Is A Ferret Right For You?

So you're thinking about getting a ferret. Read on to find out if you can provide proper care and housing to keep both your ferret(s) and yourself (along with other family members) comfortable.

I. First Steps

  • A. Whether you buy your pet from a breeder, pet store, or adopt from a shelter or rescue organization check the general health of your ferret. Eyes should be bright and clear and there shouldn't be any discharge from the nose. Coat should be soft and shiny (although some coats seem to be a little softer than others due to diet), and pads of feet should be soft and pink (older ferrets pads may be a little rough). Ears should be clean with no scabs or crusts, but may have a little r eddish wax (ferret's ears tend to get dirty quickly and ear mites are common). If there are two tatoo dots on the ear then your ferret has already been spayed/neutered and descented.

  • B. Check when the first or last canine distemper and rabies vaccinations were given. The canine distemper vaccinations should begin at 6-8 weeks, repeated at 2-3 week intervals until 14 weeks of age and annually thereafter. Older ferrets with unknown vaccinations should get a series of two. Rabies vaccination (IMRAB 3) may be given at 3 months and annually thereafter.

  • C. Take time to handle the ferrets and get an idea of which one(s) you want. All baby ferrets are adorable, tend to be a little nippy just like puppies and kittens, and are very active when awake. If this is your first ferret, you may want to consider getting two to make the transition easier on the ferrets and they can keep each other company when you aren't there.

  • D. Find out what their diet is and even if that isn't what you'll be feeding your new pet(s), be sure to buy some and mix it with what you intend to feed. Ferrets have individual tastes just like we do and may not like new foods. C ontinue to mix foods, if that's your ferret's preference.

  • E. Keep adoption papers in a safe place. Remember that this is a life-long commitment you are making and you will be responsible for this little one for the rest of his/her life.

  • II. Veterinary Exam

  • A. Find out what your veterinarian's policy is on ferrets. Ferrets will occasionally nip when frightened or mishandled. Make sure your veterinarian is ferret friendly and your pet's life will not be in danger if it nips. Take your new ferret(s) to your veterinarian as soon as possible for an examination. If it's time for vaccinations, have this done. Your new ferret(s) will need a canine distemper and rabies (IMRAB 3) vaccination. Have the ears checked for mites and if you live in an area where heartworms are a problem, start preventative.

  • B. If your new ferret(s) hasn't been neutered or spayed, talk to your veterinarian about the procedure. Females should be spayed when they come into season or they will die. Prolonged estrus is deadly to ferrets. They're not like dogs or cats and will continue to be in season until something is done. Hormone injections may not bring your pet out of season, spaying will. Descenting is an option but not necessary. Intact ferrets have a strong musk aroma. When they're altered much of the odor disappears. Bathing too frequently will cause the oils to replenish and will cause more odor. Keeping your ferret(s), it's housing, and blankets clean will control odor.

  • C. Ask your veterinarian for any information they have on ferrets.

  • III. Coming Home

  • A. Ferrets are house companions. You should have a cage or special room ready for the safety of your new ferret(s). There are several types of cages that can be used. Aquariums are not suitable for ferrets. Temporarily (a day or two), a medium to large size kennel carrier may be used. Large rabbit cages are a good size to start with, or you can make your own from wire (1x2 or smaller welded wire) and wood (clean). Two levels (18" x 30" each or larger) work very well. Solid bottoms are better than wire. Whatever type of cage you use, there must be room for a litter box, sleeping box, food and water, and play area. Even if you have a "ferret room" for the first few nights a cage is safer until your ferret (s) gets acquainted with its new environment. Once your house is ferret-proof you can allow free access. Ferrets cannot go outside without strict supervision. They will wander off and get lost or killed by an animal or vehicle.

  • B. Your ferret(s) needs a sleeping blankie (baby blankets are just the right size or cut a people size blanket into ferret size blankies) to cuddle in and a bed or box. Cardboard boxes that paper reams come in work great, just cut a little door (4"x4") in them and cover the outside with contact paper. Ferrets also like hammocks so don't forget to put one in the cage. Ferrets enjoy meals in bed so be sure to shake blankets out daily and wash them at least once a week. Don't use towels or frayed material as strings can get around the ferret and cause injuries.

  • C. A heavy crock, water bottle or cage cup can be used for water. Check water bottles frequently as they sometimes drip or clog up. You can use both a water bottle and bowl and let your ferret(s) decide which they like better. Some ferrets like to tip their water bowl or play in it so be sure the crock is heavy and not too big. Also use a heavy crock or cage cup for food. Don't be surprised if your ferret(s) digs in the bowl. This is normal. You'll have to clean up the mess.

