Ferrets are entertaining, energetic, and charming creatures who have become more and more popular as pets over time. Even though they may not be as common as dogs or cats, ferrets are known for their unique personalities and ability to form strong bonds with their owners. Like any other pet, ferrets require proper care and attention to thrive in a household. In this article, we will discuss whether ferrets make good pets and provide information on their unique characteristics, care needs, and potential challenges for new owners to consider.
What is a Ferret?
The domesticated ferret, Mustela furo, is a diminutive member of the Mustelidae family. Due to their interfertility, ferrets are most likely a domesticated variation of the wild European polecat (Mustela putorius). Due to their lengthy, thin bodies, ferrets resemble other mustelids. A ferret normally weighs between 0.7 and 2.0 kg (1.5 and 4.4 lb), measures 50 cm (20 in) long, including the tail, and has hair that can be black, brown, white, or a mix of those colors. In this species with sexual dimorphism, males are much bigger than females.
Although there are few documented records and those that do exist are inconsistent, it is believed that ferrets have been domesticated for a very long time. According to current research, ferrets were developed specifically for rabbiting, or sportingly hunting rabbits. With over five million ferrets in the United States alone, they are a popular choice of home pet in North America. Local laws affect whether owning ferrets is permissible. Restrictions are in place in New Zealand and several other nations because feral colonies of polecat-ferret hybrids hurt the local flora. The ferret has also been a successful research tool, advancing knowledge in the fields of neurology and infectious diseases, particularly influenza.
The black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes), a native of North America, and the domestic ferret are sometimes mistaken for one another.
The word “ferret” comes from the Latin furittus, which means “little thief” and is perhaps a reference to the common ferret’s propensity for hiding away minor things. In Middle English, the Latin-derived word “fyret” first appears in the fourteenth century. The contemporary spelling of “ferret” comes in the sixteenth century. The animal was known as a “meard” or “mearp” in Old English (Anglo-Saxon).
Aristophanes used the Greek word ktis, which was Latinized as ictis, in the play The Acharnians, which was composed in 425 BC. Uncertainty exists as to whether this was a reference to polecats, Egyptian mongooses, or ferrets.
Hob refers to a male ferret, and Jill to a female. A neutered male is referred to as a gib, a vasectomized male as a hoblet, and a spayed female is referred to as a sprite. Kits refer to ferrets that are younger than a year old. A group of ferrets is referred to as a “business” or, more formally, a “busyness” in the past. Some dictionaries list additional claimed collective nouns such as “besyness,” “fesynes,” “fesnyng,” and “feamyng,” but these terms are probably definitely made up.
Ferrets have a long, thin body form that is typical of mustelids. Their total length, including the tail, measures around 50 cm (20 in), on average. They might have a coat that is white, black, brown, or a combination of colors. They are sexually dimorphic because the males, which weigh between 0.7 and 2.0 kg (1.5 and 4.4 lb), are much larger than the females. Females may give birth to two or three litters a year, with the typical gestation lasting 42 days. In a typical litter, there are three to seven kits. After weaning in three to six weeks, the young become independent in three months. Their average lifetime is seven to ten years, and they reach sexual maturity at six months. Induced ovulation includes ferrets.
The majority of ferrets, unlike their polecat predecessors, which are solitary creatures, will live contentedly in social groups. Ferrets are crepuscular animals because they sleep for 14–18 hours a day and are most active in the morning and evening. If they are imprisoned, it is important to take them outdoors every day so they may get some exercise and satisfy their curiosity. They should have access to playtime for at least an hour. They like to burrow, are territorial, and like to sleep in a restricted space.
Ferrets have scent glands near their anus, just like many other mustelids, and these glands’ secretions are employed for scent marking. Ferrets can identify people and the sex of unknown people via their anal gland secretions. Ferrets may mark their urine for both sex and personal identification.
When frightened or afraid, ferrets can emit anal gland secretions similar to skunks, although the scent is much less powerful and quickly goes away. The majority of pet ferrets marketed in the US lack smell (have their anal glands removed). De-scenting is viewed as unnecessary mutilation in many other regions of the world, notably the UK and other European nations.
