Ferrets are intelligent, curious pets who love to explore. They are very playful and will amuse you for hours with their antics. When playing, they can get so excited that they bounce into walls! However, they are also quiet animals and make ideal apartment pets.
Their scientific name, Mustela putorious furo, means “little thief” and they live up to that name by stealing and hiding toys and other items like socks. Because they are so active, ferrets need playtime out of their cage several hours a day.
Ferrets are more like dogs or cats than most other small pets, and are best for adults and older children who want to have a lot of interaction with their pet.
One ferret, or more?
Because ferrets are so playful and social, it’s best to get two so they can play together. However, just one ferret can do well with regular play with its owner.
Male or female?
As adults, male ferrets are twice the size of females, but both sexes make equally good pets. The male ferret is called a “hob” if it is non-neutered and a “gib” if it is neutered. The female is a “jill” if non-spayed and a “sprite” if spayed. Due to the placement of the penis, male ferrets have a distinctive “belly button” even when young. Males generally tend to grow to be more settled while females tend to display more energetic qualities, but individuals vary greatly and most ferrets tend to calm with age.
The best care for ferrets begins with proper nutrition. These playful animals require a nutritionally balanced diet precisely formulated with at least 30% highly digestible protein from real meat and egg, and 20% fat to fuel their high-energy needs. Some commercial diets offer 40% protein, which is even better. While some higher-end cat foods may meet these criteria and be fed to ferrets, it is usually best to use a high-quality food formulated for ferrets. Do not feed dog or puppy food to a ferret.
Ferrets “olfactory imprint” on their food by about six months old, meaning if they haven’t eaten a food by that time, they may not recognize the smell of that item as even being food, and may refuse to eat new or substantially different smelling food. To get a ferret to change diets after this age usually takes a gradual introduction process, mixing 10% new food with 90% old and gradually adjusting the percentages over several days until the new food is being exclusively eaten.
Ferrets are obligate carnivores, meaning they must eat meat and only meat. They have very short and simple digestive systems that cannot process the carbohydrates in vegetables, fruits or cereals. NEVER attempt to feed a ferret a vegetarian diet!
Because of their short intestinal tracts, ferrets need to eat frequently, so make sure they have access to food at all times, as well as fresh water. You may give occasional healthy treats, but make sure they do not make up more than 10% of their diet every day. When a balanced diet is fed, additional vitamin and mineral supplements are not required and could be harmful.
Ferrets need a large, secure wire cage, at least 36″ X 18″ X 18″ tall, and the bigger the better to provide room for lots of fun toys. The safest size mesh is 1″ square. The floors of the cage should be solid, not wire, to protect their sensitive feet. If the cage has multiple levels, make sure the ramps between them are solid so that little ferret feet do not slip through and get caught. Ferrets spend the great majority of the day sleeping, but more than make up for it during their awake hours with vigorous play, so be sure to interact with them and give them time out of the cage each day.
Ferrets have very regular bathroom habits which makes them able to be litter box trained. They will usually back into a corner to go, and will generally avoid areas where they sleep, eat, or drink. Provide a large ferret litter box in their chosen corner containing a litter made of recycled paper or organic pellets. Do not use clay litter or cedar shavings. Ferrets overheat easily and are subject to predators outside, so it is best to keep them indoors at temperatures below 80 degrees F.
Many ferrets prefer a water dish to a bottle, but many get along just fine with a bottle. If you decide to use a bottle, offer them a dish during their out-of-cage time when you can supervise. Ferrets are both playful and curious, and they will attempt to dig out or turnover dishes and bowls. A dog travel water dish will help discourage them from splashing out the water. Food dishes should be tip-proof and easy to clean.
Another classic ferret accessory is the hammock. Ferrets enjoy sleeping in hammocks, and even multiple ferret cages may find all of them piled into a single hammock. They also enjoy on old t-shirt or pillow case to curl up in, especially one that has the owner’s scent. Keep all bedding clean with regular washes.
Clean the litter box every day, or more often as needed. While ferrets are still being litter trained, you may actually want to leave one or two pieces of feces in the box to remind them of where they are supposed to go. Be mindful of any toys in the cage that might have fallen into the litter box, and remove them for washing and sanitizing before placing them back.
Provide fresh food and water daily. You may wish to add a product to the ferret’s water called “Bi-Odor” which helps to keep the typical ferret odor at bay. Wash the cage, accessories and bedding weekly – most cases of “that ferret smell” are usually due to dirty cages, not dirty ferrets!
Ferrets need their nails trimmed, ears cleaned and teeth brushed with a cat toothpaste and toothbrush every 2-3 weeks. You can put a few drops of a fatty acid supplement like Ferretone on your ferret’s tummy to keep him busy licking it off during grooming. Ferrets’ nails are integral to their dexterity – never declaw a ferret. It would be akin to cutting off your fingertips!
A bath once a month is adequate and more frequent bathing actually increases their musky smell as their oil glands (source of their characteristic scent) will go into overdrive to combat the skin-drying effect of shampooing.
Ferrets must have a series of vaccinations starting at 6 weeks of age, similar to those for dogs and cats. They should have an annual veterinary exam. Pet ferrets must be spayed or neutered by about 6 months of age. The nature of the ferret reproductive system is such that a jill in heat can die if not mated.
Ferrets can catch a cold or flu from a human and vice versa, so minimize handling when either of you is sick. Ferrets have unique health care requirements and conditions, so they should be seen by a vet who is experienced in ferret medicine.
Young ferrets tend to be nippy and require patient training. Ferrets roughhouse with each other including biting, but each ferret sets limits with his playmates as to what is tolerated. You must do the same. A simple “no bite!” accompanied by a gentle but firm scruff of the neck should suffice. Ferrets will not understand physical punishment, and hitting a ferret is a sure way to not only continue getting bitten, but to wind up with an aggressive and neurotic ferret. Some first-time ferret owners may prefer to adopt a ferret at least 8 months old. All rooms where ferrets are allowed to play must be extensively “ferret-proofed.” Avoid any toys, especially those made of latex or foam rubber, which can be chewed apart and swallowed.
Ferrets live an average of six to eight years, although it’s possible for them to live to 15. They are generally regarded as seniors by about age four or five. They have a breeding season during the spring and summer with a gestation period of 40-42 days and an average litter size of 6-8. The babies are called kits and their eyes open around 5 weeks. The kits can be weaned at 10 weeks.
If you have questions about your ferret, do not hesitate to contact us. We will be happy to help you choose a ferret care book for more complete information. You, your veterinarian, and the staff here at the store will form the team which will be responsible for your ferret’s well being.
- Large wire cage
- Litter box and litter
- Water bowl or bottle
- Food bowl
- High-quality diet formulated specially for ferrets
- Toys, such as tubes, balls and interactive cat toys
- Bed, such as a hammock
- Harness and leash
- Nail clippers
- Cat toothbrush and toothpaste
- Ear wash
- Shampoo and conditioner
- Hairball remedy
- Ferret-safe habitat cleaning spray