  • D. Ferrets are easily litter boxed trained. A small cat box works well for smaller ferrets but you may have to get a larger one as the ferret grows. Ferrets prefer corners so place the litter box in a corner away from food and water. Your ferret may choose it's own corner and it is easier to accommodate your ferret than try to change its habits. When your pet is allowed to run around the house, you will need several litter boxes and perhaps newspapers in the corners. Puppy potty pads, placed under litter boxes, can be used to help train your ferret to go in a particular corner. Occasionally you may have an accident. If you catch your ferret in the act, gently place it in the litter box, as many times as it takes. Ferrets are very intelligent and if you don't continue to monitor their bathroom behavi or, they may become lazy. At worst, you can always use newspapers in the corners a litter box won't fit in. For fast, easy, and sanitary litter box clean up, use a ziplock baggie (clean boxes twice daily). Place potty pads, newspapers or paper towels a round litter boxes for ferrets to wipe on.

  • E. FERRET PROOF YOUR HOUSE. Remove all rubber items such as toys, sneakers and shoes from your ferret's reach. Check all cabinets, walls, floors, and doors for holes or openings that a ferret could squeeze through and patch them securely. Check especially around water pipes and dryer vents. Kitchens and utility rooms are especially dangerous to ferrets because of the appliances (refrigerator, stove, dishwasher, washer, dryer) and water lines. Check all dirty laundry for sleeping ferrets before loading washer and never leave dryer doors open. Many ferrets have met untimely deaths in washers and dryers. Look high and low. Ferrets are very adept at finding ways to get out and they are escape artists! Check under furniture for holes they may get into and trapped or squashed when someone sits down. DON'T USE A RECLINER, HIDE-A-BED OR ROCKER WHEN YOUR FERRETS ARE OUT. Many ferrets have met an untimely, painful end by being crushed by unaware owners. In fact, it's even better if you get rid of the recliner or disable it. Watch front and back doors when they are being opened and closed, especially by visitors. Make sure there aren't any holes in screens. Ferrets are good climbers and may get into places you never thought they could. Where there's a will there's a way!

  • F. Never leave ferret(s) unattended in a hot car or in a house where the temperature is above 80o. If you temporarily put your ferret in an outside cage, make sure it's secure, sheltered from rain and direct sun, and contains their bed, water, and food. Never use an aquarium!

  • IV. Diet

  • A. Food - Ferrets are meat eaters (carnivores) like cats and dogs and should be fed high quality feline foods such as Iams, Science Diet, NutroMax, Perform, Precise or ferret food. Ferrets under three years should be fed kitten food and older ferrets should be fed maintenance cat foods. You may mix foods together according to your ferret's preference. Check the product label to be sure the protein level is between 32%-38%. Never feed generic cat food. If a ferret has eaten one thpe of food all it's life, it may not recognize other foods so be sure to change the foods slowly and make sure your ferret is eating sufficient amounts. If your ferrets coat is coarse it may be due to improper diet. Canned food may be fed as a treat but not a main diet. Dry food may be left out to be eaten free choice, ferrets rarely overeat. Occasionally your ferret may get a piece of hard food caught on the roof of its mouth, gently remove it by using your finger or some other small, clean, dull edged device.

  • B. Water - Clean, fresh water is essential to your ferrets health. Refill and wash bowls daily so there is no slime build-up. Take the sniff test. If the bowl stinks; re-wash it.

  • C. People Food - Cooked meat and egg scraps are acceptable treats for your ferret(s). Do not feed anything that contains bones. Absolutely no whole corn or chocolate! Corn does not digest well and can become lodged in their tiny intestines causing a deathly obstruction if not removed. A small amount of fruits and veggies is acceptable. Ferrets cannot digest fiber well and if fed too many fruit or veggie treats, may get diarrhea which can lead to intestinal bacterial infections. Dried fruits, espec ially pineapple and banana are a favorite and some like flavored yogurt, but only give in small amounts. Remember, ferrets are individuals and what one may like, another may not.

  • V. Hygiene

  • A. Bath Time - Some ferrets like water; some don't. Use a mild shampoo made for ferrets or kittens and have several towels ready. The simplest way to bathe a ferret is in the sink. Be sure the water is not too hot or too cold (lukewarm) and leave it running while you get your ferret wet, then suds up (be careful not to get soap in their eyes) and rinse off (make sure you get all the soap out). Fast and easy. Or you can put a couple inches of water in the sink or tub. Never leave your ferret in the tub with the water running or unsupervised. Ferrets cannot swim well and can quickly drown if the water is too deep or left unsupervised. Some ferrets also like to take showers and baths with their owners. Just be sure their nails are clipped before they get in the tub with you! After their bath, dry as well as you can while they're squirming then place a couple towels on the floor, couch, or chair and let them finish the drying process. Make sure there are no cold drafts or your ferret(s) may catch a cold. After baths, ferrets are extremely frisky and you're sure to enjoy their post-bath antics. CAUTION: Too frequent bathing causes the ferret to replenish skin oil and will result in a musky smelling ferret. Bathing a few times a year, unless they get into something, works well.

