Ferrets can make very friendly pets. They’re generally very clean, playful and are ideal for older children. Domesticated ferrets come in a variety of colours.
They tend to live between 8 – 10 years and a healthy adult should weigh 600 – 800g for a female, or 1.2kg for a male.
Ferrets are extremely sociable and should be housed in same sex pairs or groups. You can house mixed sex groups together if they have been neutered. Ferrets will often pile together to sleep.
A large wire, escape-proof cage is essential for your ferrets. They are extremely active so need vast amounts of space. You can have smaller enclosure for them if they often have (supervised) run of the house. Ferrets can easily be trained to use litter trays, which should be cleaned daily. Ferrets can squeeze through the tiniest of gaps, so you must ensure the cage is 100% escape proof.
Provide your ferrets with lots of wooden toys to gnaw on, hide in, crawl through, and generally run around with! Another fun game is to hide treats around the cage for them to forage and find. Provide plastic or cardboard tubes for them to run through (and chew!) and cardboard boxes to hide in.
Sawdust, hay, woodshavings or straw should not be used in ferret housing as they can cause upper respiratory tract problems. Line the floor with either flat or shredded newspaper, as they will use the litter tray for urinating and defecating. Provide a hide or nesting box and fill it with old duvets, sheets, towels or old clothes. They will pile on top of each other to sleep so ensure there is enough space for them to do this. Ferrets also seem to enjoy sleeping hammocks, so it may be a good idea to provide one of these too.
Ensure the cage is placed in an area away from draughts and direct sunlight. Ferrets are highly susceptible to heatstroke as they cannot sweat, so ensure their cage is not in direct sunlight and check them regularly to ensure they do not get too hot.
Ferrets are very easily tamed, but can bite when scared, so you will need to earn their trust before handling them. When you approach them, crouch down and speak very softly. Let them come to you – perhaps hold a treat in your hand for them to have, and be patient. They may not come to you the first time you try this. Once they are happy for you to have your hands near them, gently place one hand under their front paws and scoop up the bottom with your other hand. They can be very fast, so be careful!
Ferrets should be groomed regularly, but do not stay still for very long! It is a good idea to groom them every other day so that they should be fine with having a very quick brush. Use a soft bristled kitten brush, or a rubber brush (such as a Kong Zoom Groom).
Neutering is recommended in both male and female ferrets. Jills (females) will go into heat in their first spring, and remain in season until successfully mated. This can lead to anaemia, which can prove to be fatal. If you are not planning to mate your female ferrets, then it is advisable to have them neutered before their first season.
Hobs (males) secrete from their sebaceous glands during the breeding season, which creates the distinct odour associated with ferrets. Having them neutered before the breeding season begins can prevent, or at least drastically reduce, the smell that the ferret produces. It can also reduce dominance characteristics that can be shown by unneutered hobs.
It is worth noting that neutered ferrets (both male and female) are more susceptible to developing hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing’s Disease), which can cause alopecia and tumours in the adrenal glands. This can be controlled medically, but it is worth taking this into consideration when neutering ferrets.
You should be feeding your ferret a good quality pelleted food. Ensure you choose a ‘nugget’ food, rather than muesli-style. With the muesli-style diets, they pick out the parts that they like and leave the parts that they don’t, which means that they may not get all of their required nutrients. Nugget-style pellets prevent this selective feeding, as each pellet has an equal amount of nutrients. Take care if you are thinking of changing their diet, and always ensure you change foods over gradually, over a period of 10 days.
Do not feed your ferret any grain-based foods (breads, cakes, cookies, cereals, noodles etc), nuts or fibrous fruits and vegetables, as these are indigestible to ferrets and can result in digestive problems, including blockages.
Common Health Problems
Intestinal Obstructions: Ferrets love to chew, especially on rubber items, so it is imperative to supervise them constantly when they’re running around the house to ensure they do not swallow any of these items. Also, ensure that toys and blankets in their cages do not have any removable parts or decorations. Do not feed your ferret any grain-based foods (breads, cakes, cookies, cereals, noodles etc), nuts or fibrous fruits and vegetables, as these are indigestible to ferrets and can result in digestive problems, including blockages.
Hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing’s Disease): This disease is commonly found in ferrets, and is not a contagious disease. It has been linked to neutering, especially early neutering (around 6 weeks of age). Symptoms of hyperadrenocorticism are alopecia (loss of hair), vulvar swelling in females, stranguria (frequent and painful urinating) in males, and pruritus (itchy skin). It can be treated by surgical removal of one of the adrenal glands or by using medication.
Influenza: Ferrets are highly susceptible to several strains of human, avian and swine influena virus. Humans can infect ferrets and vice versa. If you or anyone in your household has cold or flu symptoms, then they should not handle the ferret. If you need to take the ferret to the vets for any reason, it may be worth checking over the phone that the veterinary staff who will be handling the ferret do not have any cold or flu symptoms!