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everything you need to know as a ferret owner

Updated on January 7, 2009
domestic Ferret
domestic Ferret

What is a ferret?

A ferret is a small meat eating mammal that belongs to the weasel family. They typically have brown, black, white, or mixed fur, have an average length of approximately 20 inches, including a 5 inch tail, weigh about 1.5 - 4 pounds, they also have a natural lifespan of 7 to 10 years, so they are a live long pet with a lot of responsibility

The history of the ferret's domestication is uncertain, like that of most other domestic animals. It is very likely that ferrets have been domesticated for at least 2,500 years.Ferret were originally for hunting an mouse protection. They are still used for hunting rabbits in some parts of the world today, but increasingly they are being kept simply as pets. In the United States, ferrets were relatively rare pets until the 1980s, but in 1996, approximately 800,000 or so domestic ferrets were likely being kept as pets in the United States. The Problem with this is though, is that many people didn't do the research need to own a ferret. These guys are not for everyone. It takes a lot of responsibility to own one of these animals.

Ferret in play mode
Ferret in play mode

ferret activitys

Ferrets spend 14 to 18 hours a day sleeping and are usually more  active during dusk and dawn. They can sleep up to six hours at a time. Though ferrets sleep more than most other domesticated animals, they are very active when awake and will seek to be released from their cage to get exercise and satisfy their abundant curiosity daily. These animals have a very high metabolism, so always keep food out when there in play, with a small dish of water.

Ferrets are energetic, curious, interested in their surroundings, and often actively play with humans, having a repertoire of behaviors both endearing and difficult for some human owners. Play for a ferret will often involve hide-and-seek games, or some form of predator/prey game in which either the human attempts to catch the ferret or the ferret to catch the human. They also have a strong nesting instinct and will repeatedly carry small objects to hidden locations. It is difficult to predict what objects ferrets will attempt to hoard, it can range from car keys, to stuffed toys, plastic bags, bit of food, socks, money, clothes, and pretty mush what ever it can drag back that it wants.Ferrets will seemingly form attachments to certain objects and will repeatedly 'steal' the same object and bring it to their hiding place. Some ferrets have been know to even they to steal other family pets.

When ferrets are excited, they sometimes make a soft clucking noise,  It is often an invitation to play or an expression of happy excitemet and is not threatening. The ferret's posture may become rigid with wide open jaws, eye contact followed by thrashing or turning of the head from side to side, arching the back,and hopping to the side or backwards while facing the intended playmate. This is often accompanied by an excited panting sound that may sound like a hiss. Often, this behavior will break into a game of chase, pounce and wrestle. It is very important o make sure that this kind of play doesn't get out of han because a ferret is very accident-prone, often hopping into obstacles or tripping over their own feet. As a human you heed to be careful to sometime in excited play a ferret will bite a little hard. This is not meant to hurt you or as aggression. This just the way that a ferret plays. Also watch out for their claws. They do have them and they are sharp.

Ferrets tend to nip as kits. Nipping is the act of biting in a playful manner representative of mock fighting and sparring; young ferrets are also more prone to chewing and teething, and have a tendency to bite harder. Older ferrets tend to chew far less frequently and, when trained correctly, almost never nip a human hand or only do so very gently. However, ferrets that have been abused or are in extreme pain may bite a human, and are capable of strong bites which break through the skin. Ferrets are equipet with large cainines, that cone to a sharp point an a lot of little sharp pointy teeth, that help make the ferrets bite painful.

Ferrets, like cats, can use a litter box with training, but they are not always completely litter box trainable. Their instinct is to spread their waste in order to scent mark a wider foraging territory for themselves; thus, multiple litter boxes may be necessary, and all litter areas should be changed frequently. This should also be done at very early stage in life. Once a ferret gets to old it may be impossible to littler train. A ferret will not share a littler box with a cat, unless train to do so at a very early age in life. most of the time though this is unsuccessful.

The need for a lot of littler boxes is great unless you don't mind accidents. Ferrets are curious an sometime forget to go back to there bathroom an will usually just find a coroner where they are playing. so to have a littler box in every room may not be really appealing but it will reduce the number of accidents in your floor. Also, if your ferret prefers a certain coroner try to put a littler box there. Most ferrets are repetitive animals an will go back to the same spot.

Dite

Ferrets are meat eaters. The natural diet of their wild ancestors consisted of whole small prey, i.e., meat, organs, bones, skin, feathers, and fur. Some ferret owners are going back to feeding their pets a meat-based diet consisting of whole prey like mice and rabbits along with raw meat like chicken, beef, veal, kangaroo and wallaby. Due to the poor quality in one the market ferret food. Ferrets though learn what food is in their early stages of life, an if meat is not introduced early enough a ferret will probably not see it as a source of food later in life.

Alternatively, there are many commercial ferret food products. Some kitten foods can also be used, so long as they provide the high protein and fat content required by the ferret's metabolism; high-quality commercial ferret foods are preferred to kitten foods by many ferret owners because the foods are geared more toward a ferret's metabolism than to a cat's.Some of these food are expensive, because they are relativity new products to the market. Most adult cat foods and kitten foods are unsuitable for ferrets however, because of their low protein content and high fiber. Ideally, a ferret food should contain a minimum of 32% meat based protein and 18% fat and a maximum 3% fiber. When looking for a food for your ferret the first ingredients should be some kind of meat. It would be better if the first three ingredients were meat. Ferrets don't do well on fish products and can even be allergic. So its best not to give them and seafood.