  • B. Ears - Ferret's ears get dirty easily. It is recommended to clean their ears 2-4 times a month with a mild ear cleaning solution and cotton swabs. For easy ear cleaning, dip q-tip in ear cleaning solution and then apply to ear. Or you may dip swabs in solution and then apply to ear. Clean outer ear first and then gently clean just the entry of the ear canal, be sure not to go too far in or you could damage the ear drum. Use plenty of swabs and be sure the ear is dry.

  • C. Nails - You will need to clip your ferret's nails weekly. This will help keep the nails from getting sharp and getting snagged. Baby fingernail clippers are the easiest to use and make sure you are in a well lighted area. Clip only the tips and stay away from the pink quick. If you accidently clip too far and the nail starts to bleed, quickly dip your ferrets paw in flour to clot the blood. If this happens, it is very painful to your ferret and it will not want you to clip it's nails again.

  • D. Fleas - If your ferret is around other animals or allowed outside, it's likely to get fleas. Advantage for kittens has been used with good success on ferrets at a one drop dose. A flea powder or spray with pyrethrins that is safe for kittens can be used on your ferret. Do not spray your ferret, instead spray your hands and rub your ferret, be careful not to get any insecticide in the eyes, and use your finger to apply the substance especially around the ears. Wash all bedding and apply a flea powder to carpets and furnitu re and vacuum before allowing your ferret(s) on the carpet or furniture. Ferrets may be severely infested with fleas before you notice. To check for fleas, blow on their fur to see if there are any fleas or little black specks (flea dirt). Be careful n ot to overtreat your ferret because they can be poisoned by too much insecticide!

  • E. Ear Mites - Ear mites are common among ferrets and transfer from one animal to another easily. Regular ear cleaning may help but is not a cure. To check for ear mites, shine a light into your ferret's ear or on the swab after cleaning their ears. Mites are teeny-tiny white bugs and are difficult to see without a magnifying glass or earscope. Earscopes are relatively inexpensive and will last for years. Ear mites may also be found in the fur of your pet, especially around the ear. If infestati on is severe, you will want to contact your veterinarian. There are several types of ear mite medicines on the market, but they may not be safe for your pet. To be safe, always check with your veterinarian before applying any medicine not intended for y our type of pet. Tresaderm and Ivermectin are the two most common medicines prescribed by veterinarians for treatment of ear mites in ferrets.

  • VI. Health

  • A. Flu and Colds - Ferrets are susceptible to human colds and flu. Symptoms are the same as ours, runny nose, watery eyes, sneezing and coughing. If your ferret(s) comes down with a cold, monitor food and water intake closely. Ferrets get dehydrated ea sily and fluids can be replaced by giving them Pedialyte Fruit Flavor fluid replacer which is found in the baby section in grocery stores.

  • B. Diarrhea - Occasional diarrhea may occur from stress or change of diet. If your ferret has diarrhea for more than 24 hours and is accompanied by blood in the stool or a black tarry consistency, lethargy, depression, or crying take your ferret to the veterinarian. Do not give antidiarrheal medications without instructions from your veterinarian.

  • C. Cancer - Cancer is prevalent in ferrets. Any unusual lumps or bumps should be checked by your veterinarian. If your normally active ferret suddenly becomes lethargic, starts seizuring, drools, or pawing at it's mouth, this may be a sign of low blood sugar. Try to rub a little honey, karo or pancake syrup or molasses on the gums. If your ferret is conscience try to drip 1-3cc into the mouth and schedule a trip to your veterinarian for a simple inexpensive blood glucose test. If your ferret d oesn't respond, get to the veterinarian immediately.

  • D. Obstructions - Items that can cause obstructions in ferrets are rubbery or plastic pieces, bones, towels, erasers, rubberbands, etc.. Watch for wasting, dull eyes, extreme depression or lethargy, vomiting, dark tarry stools or no stools, and loss of appetite. Take your pet to the veterinarian immediately.

  • E. When in question - contact your veterinarian.

  • VII. General

  • Ferrets, like puppies and kittens, must be taught proper behavior. All baby animals nip when playing and must be gently taught that this is unacceptable. Ferrets occasionally nip but rarely break the skin. If your ferret bites, a lou d no and gentle tap on the rear should suffice. When ferrets are happy they dance and play with an imaginary friend and sometimes make a chuckling sound. Young ferrets may sleep very deeply and at times be difficult to awaken. Sometimes you can pick th em up and they won't awaken. If breathing is normal, don't be alarmed.

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