When agitated, they could engage in a behavior known as the “weasel war dance,” which involves frantic sideways jumps and hops and banging against neighboring objects. Despite its conventional moniker, it is not hostile; rather, it is an enthusiastic call to play. When agitated, ferrets squeak quietly; when afraid, they hiss. It is sometimes accompanied by a distinctive gentle clucking sound known as “dooking”.
Ferrets must eat meat to survive. The natural diet of their wild predecessors consisted of complete, small prey, which contained all of the organs, skin, feathers, and fur as well as the flesh. Ferrets require regular feedings since they have rapid metabolisms and small digestive tracts. The highest nutritional value is found in prepared dry diets that are nearly entirely made of meat (including premium cat food, however, specialist ferret food is more widely accessible and preferred). To resemble their natural diet more nearly, some ferret owners feed their animals pre-killed or live prey (such as mice and rabbits). Ferrets lack a cecum in their digestive systems, making them mostly incapable of processing plant food. Before the discovery of ferret physiology, many breeders and pet shops advised including things like fruit in the diet of ferrets. Today, it is understood that these recommendations are incorrect and may even be harmful to the health of ferrets. Around six months old, ferrets begin to imprint on their food. This can make it difficult to introduce new diets to an older ferret, and even something as simple as switching brands of kibble may cause the ferret to show reluctance. Therefore, it is advised to introduce young ferrets to as many various types and flavors of suitable food as is practical.
Are ferrets good pets?
They are gregarious animals that are active, inquisitive, and fun-loving. This indicates that while they may make wonderful companions, they are not the easiest to manage and can bite forcefully if startled. They, therefore, do not always make ideal pets for kids.
How long do pet ferrets live?
Although they can live up to 15 years as pets, ferrets typically live between six and ten years. Therefore, before purchasing or adopting one, be sure you can commit to maintaining it for this long.
Are ferrets social creatures?
Ferrets are exceptionally sociable animals and typically seek out other ferrets to be friends with. They may also live in small groups, especially with neutered males and females or their littermates, but they still like social contact and enriching environments.
Only maintain one ferret unless instructed to do so by a veterinarian or animal behaviorist. If they are alone, they should be entertained frequently since lonely and bored ferrets are more likely to act out and have trouble getting along with other ferrets later in life.
If you introduce them gently, ferrets can make friends with dogs and cats in the house. However, they should always be watched when playing together.
When do ferrets go to bed?
Since they are crepuscular, they are by nature active at dawn and dusk and have a sleep range of 18 to 20 hours each day.
Do ferrets have odors?
Ferrets do have a little odor. Male ferrets that haven’t been neutered have an overwhelming odor that many people find offensive. Additionally, their coat may feel oily or sticky.
Your ferret will smell less strongly, have a less oily coat, and be able to interact socially with other male ferrets after being neutered.
You should do a lot of study before obtaining a ferret since they have extremely specialized requirements.
Ferrets are not something we take in or rehome, but there are rescue groups like the RSPCA and specialized rescues that help unwanted or stray ferrets find homes.
Ferrets come in five distinct colors but do not have various breeds:
- pole or sable or fitch (cream and brown coat)
- Dew (white coat with dark eyes)
- Sandy (white and cream coat)
- silver (light or dark grey coat)
- albino (white coat with red eyes)
You should opt for a trustworthy breeder if you do not want to rehome a ferret. However, rehoming a ferret is frequently a wise decision because you will frequently receive continuing assistance to help your ferret adjust.
Things to buy for your pet Ferret
- adequate housing
- enough blankets, bedding, and hammocks
- bowls for food made of earthenware or stainless steel
- a bottle of water
- tunnels and platforms
- suitable clothing, a shelter, or a fabric nest box
- a place to work out
- toys for their amusement
- carry-on bag for veterinary visits
In addition to the aforementioned, your ferrets require a steady supply of fresh water. Consider purchasing pet insurance as well.
Ferret hutches and cages
The majority of ferrets may live either indoors or outside. The advice provided here will help you keep your ferret secure, happy, and healthy wherever you decide to keep them.
Where should ferrets live?
Ferrets may be maintained as indoor pets, although they often reside outdoors due to their pungent odor. There are several housing alternatives but always get the biggest enclosure you can so they have lots of space to play and exercise.
