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Are you ready to adopt FERRETS?

Updated on March 21, 2014

Aren't they adorable?

About the size of a kitten or small cat, ferrets are playful, affectionate, and absolutely adorable. How can one resist those whiskers, eyes and teddy-bear ears?

They weigh anywhere between one and five pounds and can live up to ten years or more. Quiet and mischievous they can bring joy to your day simply from watching their antics.

Hi!  My name is Evie and you look like a tasty dish. Don't mind my friend, Twilight.  She's always trying to escape.
Hi! My name is Evie and you look like a tasty dish. Don't mind my friend, Twilight. She's always trying to escape. | Source

How much do you love your stuff?

Evie (pictured above) is a master thief. She can steal the insoles from my husband's shoes in five seconds flat. Literally bigger than she is, it's hysterical to see her running with his size 13 insoles - and she's fast.

Seeing her run reminds me of footage I've seen from early flights. You can't help but wonder: What are they thinking? Beyond moving her stash from one place to another she simply loves to steal. She hoards anything with rubber: pens, hairbrushes, toothbrushes, sneakers - but her ultimate favorite are insoles.

Ferrets have very distinct personalities and they are attracted to different things. I have one ferret who loves teddy bears, tennis balls and beer, another who loves plastic shopping bags... I could keep going but my point is - your stuff belongs to them now. Observe your fuzzy baby and see what they are attracted to. No matter how many times you take your stuff back it inevitably lands back in their hoard pile. It might be your favorite sweater or pair of shoes... or Tweety Bird flashdrive (Evie!)

You've been warned.

Stinky ferrets

If you find your ferret smellier than usual there are a few things to consider:

  • they are on poor quality food
  • they just romped through the litter box
  • they are sick

That "ferret smell"

Ferrets, by nature, are very clean creatures. They often groom themselves or their fuzzy buddy.

Giving shampoo baths should be limited to once a month - at most. I recommend once every two months. Ferrets have natural oils necessary for healthy skin and coat. To bathe more often will rob them of their natural oils and dry their skin. This may cause fur loss or scratching, irritable ferrets.

Wash their bedding!

It's true ferrets have a natural musky scent, but no worse than a dog. Chances are, if you can smell ferrets you are really smelling their blankets and hammocks. I recommend washing their bedding at least once a week.

Have a steady supply of baby blankets, old sweaters and shirts, towels and pillow cases dedicated just for them. If you are diligent I promise you will not have a smelly house.

Twinkie sleeping on her back with her tongue sticking out.
Twinkie sleeping on her back with her tongue sticking out. | Source

Ferret Poll

When adopting a pet will you consider ferrets?

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Sleeping beauties

In my 30+ years experience with ferrets I can tell you they sleep a lot. They average about 14 to 18 hours a day.

As a fuzzy baby parent this doesn't get you off the hook for attention and free time. Not strictly nocturnal, they will adjust their sleep time according to their handler's schedule and it is possible to get them on a sleep/play schedule as long as you are consistent. They want to be awake when you are available to play.

Sleeping ferrets are adorable and they can sleep like the dead. Twinkie was sleeping so soundly that when I picked her up she just lay limp. I thought she was dead until I could feel the soft rise and fall of her belly as she breathed. If you're lucky you might hear your fuzzy snore, purr or sigh in their sleep.

It has taken me a good 2 months to cage train my ferrets. When I open the doors they have free time but after a while they are pooped from their high energy hi jinks and seek the comfort of their blankets and hammocks on their own.

I wish I could leave the cage open all the time but there are very good reasons I don't. They are very difficult to potty train and they will ruin your furniture if you let them.

European Polecat
European Polecat | Source

Ferrets are not rodents

Regardless of their appearance, ferrets are not related to mice or rats. They are not rodents.

It is true: if they can get their head into or under something then they're in - but that is where the similarity really ends. They are cousins to otters, badgers, mink, and weasels.

Their scientific name is Mustela putorius furo, a domesticated descendant and sub-species of the European Polecat. They are considered carnivores.

The importance of diet

Fresh water and quality ferret food is necessary for happy, healthy fuzzies. If you are considering a ferret, please consider your budget. Ferret food is a little more expensive than cat or dog food. Unlike dogs you can and should leave a full and fresh food and water bowl. They only eat when they're hungry but they eat throughout the day.

Ferrets are related to minks and otter - they love water. They splash and play in it but their little paws are generally dirty so clean the bowl and change out their water often.

If you run out of ferret food then cat food may be used as a quick replacement but it cannot be their primary diet! Ferrets have a high metabolism and they're much like babies - they will probably poo within a half hour of eating.

