A Guide to Ferret Ownership

Ferrets can be a joy for any pet lover, but as with any pet, ferrets come with their own set of problems and issues. Before investing in a fun family friend, responsible pet owners should understand both the good and the bad sides to taking care of ferrets.

Ferrets are Fun!

Ferrets are one of the easier types of pets to own. Like cats, ferrets generally seek to live in a clean area and will thus be easily trained to do their business in one main location. Also like cats, ferrets sleep a lot – upwards of 16 hours a day, which is as much as a newborn child sleeps.

Unlike cats, however, ferrets have a playful side similar to that of dogs. When they are in a playful mood they will jump, make some noise, hide things, trot around the room, “dance,” and wrestle.

Another positive aspect of ferrets is that they generally live in cages, meaning less clean-up and hair on the furniture. They do require daily playtime, though; during which they can run around the house or a room for a while. This assures that they have the exercise and social interaction with you that they need.

Ferrets are very loving pets, and despite their sometimes off-putting appearance, they are generally tender, sweet creatures. Depending on your ferret’s personality, he could either enjoy relaxing with you in bed, jumping and playing in the house, or both. Like all animals, ferrets can sometimes be violent and bite, but with proper training, any ferret will have no problem learning to be gentle.

Because most ferrets you find at a pet store come from a place called Marshall Farms (not known for its amazing caretaking practices, but nonetheless the leader in ferret breeding), they are usually spayed or neutered and also de-scented (i.e., they don’t have a weird smell about them) when you buy them. In the state of , it is illegal to sell an unfixed ferret. Check your own state’s laws or ask about it at a local pet store if you’re considering adoption.

Also, several states do not allow people to own ferrets as pets at all, so it is important to know your own state’s laws regarding this issue.

Ferret Food

Marshall Farms sells its own ridiculously expensive brand of ferret food. Other deluxe ferret foods are also available, and if you choose to feed your ferret these, it’s fine and perfectly healthy for your pet but also a dent in the wallet for you. Some of these foods can end up running pet owners around $30 per month.

Dry cat food alternatives for ferrets are equally as healthy, and though many argue otherwise, a local vet I talked with about it agreed that it is fine to feed ferrets cat food. The important thing to check is that you don’t go too cheap with the cat food you choose to buy- make sure it has actual meat products in it instead of the corn byproducts some of the really cheap brands use.

Other than that, ferrets enjoy treats. Anything from the treats you buy at the store made specifically for ferrets to peanut butter, chocolate chips, and cereal is safe for ferrets. Contrary to popular belief, chocolate in very small amounts is perfectly safe for ferrets (unlike dogs, who can die from ingesting even the tiniest bite of chocolate).

Ferrets are carnivores, like cats and dogs, so feeding them fruits and vegetables is not always in their greatest interest. Each ferret has different tastes (one of mine adores baby food carrots), so trying new things out is a treat for you as well as your ferret. However, giving your ferret your leftover fruit salad probably will not be a hit with him.

In terms of water, ferrets drink quite a bit. Always make sure they have fresh, cold water in their cage. Ferrets do not sweat, so a big way their cool their bodies down when they are hot is by drinking lots of water. Without this water, ferrets can become easily dehydrated.

Sleep Habits

Ferrets sleep. A lot. If you are looking for an animal that will greet you at your door and constantly want to play, ferrets are not the animals for you. However, for those who seek a few hours a day of quality playtime with their pet, ferrets are perfect. They can sleep in their cages without feeling neglected, but when it is time to come out, they are more than happy to entertain and be entertained.

Ferrets are Zen-like sleepers: they usually curl under a blanket in an almost paralyzed ball shape when they sleep. If they are awoken, they are floppy, motionless zombies. When woken from sleep, ferrets will usually sit quietly in their owner’s arms for a few minutes, shivering for a bit in an effort to get their body heat rising. Soon, the ferret will perk up and usually be ready to play.

Out of common courtesy to your pet, it is generally best to let him sleep when he is sleeping. You can technically wake him up at any point, but just like it is not nice to wake a child for no reason, it is the same for a ferret. Let the little guy sleep when he needs to sleep.

The Crap Trap

When it comes to ferrets and their bathroom habits, there is good news and there is bad news. The good news is that ferrets can be easily litter-trained. The bad news is that the ferrets will decide exactly where their bathroom area will be, whether it is in a corner of their cage or in their sleeping blanket.

Ferrets are adamant about where they go to the bathroom. Some of them can adapt when you move their litter box or paper to a different area of their cage, but most will continue to do their business in the old spot, box or no.