Ferrets may have a fondness for sweets like raisins, bananas, peanut butter, and pieces of cereal. The high sugar content of such treats has been linked to ferret insulinoma and other diseases. Veterinarians recommend not feeding these foods to ferrets at all. Also, like many other carnivores, ferrets gradually lose the ability to digest lactose after they are weaned. As a result, lactose-free milk is to be preferred. Try not to give dairy products if it can be avoided.

ferret after bath
ferret after bath

Keeping your ferret Healthy

Ferrets do not require frequent bathing, which may remove natural oils in the ferrets coat that prevent dry skin. However, most ferrets are not averse to water. Ferrets do smell though,it is from their glands near the anus. Like skunks, a ferret can spray if it has not been descented. So it is best to give your ferret a bath about once a week. They also shead about two times a year, usually in the spring an fall.

Males, if not neutered, are extremely musky. It is considered preferable to delay neutering until sexual maturity has been reached, at approximately 6-8 months old, after the full descent of the testicles. Neutering the male will reduce the smell to almost nothing. The same applies for females, but spaying them is also important for their own health. Unless they are going to be used for breeding purposes, female ferrets will go into extended heat and a female that will not mate, without medical intervention, can die of aplastic anemia. It is possible to use a vasectomised male to take a female out of heat. Certain health problems have been linked to ferrets being neutered before sexual maturity was reached, and because of this some owners now choose to use implants instead of having the ferret neutered too early. Some owners even choose not to have their ferret neutered at all but use longer working implants instead.

Many domestic ferrets are known to suffer from several distinct health problems. Among the most common are cancers affecting the adrenal glands, pancreas, and lymphatic system. Certain colors of ferret may also carry a genetic defect known as Waardenburg syndrome.

Common illnesses

 

Canine distemper

Canine distemper, also know as CD, is an extremely contagious virus that is almost always fatal. Being strict indoor pets does not necessarily protect ferrets, as owners may bring the virus home on their clothes or their shoes. The only protection against the virus is vaccination, but it is important to talk to your vetenirian because there are some very dangerous risk involved.

Waardenburg-like coloring

Ferrets with a white stripe on their face or a fully white head, primarily blazes, badgers, and pandas, almost certainly carry a congenital defect which shares some similarities to Waardenburg syndrome. This causes, among other things, a cranial deformation in the womb which broadens the skull, white face markings, and also partial or total deafness. It is estimated as many as 75% of ferrets with these Waardenburg-like colorings are deaf. Beyond that, the cranial deformation also causes a higher instance of stillborn ferret kits, and occasionally cleft palates. Because of this, many breeders will not breed Waardenburg-patterned ferrets. This is not the case is all ferrets marked like this so it is important to talk to your breeder to find out if this is a factor in your pet. Also make sure that a vet checks out your new family member well.

Adrenal disease

Adrenal disease, a growth of the adrenal glands that can be either hyperplasia or cancer, is most often diagnosed by signs like unusual hair loss, increased aggression, difficulty urinating (caused by an enlarged prostate) or defecating, or agitation when urinating, and (in the case of females) an enlarged vulva. Signs of an enlarged prostate should be considered an emergency; even if the growth is benign, it can still cause a hormonal imbalance which can have devastating effects on the ferret's health.

Treatment options include surgery to excise the affected glands, melatonin implants, which treat the symptoms but not the disease itself, and/or hormone therapy. The causes of adrenal disease are as yet uncertain, but speculated triggers include unnatural light cycles, diets based around processed ferret foods, and prepubescent neutering. It has also been suggested that there may be a hereditary component to adrenal disease.

Adrenal disease is usually detected during the spring or fall. This is because adrenal disease affects the hormones that make the fur grow, so when ferrets with adrenal disease shed their winter coat they simply don't grow it back because of the disease. The hair loss pattern is usually very specific for adrenal disease: It begins at the base of the tail and then continues up the ferret's back. Ferrets who have been treated for adrenal disease may also suffer temporary but severe hair loss as their bodies recover.

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    • profile image

      anthony smith 

      6 years ago

      i love this website!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • profile image

      patti 

      6 years ago

      my little guy,wont take a treat. what's up with that

    • profile image

      ashleyy 

      6 years ago

      I love my ferret, the other one died recently so she has been a little lonely.. i don't know what to do to make her act normal, i can tell she is sad. Do i spoil her and get her a whole new cage and so toys and stuff?

    • profile image

      alena 

      7 years ago

      i love ferets!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • profile image

      keeleytomorrow@yahoo.co.uk 

      8 years ago

      plz can some1 help with info, my pole cat is 2, and is a jill, she has been in season for 3 month, now i got told if i don't get her mated she will die, is it to late to be spaded, please email me keeleytomorrow@yahoo.co.uk

    • profile image

      bandit 

      8 years ago

      i love ferrents so much i am getting 1 after we go to flord then come back. i know that ferrents smell bad but i don,t care at all.i can,t wait!they cost 300$. i have 2 books about theam!.

    • profile image

      Mee 

      8 years ago

      Umm answer to courntneys get her spayed as she will die if there is not a hob with her.

    • profile image

      Brian 

      9 years ago

      So you might want to cite that you didn't come up with this on your own. All is care of wikipedia.

    • profile image

      Courtney 

      9 years ago

      I need hepl. i have to female ferrets.One has been spad but the other one has not been yet. But now the unspad one has become really pertective over means she is biteing the spad one on the neck and draging her around. what should i do

    • Reynolds_Writing profile image

      Reynolds_Writing 

      9 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Interesting hub. (Note- there are some typos) I like the photos. Ferrets are very cute.

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