Read the labels! Knowing the good and bad ingredients in your furbaby's food is important. Look for protein rich, grain free food. Absolutely NO corn allowed. It may shorten their life span.

EVO and ZuPreem are highly recommended brands. I tend to add a little Kaytee because my ferrets love the tasty morsels.

The story of Monkeybutt

My husband and I were searching C-list for ferret cages and we found one. $50 for male ferret, comes with free cage. We were thinking, this is a great price for a decent ferret cage. We really didn't want another ferret but I wanted to check out the cage first and negotiate from there. When I arrived the cage was in poor condition but the ferret was in even worse shape. He was naked! The poor big guy had no fur except for his head - like a lion's mane. He was probably the most pathetic sight I had ever seen. I picked him up and he immediately snuggled up to me. How could I leave him? Simply put. I couldn't.

I paid the $50 for a cage I didn't want and a ferret with no fur. In the package deal they gave me a bag of cat food, some tattered clothes and a filthy play tunnel. My husband was going to kill me.

When I got home my husband and kids were pretty grossed out by the appearance of this creature I brought home. His furless and pink behind prompted the name Monkeybutt because Baboonbutt didn't seem to fit.

I matched him with one of my more nurturing ferrets so he could have a snuggle buddy. The cat food was thrown out and he was immediately put on protein-rich ferret food.

Why did I share Monkeybutt's story? In a week on good ferret food he was growing soft white underfur. In three weeks his guard hair was growing. In a month, Monkeybutt had a beautiful coat, he grew some more and he had some good ol' ferret spunk. He never did outgrow the name though.

Snacking / Training

If there is one thing I've learned - ferrets will come to you if you give them a reason. I've trained mine to come out of any hidey-hole when I make kissing sounds. I treat with Apple Jacks, Cheerios or dried fruit like raisins, cranberries or apricots. Do not over treat them because they will only want snacks and reject their regular food.

Twinkie and Old Man snuggled up and catching some Zzzs
Twinkie and Old Man snuggled up and catching some Zzzs | Source

They are social creatures

When adopting a ferret please consider adopting two.

Contrary to what I've read on professional sites, ferrets are very social creatures and they need love and companionship of the fur kind too. Imagine being caged by yourself all day! You might be anti-social, snippy and angry.

In my experience, sole ferrets are lonely, unhappy and tend to bite. They can be downright mean and they don't listen very well. Given free time outside the cage they are just happy to be free, stretch their legs and do ferret things. Why would they want to go back in the cage alone?

Ferrets were initially bred to hunt rabbits and small vermin. Given an opportunity or some training they can be great mousers. I haven't seen a mouse in my house for YEARS. Coincidence?

If you have pet hamsters or mice, even rabbits, I do not recommend ferrets however, cohabitation with cats and dogs is possible especially if they've grown up together.

Ferrets have no sense of their diminutive size. They are tough, stubborn, focused, and they are pretty adept at getting their way.


General Rule:

As long as their food and sleeping area is above their potty area you don't have to worry about their food and water getting contaminated.

Potty training?

No novice to ferret care, I have never been able to properly potty train a ferret. I've tried several things and will impart what I can.

Timing:

If you have time to observe your ferrets then note how much time lapses between eating and pooping. Do this a few times to see if they are pretty consistent. They have small digestive tracts and high metabolisms so, like babies, they eat and almost immediately poo. If you observe your fuzzies doing their business in the cage, letting them run the house for an hour or so should help cut down on accidents.

Litter Box:

Keep several. One or two for the cage (depending on how big the cage is) and a few around the house for romper room time. Like puppies, if you see your fuzzy pooping or peeing on the floor, snatch her up and run to the litter box. You may have to clean up the little accident but hopefully they understand that pooping in the box makes mommy happy. They are smart little creatures after all.

If you are going to use cat litter please use NON clumping litter. I learned this the hard way and nearly killed one of my fuzzy girls. After pooping they rub their butt through the litter or on the floor. The clumping litter was clumping up the anus, which caused infection and very painful poo. Butt washes and swimming in the tub plus Neosporin helped but it was scary. One doesn't normally examine a ferret butt until one has to - but it's good policy to do a regular butt-check anyway.

Wee Wee Pads:

Puppy training pads are great because you can lie them around in their favorite poo corners and line their cage. They are easy to clean up but depending on how many pads you go through in a day, it could get expensive. You don't have to change them out after EVERY use but at least once or preferably twice a day. This alleviates some of the "ferret smell."

