Ferrets are adorable and have become increasingly popular in our homes. From my experience, they are adorable, sociable and extremely intelligent. If you are considering getting a ferret for a pet, you must understand how to take care of a ferret.
In case you have already brought one home, you can still learn on the job. I wouldn’t blame you as they can be charming and all you want to do is bring one home. In this article, I am going to give you a hands-on guide to ferret care and everything you need to know about ferrets.
Understanding ferret behavior
Understanding ferret behavior is an important part of getting one. Before bringing any pet home, I always advise people to do extensive research. You must be ready to commit to giving your ferret care. Well, let’s talk a little bit about ferrets and their needs.
Ferrets belong to the same family as weasels and stoats. However, they are quite different and have been domesticated for centuries. The ferret body is a little bigger than that of stoats and much larger than a weasel.
Your pet ferret is going to stick around for a few years as they have a lifespan of about 6-13 years if well taken care of. Below are some of the things you must know about ferret care before you bring one home:
Ferrets are carnivorous as weasels and stoats are. However, in your home, your ferret is not going to be hunting. You must, therefore, look for the availability of food for your ferret before getting one. This is not going to be as difficult as you can find commercial foods for ferrets in your local store.
The commercial food has a high content of proteins, as per ferret’s nutrition requirements. The most common ingredients found in ferret food include chicken, lamb, and turkey. The ferret treats will also contain these foods.
As you can see, ferrets need food high protein food with low carbs. You can also prefer giving your ferret raw food, although I do not always recommend it. Make sure that raw foods are put in the fridge before feeding it to him.
Raw food may include meat and animal organs, frozen mice and a piece of frozen chicken.
Ferrets can also eat eggs, whether boiled or scrambled. Avoid feeding raw egg white to your ferret and instead, use only the yolk.
Provide clean drinking water for your ferret as well.
We shall look at how to feed a ferret later in this article.
When keeping a ferret, you will not spend much money on health matters. Unless there is an underlying illness, ferrets are normally healthy creatures. However, this does not mean that we should overlook their health needs.
Ask the pet store technician about vaccinations. Canine distemper is one of the most common illnesses that you must watch out for. Your local vet will administer a vaccination every year, along with the annual vet check-ups.
As for pests, you will only have to worry about flees or heartworms. This is especially if you are running a multi-pet household. Use monthly treatment to prevent infestation by these parasites.
If your ferret is older than 5 years, I recommend regular check-ups, at least twice a year. This way, any illnesses that might be associated with age will be detected early. Understand that ferrets can hide pain naturally. In the wild, showing pain would subject them to potential predators.
It is why you must take him to the vet every year. However, should you notice any change in his health, you should call your vet immediately. You do not have to wait until the next check-up.
Ferrets will reach their sexual maturity at the age of 6 months. You do not want to wait until your female ferret goes in heat because she will stay that way until she is bred. If not, it could lead to a fatal infection of the uterus.
Now, unless you want to go through the breeding process, you must sterilize your ferret. It should be done before she hits reproductive maturity.
I have written about ferret breeding before and I must emphasize that this should be left to professionals. Many ferret breeders will do it for money since it is risky not to say a tedious process. You should conduct intensive research before you decide to go ahead with breeding your ferret. Consult professionals who have done it before.
You will need to understand this process from mating to taking care of a nursing ferret. If you do not have any experience breeding ferret, I suggest you stay away from this risky business.
You will get a ferret who has already been sterilized. To be sure, ask the pet store technician whether your chosen ferret is neutered or not. If not, your vet should be able to help you with that.
The ferret personality
Ferrets are extremely intelligent and adorable. Watching them play around is such a delight and you will not regret getting one. They are also playful and also they do not get neurotic. Unlike owning a dog or a cat, you will not have to deal with occasional separation anxiety and other social disorders.
Ferrets are also accommodating to other pets. Of course, you will have to do proper introductions before letting them socialize. Ferrets are excited to have another ferret in the cage as they provide company and playmate.
Well, I must also say that ferrets are playful. My ferret won’t settle down when I let him out of the cage. And he is always in the mood to play around with me. And because they are intelligent, it should be fun playing with your ferret.
Late on, I will outline some of the favorite games that ferrets love playing.
Bringing a ferret home
Understanding ferret behavior is essential since you will be taking care of him. If you have already made up your mind to bring a ferret home, then read on. Below, we are going to look at the requirements and the process of bringing a ferret home.
Purchase a carrier
Once you have made up your mind about getting a ferret, you should purchase a cat carrier. A carrying sack will also work. Well, you cannot risk having a ferret set free in the car when bringing him. He could easily become a driving hazard.
A cat carrier or sack will help you keep your ferret contained. You will not experience difficulties moving your ferret from one place to another.
Get a ferret cage
As I mentioned earlier, it is not advisable to let a ferret roam freely in the house. You must, therefore, get an appropriate cage just for him. It should be spacious enough for him to move around. It should also have enough space for a food station and ferret bed.
Unlike other pets, you must always keep your ferret in the cage unless you are playing or training him. Now, ferrets are escape artists who put them in danger. If he runs out there is a chance that you may never find him again.
