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The basics of ferrets.

Updated on October 23, 2014

I have had my 2 ferrets for just less than 3 years now, and although at times challenging and time consuming, they are two bundles of fun that have become an integral part of my family. Time and time again I have come across people who know very little about ferrets - they may have heard of them but 9/10 times they'll think it's a type of rat. Common reactions when people find out that I have ferrets include… Don't they smell? Don't they bite? What are they?

In fairness before I got my two ferrets, I didn't know much about them myself. I was first introduced to a ferret at a friend's house, whom happen to have something furry sleeping in a small dogs basket… is it a cat I wondered - no a ferret I was told!

After much questioning from my part, I came to realise that these creatures, were all the benefits of having a cat, together with a dog and with two double the fun. At the time I must admit that I did underestimate the work involved in caring for them, cleaning their cage, taking them to the vets, etc… but overall, any animal that sleeps for on average 13 hours of the day has my vote.

What is a ferret?

Slinky - My Ferret
Slinky - My Ferret

Ferrets do look rodent-like and hence why many people mistake them for such creatures, however, the reality is further from the truth. A ferret in fact comes from the order “Carnivora” (meaning meat eaters), animals from this group are varied and include lions to common dogs. Within this “Carnivora” group, ferrets belong to the “Mustelidae” family, which include such animals as the otter, wolverine, weasels, European polecats and mink.

Ferrets by their very nature are extremely curious animals, by simply leaving them to their own devices; they can have your wallet open and all its contents missing in a matter of minutes. They particularly love shinny objects and as such you may find your key disappearing constantly. The actual name “Ferret” comes from the Latin word “Furonem” which means “thief” – if you own one, you’ll know exactly why.

How long do ferrets live?

Yoti - My Ferret
Yoti - My Ferret

Ferrets can live on average around 7 years, depending on their treatment, diet and levels of stress. It is not uncommon for a ferret to live up to 10 years given the right environment and diet. Ferrets go through a set of phases, at 1 year old, they are considered fully grown – between 3 and 4 they are considered middle-aged and at 5 to 6 years of age, they are considered pensioners.

Do ferrets bite?

An untrained ferret has a higher possibility of biting. With their little canine sharp teeth, that can deliver a very painful bite – I was once feeding a bit of chicken when I dropped it just as my ferret went to bite it – let’s just say he missed! In my experience though, ferrets never bite out of anger. They may nip out of fear or in play and to warn you of something they disapprove of.

A ferrets senses

A ferret has an acute sense of smell, very much like a dogs and as such even blind ferrets seem to make their way around perfectly. Their eyesight during infancy is very poor but they still seem to play and manoeuvre around the house at exceptional speeds. In addition, their paws are very sensitive and hearing is very accurate, especially when you’re reaching for their snacks.

What level of dedication is required?

Ferrets are wonderful pets to keep, however you should note that they are very active and curious creatures. As such, you should at least dedicate up to 4 hours of play-time fun with your ferrets. A ferret that is always caged will become stressed and bored and as such will start to develop numerous health problems, or even cage-rage! If you feel you cannot dedicate the level of commitment a ferret requires, then please do not get one. I have seen many a ferret in rescue centres simply because people underestimated the time required to clean and play with them.

Ferrets tend to alter their sleeping patterns around their owners, thus if you are a night owl, expect to have plenty of company from your ferrets.

Do ferrets smell?

Sleepy Yoti
Sleepy Yoti

In simple terms, yes! All ferrets come with a scenting defence mechanism - when they are excited, angry, scared or playful they often accidentally set off their smell. This smell once released disperses quickly and if kept on top you can easily control it. Simply by changing their bedding and litter frequently helps to reduce smells. It is good to note that if you bath a ferret often, it can have a reverse affect on their smell. Through bathing, ferrets oils are washed away, and as a counter measure, their little bodies produce greater oils to replace the ones you washed away - a vicious circle!

Other methods to reduce smells are to either have them neutered / spayed (not the route I went down) or to have a little capsule inserted just under their skin. This capsule releases natural hormones that will make them smell less (not a cheap option as this has to be replaced every 1 ½ years)

Lastly, my vet also recommended feeding my ferret's only dry food. Many people tend to feed them cat food, however, any wet food will aid in them getting smellier, and therefore it's not recommended. With all being said, a ferrets smell is no more offensive than that of a dog (trust me, I've had both)

I hope you have enjoyed my little article, I will be looking at writing a few ferret related ones in the near future and hope that you will return to read them too. My passion for ferrets has helped me to keep some sanity from my creative marketing consultancy a pass the time in a non-work related environment. Please take the time to squidlike me, and it would be great to see you either on my facebook page or website - links as follows:

This is only my second lens, so go easy on me people :)

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