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Keeping Ferrets

Updated on June 20, 2011

 History: Ferrets are domesticated carnivores that were developed from wild European and African polecat strains.  They have been used since ancient Roman and Egyptian times, to control pests such as rats, rabbits and mice. Some breeders estimate they have been domesticated for about three thousand years.

Appearance: Ferrets look like otters or weasels, with short legs and long bodies.  Males are called hobs, females jills and babies kittens.  Males are about 20 inches long from nose to tail, while females are slightly smaller.  Both sexes have musk glands which are used in 'flight or flight' situations.  They can can removed by vets to reduce the strong odour. Colors commonly found are sable, albino(white with pink eyes) and white with black eyes.  Up to forty colors and patterns are known in exhibition ferrets in the United States.

Health & Lifespan: Ferrets are susceptible to canine distemper and should be vaccinated for it at twelve weeks of age and then have a yearly booster.  Other health risks include breathing diseases, fleas and mange.  Albino ferrets can have problems with skin cancer if exposed to prolonged periods in the sun. Most ferrets could be expected to live to about six years of age with good, hygienic housing and regular vaccinations against canine distemper.  They have been known to live to ten years of age.

Temperament: While usually seen as vicious animals, if they are regularly handled they can became very affectionate towards their owners and live alongside cats and dogs in relative piece.  Pet birds and chooks need to be kept away from even the most tame of ferrets.  If a ferret is handle often they will be very quite and suitable for children.  Within their family group in a cage or run they are very playful with each other spending lots of time chasing each other around the cage.  With a little training they even can be taught to walk on a leash down the street.

Feeding & Breeding: Ferrets can be feed a lot like dogs and cats.  They easiest food is to buy tinned cat food and cat biscuits.  A little bit of chopped liver ever now and then is a good thing for them.  An unusual feature of the ferret is that a female must be mated when in season or else they can become anaemic and die.  If you don't want to breed then mating a female with a sterilised male will overcome this problem.  The breeding seasons is around summer with a gestation period of forty two days and up to thirteen kittens per litter.

Housing: Some people if they can stand the smell allow ferrets to live indoors like a cat.  The best way to keep a ferret is in something similar to a rabbit hutch. Ensuring there is plenty of place for them to escape the sun on hot days.


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    • Pamela N Red profile image

      Pamela N Red 6 years ago from Oklahoma

      I had no idea ferrets were carnivores. Good information if I ever decide to get one.