How to Keep a Pet Ferret
So you think you would like to have a ferret as a pet but want to know exactly what is involved and how to care for it properly. This is a very important consideration as your ferret can live to be up to 9 years old.
Firstly my advice would be to get a minimum of two ferrets unless you are going to keep your pet indoors. They are very gregarious creatures, and will be lonely if left in a hutch or pen outside on their own.
Your next decision will be whether or not to get males (Hobs) or females (Jills). Well, hobs are easier for a couple of reasons. Firstly they tend to be more friendly than the Jills, and secondly you won't have the problem of having to mate them regularly, (which you do with Jills). The problem with the female reproductive system is that her season can last from 4 to 6 months, and if she doesn't mate very early in this season she can easily die from a vaginal infection, anaemia brought on by the constant flow of blood to her uterus or a bacterial infection brought on by her weakened immune system. There are several ways around this problem, the easiest being to get her spayed at around four months old. Not so good alternatives are to get her mated with a vasectomised hob, or have your vet give her the 'Jill Jab', both of which will bring her out of her season safely.
I suggest getting a pet ferret of either sex neutered as soon as possible because it reduces the strong odour they give off as much as anything else. It can also help to calm them down and make it easier to handle them.
Be aware that ferrets do require a lot of love and attention. Regular (daily) handling ensures they don't start nipping people. You will soon fall in love with their endearing little personalities. Ferrets play much the same way as kittens do and will happily chase toys you drag along the floor or jump up in the air to get to toys you dangle above their heads. In addition to this they will get everywhere, and I mean everywhere in your home. They can squeeze under the tiniest gap below a door to get into another room, and often the first you know about where they are is when you hear their little feet thundering across the ceiling of the room above you. When they get tired they will fall asleep in the most bizarre places and in the strangest positions. I used to find mine flat on their backs, fast asleep under our sideboard. If there is more than one ferret asleep they will usually pile in on top of each other to a degree you are sure the lowest in the heap will suffocate, but they never do. They simply adore having a hammock to sleep in, and two or three will cram themselves into one when they want a snooze.
Housing for your ferret is also very important. These playful pets like a lot of room to move about and simply cramming them in a wooden hutch with mesh at the front is totally inadequate. If kept outdoors ideally they should have a large pen with a draft-proof warm wooden sleeping box bedded deeply with hay or straw. The pen should be interesting and full of ramps, toys and hammocks etc. There are numerous toys for ferrets available online, and there is good reason for this.
If kept indoors a large cage including several levels is a minimum requirement, plus plenty of exercise running around your home whenever possible. You will need to ferret-proof your home to a degree by putting suitable protection around wiring and spraying bitter apple type sprays in places where this is not possible.
Whether kept indoors or out, ferrets always tend to do their business in a corner which they will back carefully into. There are corner shaped ferret litter trays on the market and you can use normal cat litter in these. It certainly makes keeping their home clean far easier.
Feeding your ferret is also a skill in itself. It is essential due to the nature of a ferret's digestive system that it always has access to food. Going for even a short period of time without food can cause their organs to begin to shut down, so make sure they never run out. There are various good ferret foods on the market such as James Wellbeloved and for an added treat you can buy, fresh meat of any kind (except sausage mince), e.g. chicken wings, beef, lamb, chicken necks, rabbit etc., from your local supermarket, or butcher and offer this as a bonus. It is highly amusing to watch the little chaps running up and down all their ramps carrying a rabbit cube in their mouth, and gradually storing it all in their sleeping area. Ferrets have a fur and feather digestion, so can easily eat and digest an entire rabbit with the skin on if you know a local farmer who shoots them. Do not be tempted to try to make your ferret vegetarian, it is essential for them to have meat to survive. (Remember to clean out their sleeping box at least once a week to avoid uneaten stored meat starting to go rotten).
Always ensure fresh water is available, especially if your ferret is on solely a dry diet. For real treats you can give them some kitten milk, an egg yolk (no white) or fruit and vegetables if they like them.
Never give them chocolate, fish based biscuits, cooked bones, salt, dried coconut, leather hide chews, sausage mince or dairy products.
Ferrets in Harness
Parasites on ferrets are also a consideration, and they will need to be treated in much the same way as a cat to avoid parasite problems such as fleas, lice and ticks. There are products your vet can sell you that are designed for ferrets or kittens and will control most parasites (e.g. Frontline). Your vet can also provide you with wormer (e.g. Drontal) for your ferrets, as they are susceptible to most of the same worms as dogs and cats.
Vaccinations Although many people say they do not bother to vaccinate their ferrets, I strongly recommend you vaccinate them against canine distemper once a year.
Your ferrets can also catch, or pass on the human flu virus, so stay away from them if you are ill. If they become ill and show external signs such as nasal discharge or breathing problems, keep them warm and take them to your vet as soon as possible.
Bathing your ferret can be done around every two months, but not more frequently or they may suffer with dry skin. This will help keep their natural odour down to a minimum, plus they seem to really enjoy it. Use a very mild shampoo such as baby shampoo or pet products.
Nails will need clipping fairly frequently as they grow very fast. I found human nail clippers the easiest to use, but do be careful to avoid the nerve running down the centre of the nail. It is often easier to get a second person to hold your ferret by the scruff of the neck (as they instantly go limp), whilst you cut each of their claws.
So you still want a ferret
Great, you are in for a load of fun. You can even buy them little harnesses and take them for walks. Okay, so you may have to have to put up with their rather strange odour, but it is well worth it for the rewards they can offer in return, and for someone who can't have cats for some reason, they are equally as entertaining and playful. You can also take them to country fairs and enter them in ferret races which they seem to genuinely enjoy. This sport involves them being released in one end of a long drainpipe, whilst the competitors are also released into equal length pipes. The winner is the first ferret to emerge out the other end of it's pipe. (see pics)
Good Luck and enjoy your new friends.
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