When trying to train your ferret, make a deal with him: as long as he goes in the litter box, he can decide where it is placed. Ferrets adapt very well to bathroom areas, because it gives them a distinct “messy” spot instead of a gross living area in general. If your ferret ever begins to make a mistake, physically move him over to his paper or litter pan so that he knows you expect him to go there.

Also, make sure to keep his bathroom area pretty clean. Just like you would not want to go to the bathroom in a toilet that was un-flushed by the person before you, if his bathroom area is not clean, your ferret will go elsewhere in his cage.

General Care

Ferrets do not require that much extra care. They only need to be bathed once every few months (in fact, over-bathing a ferret can dry out its skin). If you ever take your ferret outside or you have other pets in the house, you should use a kitten flea treatment once a month on your ferret (use about 1/3 to �½ of a tube of flea solution).

The other main thing ferret owners must do is nail clippings. Ferrets do not have retractable claws, so if their claws get too long, they can easily scratch floors and people (usually by accident, since ferrets rarely scratch furniture like cats do). Buy a pair of ferret nail clippers or (clippers are easier and safer to use) or use a pair of scissors. It is generally easiest to clip your ferret’s nails right after waking him up, so he is in his zombie state and less likely to try and get away. Clip each of his front nails in front of the red line you see: this is his vein, and it hurts ferrets a great deal if you cut this. Clip his nails as close to the vein as you can without actually touching the vein. Regular nail clippings do not hurt your ferret, but he will likely be scared and want to get away. Hold him tightly and give him lots of kisses afterward- it is scary to a ferret to hear the sound of his nails being cut.

Hide and Seek

Ferrets love to hide things. If you buy a ferret, prepare to keep your keys, money, candy and anything else possible for a ferret to carry well out of their reach. Ferrets love anything noisy (crackly, crunchy, etc.), shiny, or fun to bite. They love straws from soda cups and will often knock the cups over to steal the straw and drink the soda. They will take candy bar wrappers and hide them under your furniture, and there may be a few occasions where you have a mad search for your car keys and discover them under the dresser or in a cabinet.

Ferrets are sneaky, and they can fit almost anywhere. They can slide in between a baby gate and a wall and they can sneak into dresser drawers or in couch cushions. If you let your ferret run free full-time or only for an hour a day, you should be careful where you go, where you step, and where you keep the things you need and use. You never know where your little guy has been or what he has taken with him!

Cages versus Free Roam

Some ferret owners do not own a cage for their ferret. Admittedly, cages are expensive, as are ferrets themselves (the total set-up, ferret cost included, will run you about $250-$300). There is nothing particularly wrong with letting your ferret have free roam of your house, but you must consider the preparation you will have to do first.

The ferret will have a harder time being litter-trained in a place as big as a house or even a room. You should take this time investment, not to mention cleaning investment, into account when preparing your house for your ferret.

Ferrets can get into anything, so baby-proofing is a must for anyone with a free-roam ferret. As with regular baby-proofing, cabinets should not easily open, small objects should not be left on the ground, and outlet covers should be bought. Ferrets, unlike babies, can also climb, so even things up high should not be things ferrets could eat, steal or potentially choke on. They should also have a dedicated sleeping area so that you can always find your ferret when they are asleep. That way you will not have to worry about sitting on him when he sleeps inside the couch cushions.

Cages offer a greater degree of security for your ferret, and because they sleep so much, they do not tend to care that their space is more cramped. If you invest in a larger-sized cage, your ferret will not necessarily constantly want to get out of his cage and will appreciate having his food, water, bed, toys and bathroom area close to him.

Vet Visits and Common Problems

Vet visits are a necessity for ferrets. It is important to take your ferret to a vet that knows something about the species, and you can easily find this information online. Many vets do not take ferret patients because they have no training with ferrets, so you have to do a little research before making an appointment.

Ferret vet visits are not expensive. They tend to be $15-$30, plus any medicine your pet may need. Vet visits allow you to make sure your ferret is in tip-top condition and at the right weight level.

One of the biggest problems, particularly with older ferrets, is a condition called Insulinoma. This disease, similar to human diabetes, relates to ferrets’ insulin levels. As ferrets age, a large percentage of them become susceptible to this disease and usually require a daily dose of medicine. This can be a pain and an expense, so before you invest in a ferret, make sure you are prepared for the responsibility of owning one.

Ferrets are amazing creatures. They are fun and loving animals that make great pets. Before you buy a ferret, you must know the pros and cons of ferret ownership. If you feel you can handle the responsibilities that come with owning a ferret, stop by your local pet store to play with some for a while. Though some people may think ferrets look strange or have mean personalities, those who choose not to pass immediate judgment on the sweet-natured ferrets can find friends in them for the next seven years. A ferret will love you as much as you love him. Just remember to do your part to keep him happy, healthy and safe.

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