A pair of ferrets will need:
- A home that is at least three meters long (10 feet), two meters high (six feet), and two meters broad
- A heated sleeping space that would allow them to cuddle up together or sleep apart if they preferred
- There is a ton of enrichment and entertainment for them
- Their hutch should be waterproof, draught-proof, and out of direct sunlight
- Strong wire or bars should be used for the hutch, and the gaps between them should be too narrow for ferrets to squeeze their heads through. Special wooden hutch-style enclosures with built-in runs are available for purchase
- If maintained inside, tall ferret cages with strong platforms and many levels, similar to those offered for chinchillas, can be used
For bedding, use high-quality hay or shredded paper, and cover the floor with newspaper and wood shavings.
Additionally, fleece blankets, hammocks, and fabric nesting boxes are frequently used by pet ferret owners as bedding since they are less messy and provide some comfort.
How frequently should I clean my ferret’s home?
The ferret’s housing should be cleaned at least once a week, and litter trays should be cleaned daily.
Food will be hidden by ferrets; thus, it is crucial to remove it when cleaning them out to prevent mold growth.
What should I do to potty train my ferret?
Even after being litter-trained, ferrets may still have the odd mishap. It will be much simpler to maintain their accommodations tidy if they receive litter training.
Although a cat litter tray can be utilized, a high-sided, corner litter tray is preferable. Fill them with odorless cat litter or wood shavings. Since they’ll be more likely to use it, it’s usually advisable to set the litter tray where your ferret prefers to use the restroom rather than where you want it to be.
Safeguarding your ferret
Stopping the escape of ferrets
Ferrets enjoy digging and are adept at slipping out of tight spaces. Wire mesh can be used on the underside of outside runs to prevent them from vanishing, but this should be covered with turf or carpet to prevent damage. It is also a good idea to install bolts on hutch doors.
Winterizing ferrets by providing heat
Ferrets struggle to adapt to abrupt temperature changes. Therefore, it’s crucial to prevent abruptly altering their surroundings, such as bringing them inside at night and returning them to the outside during the day. As an alternative, you could:
- Provide blankets for them to sleep on
- If they have played in the snow or water, dry them off with a towel.
- To weatherproof the cage or run, add a barrier (but make sure there is still enough ventilation).
- Utilizing heat mats suitable for pets
Cooling them off in the heat
Ferrets dislike cold weather, especially when it is over 26°C, and they might suffer and even perish if they are exposed to temperatures of 30°C or more. Here are some suggestions for keeping your ferret cool in the heat.
- Make sure they have a lot of water
- Ensure that their residence and workspace are shaded at all times
- To control temperatures, add cooling fans, freezer blocks, or bottles of frozen water; however, make sure that any cords are securely out of your ferrets’ reach
- Only take your ferret for walks in the morning or evening when it is coldest outside, just as you would with a dog
- Give them a swimming area. Because not all ferrets will paddle, make sure the paddling area is fairly shallow so they can touch the bottom
- Understand the symptoms of heat exhaustion, such as panting and fainting. Speak with your veterinarian right away if you think your ferret may be suffering from heatstroke
Fireworks and ferrets
Ferrets, like other tiny animals, can be scared by pyrotechnics’ loud bangs, whizzes, and other noises. When fireworks are more prevalent, such as on Bonfire Night or New Year’s Eve, here are some activities you may engage in:
- If you can, bring them and their housing inside
- More bedding should be provided to your ferret so it can burrow
- Cover their cage as much as you can while without obstructing the ventilation. They will hear less noise as a result
Ferret-proofing your home
You must ensure that it is safe for your ferrets to roam around your home if you let them.
- Any cables must have a protective covering to prevent the animals from chewing through them and igniting a fire or injuring themselves
- Because they could be toxic, indoor plants should be taken out
- Keep all medications and cleaning supplies away from children
Maintaining your ferret’s interest
Naturally inquisitive, ferrets like interacting with their owners. But because of their high level of activity and propensity for boredom, playtime is crucial.
To promote foraging, dry food may be thrown around their enclosure or put in feeding toys. Since their eyesight is weak, they rely on their senses of smell, taste, and hearing; therefore, this may be a lot of fun and leverages their innate behaviors.
Climbing and tunneling
Ferrets enjoy climbing and burrowing. An excellent approach to keep their content is to use drainpipes and shelves in their cage (but be careful not to make the shelves too high since ferrets might fall and harm themselves).
