And don’t forget to keep that litter box clean. Using pelleted wood litter helps collect the moisture and other waste for a quick cleanup.
Most people find the ferret is great for a slightly busy lifestyle. The do best kept in a cage while the family is out and let out to play for a minimum of 4 hours a day while everyone cooks dinner and spends time together. They don’t need to be walked – they are so quick it is not encouraged to take them outside. They do well in a large cage where they can move freely about and not get bored while waiting for you to get home. A bored ferret can get depressed and loose weight quickly.
With the exercise outside the cage, an owner must be prepared to ferret-proof their home. Ferrets want to get into and onto everything. They need to be kept out of harms way and out of the chemicals. We often call them “two-year olds on four legs”. Just when you thought you had that coffee table far enough away from the couch – Zap! – they jump on and slide across. Taking all that was on the table with them off onto the floor. Another noted item relates to folding furniture such as a recliner or fold out bed in a couch. Every year ferrets are killed in these mechanisms because they want to be inside of everything. Preferable sleeping. This will also hold true with a standard couch so be prepared to “watch where you sit”.
Okay Okay – I am ready!
- Cage – it is tall and roomy, at least a 2′ base with a 3′ height. Bigger the better.
- Hammocks and hidey material – more the better
- Food – Did you get food from this listing? http://moredooks.herobo.com/ and buying online will save you a ton! Mixing foods is highly recommended – what if your brand was out of stock? Remember fuzzies will stop eating if they don’t have food they recognize as food.
- Food dish – recommend one that attaches to the cage like a crock
- Water – water bottle and catch pan
- Ferret-proofed home. Which they will show you what you missed – every day – over and over.
- Provide inside tunnels (store bought or sewer/drainage tubes) and toys for ferret and human entertainment
How do I pick out the right one?
Domestic ferrets only come in different colors and not different breeds. And although color is fun, remember temperament is more important. If you have the opportunity to meet with the fuzzy in a home or rescue, you will be able to assess them much better then in a store. All young ferrets are nippy if not trained by constant holding and gentle training. Ferrets must be taught to act properly and in an acceptable manner in your home. Any new family must be prepared for an adjustment period. Take your time getting your new fuzzy. This is a lifetime commitment and no one wants one that injures them. We always recommend two visits before making a final decision. Even fostering before you adopt is an excellent program.
Ferret Math – do I want one or two? Any ferret owner will tell you they started out with just one or two that led to four or five. Since they are very easy to care for they become addicting like potato chips. It is recommended to get two if they get along in their previous home. But if only one is what you want please be prepared for that ferret to not allow another in the home. They can become very territorial over their home and reject any new ferret. A single ferret just requires a lot of human interaction and leads a life of contentment just as a single family dog or cat.
Their wild cousins in the Mustelidae family