Get a bowl and water bottle for your ferret. I must mention that ferrets are heavy feeders, just as weasels and the entire Mustelidae family. Getting a multi-level cage will allow you to install several food stations to ensure that your ferret is always full.
The ferret bed should also be easy to clean and also absorbent. This is going to ensure that it does not get wet and smelly.
Purchase a ferret litter box
Litter training a ferret is going to make it easy for you to clean your ferret’s cage. Well, ferrets are quite short. You should get a litter box that has a lower entry side. However, it should also have a higher side to avoid tipping it over.
Only use a litter that is specifically made for ferrets. Paper-based litter is excellent for ferrets as it is dust-free. Ferrets are prone to developing respiratory illnesses which could be easily triggered by dust in the clay-based litter.
Harness and leash
Do not forget to pick a leash and harness. You will need to get your ferret out of his cage once in a while. Whether you are cleaning the cage or you want to take a stroll with your ferret, a harness and leash are important.
You should not restrict your ferret in the cage all his life. You can play in the yard but only when he is on a leash. As I mentioned earlier, ferrets can run off and you could lose him, let alone putting his life in danger.
Get plenty of toys for your ferret
Ferrets are intelligent and quite playful. Getting him a few toys will keep him entertained and you get to watch him play. You should ensure that all the toys are made of harmless material should your ferret chew them.
Ferrets are in the habit of chewing small items. Get bigger toys, ones that he cannot be able to swallow causing intestinal obstruction.
Feeding your ferret
Once you have successfully brought your ferret home, you should provide clean water and food immediately. Before I go ahead to discuss how to feed a ferret as part of primary care, I must mention that ferrets will need to eat almost all the time.
I already mentioned that ferrets are strict carnivores. However, we do not let them hunt in our homes. Instead, you will have to purchase ferret food. Luckily for you, there are varieties of commercial ferret foods to choose from.
Before you can go ahead to look for ferret food, you should understand the ferret diet.
What do ferrets eat?
In the wild, weasels and stoats, who belong to the same family as ferrets, will hunt down smaller mammals for food. They will eat mice, rabbits, hares, and rodents for food. Now, commercial ferret foods contain the required nutrients.
While some people will feed cat food to ferrets since it is readily available, it is not always a good idea. I suggest you read the ingredients list. You need to make sure that the food you get for your ferret is completely safe.
As I mentioned, ferrets need to feed a lot of times in a day, probably 8-10 times. Well, you need several food stations to make sure that even when you are away from home your ferret stays full. Stick to foods high in protein and low carbs.
Ferrets can also eat raw meat. You can ask your butcher to cut fresh meat and put it in the fridge. Small pieces of animal organs are going to be good as treats. Occasionally, you can give your ferret frozen pre-killed prey. For instance, mice or chicks will compensate for his natural diet.
Treats to give your ferret will include eggs (raw, scrambled or boiled) pieces of chicken, lamb or turkey which can be cooked or uncooked.
Foods to avoid feeding your ferret
Now that you understand what ferrets eat, you should also know about the foods that they do not eat. Certain foods can be fine to us but fatal for ferrets. For instance, food cooked with onions and garlic are unsafe for a ferret. The latter could cause a fatal kidney shutdown.
Ferrets cannot digest vegetables either. They have a shorter digestive tract which makes it impossible to digest foods with high carbs content and sugars. Avoid treats such as chocolate, milk, ice cream, and other dairy products.
Foods with high sugar content will lead to the overproduction of insulin which in turn leads to low blood sugar. This eventually leads to insulinoma, which can be life-threatening if not well managed.
This is going to be the fun part about owning a ferret. They are both playful and extremely intelligent. You can play several games with him and also start training him a few tricks to test his intelligence. You are going to be amused by what you find.
Earlier on, I indicated that ferrets need toys to play with. You can use a remote-control car and let him chases it around the house. Not only is it a stimulating game but it can also be a good form of exercise. Also, you can get a case of a few stairs and train him on how to climb. He will not have problems as his cousins are also great climbers.
Alternatively, you can also get a maze toy or create one in his cage. They enjoy solving puzzles and this is going to be quite an activity for him.
Well, ferrets also love playing chase with their owners. You might have noticed that every time to let him out of the cage he will run to you and then run back away. He wants you to chase him as he is doing you.
You can also purchase a small size trampoline for your ferret. He can use it to play when you are away from home. If you have children in your home, they should not play with the ferret unsupervised.
Note that playing is part of ferret care.
Picking up a ferret
For so many reasons, you are going to have to pick your ferret up. Besides, there is no better expression of affection than picking up a ferret and holding him close to your body. You must, however, exercise caution when picking up your ferret to avoid upsetting or scaring him.
To pick him up, put your hand around his armpits to offer support. Your other hand should be underneath his bottom and you can pick him up carefully. If you are having trouble picking him up, you might need to use the scruffing method instead. This is when you hold him by the back of his neck and lift him. Once again, you must be gentle.