Additionally, they enjoy dozing off in hammocks that may be strung inside their enclosure.
Exercising your ferrets
Ferrets need exercise every day, either inside or in a big run. They may be taught to walk with a lead and harness as well.
Ferret exercise in your home
Remove any potentially hazardous items before letting your ferret roam freely within the house.
Ferrets do not chew naturally, although they do enjoy putting things in their mouths and can consume things they should not. This indicates that they could ingest tiny materials, https://www.pexels.com/photo/a-white-ferret-on-green-grass-5776581/particularly rubber, which would result in intestinal obstruction.
Walking your ferrets
Ferrets are quite interesting and energetic, and some would like to accompany you on hikes. You will need to spend some time acclimating them to the event and introducing them to their harness and lead.
You will need the following to walk them:
- a particular ferret harness with two portions that clip together, like a dog harness but much smaller.
- a lead
- to confirm that they are comfortable being taken up and handled
Things to consider while taking your ferret on a stroll
- They must have a tight harness to prevent wriggling out of it
- You will have to watch them all the time
- If they are not used to being picked up or encountering new people, stay away from public areas
- It is always best to be cautious, so be aware of dogs and pick up your ferret if you spot one in the distance
How to maintain a ferret’s health
Because they are such active pets, ferrets are prone to scrapes and can easily consume things they should not, which can result in a high vet bill. Therefore, it’s wise to insure your cat.
Additionally, you must get your ferret examined by a veterinarian once a year. Ferrets are susceptible to a variety of prevalent diseases.
Ticks and fleas
Ferrets may get fleas and ticks just like dogs and cats do. Ear mites are also a risk for them. Although there are no items made expressly for ferrets, your veterinarian can provide advice on goods that are both secure and efficient.
The virus that causes distemper and human measles are closely related. Given that ferrets typically die from distemper, you should vaccine it.
Humans and other ferrets can contract and spread the human influenza virus from ferrets. Therefore, you should properly wash your hands after handling, feeding, or cleaning your pet to prevent spreading the flu to it or letting it spread to you.
Coronavirus and ferrets
Your ferret must isolate for 21 days from people and other ferrets from other homes as a precaution if:
- You or your family are distancing yourself
- Your ferret was imported into England from outside the Common Travel Area (the United Kingdom, Ireland, the Channel Islands, and the Isle of Man)
- This is because there is proof that coronavirus may impact and propagate among ferrets
Registering and microchipping your ferret
Ferrets should get microchips to assist reconnect them with their owners if they go missing and to provide a permanent form of identification.
If you reside in England or Wales, you need additionally register your ferret with the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA). You must adhere to Scottish regulations if you own a ferret and reside in Scotland.
Regular claw trimming may be necessary, but it does not have to be a hassle because many ferrets enjoy the taste of oil (wheat germ, soya, olive, linseed), and when it is poured on their tummies, it may make it quite simple to cut their claws using little claw scissors.
Should I bath my ferret?
Ferrets do not need to be bathed frequently. Although some owners believe this may lessen their odor, in reality, it can create skin issues by robbing them of their natural oils and drying up their coats.
Both male and female ferrets can be neutered, however, because neutered ferrets are more susceptible to adrenal gland illness, it is advisable to talk with your veterinarian about your alternatives.
In their first spring, often when they are approximately nine months old, ferrets reach sexual maturity.
Feminine ferrets’ seasons
Jills (female ferrets) enter their breeding season in the spring and remain there until they mate, or the season is ended with medication prescribed by your veterinarian. This is a problem that all ferret owners need to handle by going over their alternatives with their veterinarian. Females that are permitted to remain in the season might develop anemia and even pass away.
Options consist of:
- An implant of hormones every 18 to 24 months
- A jill jab, or hormone injection, every few months
- A mix of these strategies
After neutering, they are still susceptible to developing adrenal issues, thus some veterinarians recommend hormonal implants every 18 to 24 months to guard against this
For the appropriate owner, ferrets may make wonderful pets, but they need a lot of time, care, and attention. Although they are sociable, loving, and amusing, it is not advisable for small children or those with demanding schedules to interact with them. Research should be done before purchasing a ferret, and potential owners should be aware of the responsibilities.