Ferrets are an excellent alternative to a cat, dog, or cute little rodent. They offer a little bit of each world in their own unique package. That said, it means most people aren’t sure what a pet ferret entails.
Are ferrets dangerous little attack weasels? Are they stinky little furry slinkies? Will they love you? Are ferrets high or low-maintenance pets?
Don’t worry! We’ll give you everything you’d want to know about ferrets before deciding to get one or how to care for one.
Wait, I Don’t Have a Ferret Yet
For those of you in the deciding phase of whether or not to get a ferret, welcome. Doing your research is an important precursor to pet ownership.
Are Ferrets Good Pets?
Absolutely. Ferrets are adorable and sociable, curious, and intelligent. They’re an uncommon pet but aren’t difficult to care for.
- They like to sleep away the day like a cat. Ferrets love to play with each other and their owners in the morning and evening. Ferrets are individuals with different personalities and live an average of 5 to 7 years, but may live up to 10 or 12.
- There are a couple of qualifiers. Ferrets are not appropriate for young children for two reasons. Ferrets are rather delicate and need careful handling, and are naturally a little nippy. You need to train them out of playful biting (or aggressive biting, if they’ve been poorly socialized).
- Ferrets also shouldn’t interact with rodents, rabbits, birds, or reptiles. They can be introduced to and may get along with cats and dogs, but supervision is a must.
- Finally, ferrets are a bit stinky. They have a permanent musk, even if they’ve been de-scented as baby ferrets. Spend some quality time with a ferret first to make sure you can handle it.
How Much Are Ferrets?
- To adopt or buy a ferret is at least $100 — prices will vary depending on whether you’re adopting from a shelter, going to a pet store, or using a breeder. We do recommend a shelter or breeder ferret, which is more likely to be inoculated and better socialized.
- Ferrets also require annual vet checkups and vaccinations against rabies and distemper. For older ferrets, you’re advised to up the vet visits to twice a year to ensure they’re staying healthy and happy.
- It’s imperative, too, that pet ferrets are spayed/neutered — an additional expense if your ferret isn’t fixed when you get them. The surgery isn’t optional: unspayed females that aren’t mated have fatal complications by the time they’re a year old; unneutered males become stinky and aggressive.
What Else to Consider When You’re Considering Ferrets as Pets
- Ferrets aren’t allowed in California or Hawaii! (You know how irresponsible reptile owners in Florida inadvertently caused invasive python and iguana populations? Ferrets are technically non-native predators as well.)
- There is only one breed of domesticated ferret, but they are bred for various colors and patterns. However, some of the most popular patterns – blaze and panda ferrets – are prone to genetic deafness. It doesn’t particularly impact their quality of life and shouldn’t be a big problem, but it can impede training. Additionally, it may lead to a slight increase in aggression, as a scared or surprised ferret (like one who can’t hear you coming) is more likely to act out.
- Ferrets do best with at least one buddy. If you’re considering a ferret, you should consider two.
Ferret Care 101
- Ferrets have cages as their home base. You’ll want a wire cage for appropriate ventilation but with solid bottoms so that their little feet don’t get hurt.
A ferret cage needs to be tall, with at least two levels they can traverse. The bigger (and more multilevel) you can manage, the better. It would be impossible to get a cage that your ferret would find too large.
- Fashion the cage with at least one litter tray, depending on the size, and fill it with pellet litter or shredded paper/aspen. More than one is advised, and they’ll need daily cleaning because ferrets won’t cover.
At the opposite end, make bedding and feeding areas. They enjoy hammocks and (ferret-safe) toys. Use immovable water and food bowls, either attached to the cage or too heavy for the ferret to jostle. Easy-to-wash bedding like a towel or blanket is best so that you can wash it weekly, preventing excess odor.
- Ferrets need secondary habitats for playtime and exercise outside their cage, at least 4 hours every day. That might be a supervised run of almost your whole home, a single room, or a smaller sectioned off area that’s escape-proof (as much as it can be against a wily ferret).
- Ferret-proofing is ongoing and not optional. Ferrets will squeeze through and into whatever their noodle body can manage (and it can manage a lot), and they’ll chew up (and then swallow) basically anything in their path. They’ll even steal your stuff to stash away and play with/chew on later. This is a recipe for disaster and also medical emergencies.
- So, keep things off the floor and put away completely when possible because ferrets are not solely floor-bound.
- Make sure there isn’t tall furniture they might climb up but won’t be able to get down from safely — they will try jumping.
- Block off vents and ducts, plus other small spaces in or around furniture, appliances, doors, and windows. Remove open garbage cans.
- And finally, always supervise and often check for your little buddy in surprising places — you don’t want to sit on them if they’re hiding behind a throw pillow or squirmed into a chair cushion.
- Ferrets are carnivores with relatively simple digestive systems. They need lots of fat and meat protein from specially formulated, commercial ferret food.
- They can’t digest vegetable protein well and can hardly handle fiber at all, so aim for no carbs or grains.
- Avoid dairy, fruits, and other sugars. Your furry pal may seem to enjoy the taste, but it’ll wreak havoc on their insides. Instead, give them meat treats like a little bit of deli chicken or turkey.
- Unlike cats, ferrets won’t naturally use a litter box, but you can train them to do so.
- Place trays in the corners of their cage as well as various areas of the secondary habitat. A ferret won’t purposefully seek out a litter — when they’ve got to go, they’re going, which is why you need to have their options readily available. Accidents are likely, but you can achieve a high rate of success.
- Some ferrets will also respond well to leash training, and you can take them for walks. Likewise, you can teach a ferret a few tricks with lots of patience and positive reinforcement. They’re smart little puzzle solvers, but not obedient the way a dog would be.
- Ferrets groom themselves to keep clean! They may be smelly, but they aren’t dirty. You just need to brush their teeth, trim their nails, and clean their ears.
- They don’t even need regular brushing outside their shedding cycles, although it doesn’t hurt. When shedding, it’s important to brush to help prevent hairballs.
- Bathing will exacerbate rather than alleviate any musky odors, so resist the urge to dunk a smelly boy into a sink. It’s a natural smell from oils in the skin; since bathing will dry out the skin, oil production will actually increase right after a bath.
- At the utmost, you can bathe a ferret once a month. Every few months will work better. Make sure you use special ferret or kitten shampoo.
For most of us, how to take care of a ferret isn’t that hard or complicated; it’s just new. A ferret won’t be the right pet for every person, in much the same way we aren’t all cut out to be rabbit or bird owners.
But when you research ferret facts, you can make informed decisions before and after taking the plunge. That way, you and your slinky furry pal have the best life together possible.