Ferrets are friendly and social pets. They have been domesticated for over one thousand years and have been used as both pets and hunters. Ferrets are closely related to mink, otters, skunks, weasels and badgers. The ferrets you find in pet stores have already been descented and altered. Ferrets come in a variety of colors, mostly variants of sable and albino. Sable ferrets are usually tan with a dark mask and tail. Male ferrets are called “hobs” and females “jills”. Baby ferrets are called “kits”.
Male ferrets tend to be a bit larger than female ferrets. A fully grown male ferret is about 15-16 inches long and weighs 2-3.5 pounds. A fully grown female is only about 13-14 inches long and weighs around .75-2.5 pounds. Neutered males weigh a bit less than those that are not neutered. An unaltered male ferret can weigh over 4 pounds!
Ferrets are nearsighted, but they have an exceptional sense of hearing and smell. Ferrets spend much of their day sleeping. In fact, ferrets sleep about 18 hours a day! They are awake both during the night and day, but often they try to match their sleeping pattern with that of their owners. When awake, ferrets are lively and playful. When asleep, they are dead to the world. It is extremely difficult to rouse a sleeping ferret.
Ferrets do have a musky odor about them, but it is neither offensive nor overpowering. Occasional bathing is necessary, as with any pet, but excessive bathing will only make the smell worse, as it dries the skin and causes the ferret’s body to produce more oils. Ferrets are born with scent glands, much like that of a skunk. Unlike the skunk, the ferret’s scent is not nearly as strong and dissipates quickly. It also washes away easily. When a ferret feels threatened, it releases the contents of the scent gland. It does not spray, like the skunk does. As mentioned earlier, ferrets are descented at a very young age, usually before being sold. Descenting a ferret will not eliminate the musky odor.
Ferrets can be litter box trained, and can live either in a spacious cage or free to roam about the home. If you choose to cage your pets, be sure that the cage you choose is large enough to give your ferrets plenty of room to move and play. The sleeping, eating, and litter area should all be kept separate. Humans wouldn’t enjoy eating meals and sleeping next to the toilet, and neither do ferrets. Keeping these things separate will also lesson the risk of illness caused by bacteria from the litter pan. If you choose to let your ferrets roam the house, make sure your house has been thoroughly ferret-proofed. Ferrets love crawling into small spaces and hoarding small objects (such as jewelry), so keeping all small items that you don’t want carried off somewhere, never to be seen again, hidden in a safe place is important. Ferrets are also very intelligent creatures, and with enough curiosity and practice, can learn to open cabinet doors. Child safety locks and latches for cabinet doors are wonderful for this reason.
Ferrets should be kept on a ferret kibble or kitten chow diet. Domesticated ferrets will eat nearly anything you try to feed them, but sudden changes in diet can result in diarrhea. Ferrets love to snack throughout the day, and will usually not eat a significant amount of food at one time. Be sure to keep food and water available to them at all times because of this. Water should be kept in a water bottle, rather than a bowl or dish. This keeps the water clean. Ferrets may play in their water if it is kept in a bowl, rather than drink it.
Ferrets have wonderful personalities. If handled from birth, they don’t bite and are very gentle when held. A ferret can be a wonderful addition to any family. They are both playful and intelligent, and most ferret owners prefer them to most other pets.