Immediate Clean-up:

If you are letting your fuzzy babies run the house it is best to clean up immediately after they poo or pee. It is a lot easier to clean up fresh stuff as opposed to getting out the scraper and breaking a sweat. If you have wood floors you must clean up immediately to prevent staining.

Setting up your multi-level cage:

I have a four level cage. The uppermost level holds their food and water. Beneath that is their sleeping level where I put baby blankets, old sweatshirts or pillow cases and hang their hammocks. The lower levels have wee-wee pads.

At one point they were going potty on all levels. As they got used to the set up they stopped pooping on their food level and eventually stopped pooping on their sleep level.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Playing outside.Baby Boots Bandit saying "Cheese"Lucy on the prowlSleepy BearLap FULL of ferretsWinkin' Twinkie
Playing outside.
Playing outside. | Source
Baby Boots Bandit saying "Cheese"
Baby Boots Bandit saying "Cheese"
Lucy on the prowl
Lucy on the prowl
Sleepy Bear
Sleepy Bear
Lap FULL of ferrets
Lap FULL of ferrets
Winkin' Twinkie
Winkin' Twinkie

More tips

  • Ferrets do not do well in hot environments. If it's more than 80° please keep them indoors.
  • If you find that they are overheated put them in the tub in lukewarm water and introduce cooler water until they start acting normal.
  • Tub time means swim time. Hold the shampoo!
  • Never hit - especially on the backside.
  • Smacking on the nose will only get them riled up.
  • Empty boxes make excellent ferret clubhouses.
  • Milk crates with crunched up old newspaper is a fun pit

Ferrets will be ferrets

If you give them environments where they can act on their born and bred abilities you will have very happy ferrets and wonderful playmates.

I mentioned earlier ferrets are related to mink and otter. They love to swim so put them in the tub.

If it's warm enough, let them play outside. They love digging and burrowing. If you have an indoor play area, put a tarp down and a large planter full of dirt.

Tunnels, blankets and pillow cases are great to burrow and let them hide in dark places.

Plastic bags. I believe it's the crinkling sound of the bags that attract them. They can never stay out of them and they pounce too.

Squeaky toys. If you can find one with a goose honk instead of a high-pitched squeak toy they go WILD. I have a feeling their old hunting instincts kick in and they will jump, climb and chase you to get it.

If your ferret has hold of something they want they will hang by their teeth to keep it. If it's valuable shame on you for keeping it in their range but prying it away is worse than taking a bone from a hungry dog. I recommend distracting them with something else. You may get it back if you're lucky.

Happy ferrets tend to make a "burger burger burger" sound while playing and prancing.

Like any pet they must learn biting is not acceptable.

Never, NEVER, NEVER spank them on the butt! They have long backs and this can do severe damage.

If they are surprised or upset their tail will poof like a bottle brush.

Warning: If you see your ferret crouched low and swishing their tails (like an alligator) whatever they are focused on is in danger. Either remove the ferret or the object of their attention before something or someone gets hurt.

Did I miss anything?

If you have more questions or comments about ferrets, kindly send a comment!

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    • Robin profile image

      Robin Edmondson 3 years ago from San Francisco

      You have done a great job explaining what it's like owning a ferret, and monkeybutt is so lucky that you went to look at his cage. It is so sad that someone could mistreat an animal like that. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and all of your images!

    • TwerkZerker profile image

      TwerkZerker 3 years ago

      Awesome hub! Whenever I go to the pet store I'm always hanging over by the ferrets--they're so cute! I've wanted one (or, like, half a dozen) for forever, but I hadn't really talked to anyone who owns one. This was really helpful!

    • merej99 profile image
      Author

      Meredith Loughran 3 years ago from Florida

      @Robin - I love my fuzzy babies. They're hard work but their antics always make me smile. There is something about their size too. You know how kittens and puppies are so small and cute but then they GROW. Not that they're any less loveable but perhaps not as cute? Ferrets are like perpetual kittens. They stay small & cute. Thank you for the comment about Monkeybutt. He was quite and old guy when I got him but we had 2 great years together.

      @TwerkZerker - there are so many new ferret owners that don't know what they're getting into. Before you know it they are being dished off on C-list with a "rehoming" fee. I just want to be as informative as possible so people know exactly what they're in for. Thanks for stopping by! :)

    • Marisa Wright profile image

      Marisa Wright 3 years ago from Sydney

      I've heard so many people say how cute ferrets are, and how they're a better pet than a cat as they're more willing to play. It sounds like that's definitely true, but there are other factors to consider - so thanks for spelling them out!

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