You should not let toddlers and children pick up a ferret. He could get scared or upset, since kids are not exactly gentle with pets, and end up hurting them. On the other hand, your child could mishandle and hurt your ferret.
Where do ferrets sleep?
I am certain that you are doing everything you can to make sure that your ferret feels well taken care of. Now, sleeping arrangements for a ferret are a topic of discussion. Do you have to make a bed for your ferret? The answer is yes.
I advise ferret owners to purchase ferret litter for beddings. These are excellent because they are dust-free and very comfortable. Besides, they are easy to replace and change and they will control any odor.
However, you can also choose to use other types of beddings. For instance, you can still use a piece of the blanket as bedding for your ferret. Other ferrets will enjoy sleeping in hammock beds. Well, the point is, you should ensure that your ferret has a comfortable place to sleep in his cage.
Grooming your ferret
Taking care of a ferret also means that you are responsible for grooming him. However, as I have mentioned several, ferrets are quite different from other pets. You should not bathe your ferret often. This could trigger his skin to overproduce oil that will turn into a musky smell.
Restrict to bathing your ferret once a month. After all, they are indoor pets and will rarely get themselves dirty. You can brush him every two weeks to get rid of any shed hairs. As you do so, I would advise you to trim his nails.
Use the bathroom sink to bath your ferret and use warm water. There are gentle shampoos for pets that will not irritate his eyes or nose. You will need to bring everything you need to clean him with you. Once you start bathing him, it is going to be almost impossible to leave him in the sink on his own.
Clean his ears while bathing him. Once again, avoid doing it more than once a month, as it could dry out his ears. So, to start cleaning his ears, bring the ear cleaner and cotton swabs with you to the bathroom. Grooming your ferret is important as it will help you manage and get rid of the musky ferret smell in the house.
Put warm water in a bowl and dip the ear cleaner bottle to warm up the ear cleaner. It would irritate your ferret if you use room temperature ear cleaner. Once the cleaner warms up, dip a cotton swab in and insert it in his ears.
If you can, get someone help you hold him still while you clean his ears. If you suspect that he might have an ear infection, leave him as he is and consult your vet.
How to clean a ferret’s cage
A clean ferret should also live in clean environments. You must include cleaning his cage in the ferret care routine. You can do basic cleaning every other day but ensure to thoroughly clean his cage at least once a week.
Keeping your ferret in a healthy and clean environment is necessary. It will also ensure that your house does not smell of the musky smell that could come from his cage. Besides, ferrets can be quite messy with their food and water. As a result, you could have a floor full of food particles, and other stuff.
For basic cleaning, empty the litter box and change the litter every 2-3 days. Also, you can sweep away any foods on the floor. Before I continue, I must mention that ferrets develop the habit of hiding food and bones. If not found, they can leave the cage stinking and thus your house.
Every week, I lay out all the beddings, toys, food bowls and water bottles from the cage. To avoid contamination, I prefer cleaning the ferret’s cage in the bathroom. I also use a disinfectant in the water to decontaminate the cage.
Using a brush, I remove all the dirt and food particles from the corners. During this time, I put my ferret on a leash so I can be able to observe him as I clean up.
Also, it helps to put disinfectant in the water I use to clean toys and food and water bottles. I also advise ferret owners to wear gloves when cleaning a ferret’s cage. He is going to be pleased to sleep in a clean environment.
Strange ferret behavior
Even though ferrets have been domesticated for years, they will still exhibit strange behavior today. Well, these might include:
Dooking sound – This is a unique sound that ferrets make when they are happy. You can hear him dooking during overstimulating play. Sometimes he will start dooking while playing with his toys in the cage. It is a sign that your ferret is comfortable and extremely happy.
Hissing – A ferret hissing is never a good thing. It means that he is either pissed off or a little scared. For instance, if your cat creeps on your ferret’s cage, he might start hissing to warn and scare away the cat. Always check up on your ferret if he starts hissing from his cage. He could be feeling threatened or angry. If he is hissing as you hold him, I suggest you get him back to his cage to cool it off.
Dead sleep – Your ferret can experience dead sleep from time to time. Now, you must understand that ferrets are a few crepuscular creatures. They will sleep a lot in a day, usually 18-22 hours per day. However, they will do this in intervals. During the cold season, a ferret can sleep for more than usual. Do not be scared if you cannot seem to wake him up. Dead sleep means that a ferret is sleeping so soundly that you can wake him.
Tail wagging – As with dogs, tail wagging means that a ferret is excited. You can identify this when feeding or playing with him. It means that your ferret is content and happy at the moment.
Ferret care is a topic that every ferret owner must understand. It teaches you how to take care and live happily with a ferret. As I have outlined above, getting a ferret means that you are responsible for feeding and generally providing care for him.
One of the advantages of owning a ferret is the fact that they are not neurotic. Your ferret does not care whether you are in the house or not. You will not have to deal with separation anxiety, boredom, and other pet emotional disorders.
It does not mean that you should not give him attention. Ferrets still need to play and feel loved and it is your job to do so. Do not worry, it is going to be one of the best things you will ever have to do. As I mentioned earlier, ferrets are social and very affectionate when taken care of.