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By Tyler, Registered Veterinary Technician
From the time I was three years old, all I wanted to be was a veterinarian. Fast forward to my high school sophomore year. I am staying with my aunt and uncle for the summer to work at a very good family friend’s pet store. There I met this adorable little fuzzy, rambunctious, hilarious, and intelligent creature known as a ferret.
I had heard of and seen ferrets at Petco/PetSmart, but hadn’t interacted with one until that summer while cleaning cages, feeding the animals, and giving them the TLC they needed until they found their forever home. That’s when I met Moki and told myself if he was not adopted by the time I came back later in the summer, he would be coming home with me. I did a lot of research: choosing the right cage, food, toys, and more for a ferret, therefore I was able to convince my family that I was ready for that responsibility.
My adventure with, and later passion for, ferrets began there and, man, has it been a wild ride! I know a lot, yet find that I’m still learning more about these creatures. For example, in addition to the original research, I also learned about ferret proofing and veterinary care. Moki gave me the baseline and taught me everything he could. I now feel that I have a wealth of knowledge to share with anyone interested in owning a ferret.
First off, the word “ferret” is derived from the Latin word furittus, meaning “little thief” and it fits them well! They love to steal and hide things no matter what it might be. I give mine toys to hide away. You quickly learn what attracts your own. Be very careful, however, especially if your ferret has free roam of your house. They will get into the trash, backpacks, closets, etc. and steal whatever their little hearts desire.
Here are my Top Tips/Facts for Owning and Caring for a Ferret. I’ve been privileged to share my life with 11 so far and I am incredibly excited to share them with you!
You Can’t Have Just One – Ferrets are very social creatures and they require a lot of mental and physical stimulation every day to prevent them from getting bored or in trouble. If you are only able to get one ferret, they need to have ample time out of their cage to play (at least 4-6 hours) as well as toys that give them the mental stimulation they need. I have also found if you get a kit (baby ferret) and they do not have a playmate, they tend to have more behavioral issues or take longer to curb certain natural behaviors such as biting.
Biting – While biting is a very normal behavior for any young animal, they learn bite inhibition by playing with their siblings and mom. When it is just you, they bite and play rough with you at first. It takes a while to train the kit how to not bite so hard. On the other hand, if you can get at least two ferrets, this buddy system helps them to learn not to bite as well as providing mental, physical and emotional stimulation!
Husbandry – Picking the right set-up for your ferret(s) can be daunting. There are many different options including letting them free roam. I have a room dedicated to my ferrets where I can let them out to play and they still have access to their cage if they want.
I have seen many people who let their ferret free roam, but that comes with the caveat of ferret proofing your entire house to be sure they cannot wiggle their way into a hole and get lost or stuck! If the ferret can fit their head through the hole, they can fit the rest of their body through it. They are also very good climbers and might surprise you with where they end up! Starting with a smaller cage and working into a larger one is best, especially if you are new to the ferret-in-your-home world. I worked my way up from a larger rat cage to the Ferret Nation Cage, which is truly the best choice. Remember, ferrets are very curious and intelligent, so if they find a weak spot in their cage, they will make it their mission to get out! The Ferret Nation Cage has metal bars and doors that require thumbs to open it so you can rest easy knowing your babies are safe.
For bedding, I use fleece cage liners made by a gal on Etsy, so they have something nice and cozy to step on or sleep on. Now, beware especially with kits – they can and will chew on their bedding which can lead to a foreign body lodged in their intestines! Keep a very close eye on your bedding when you wash it (I wash mine weekly) and if there are holes, you know someone is chewing on it! I have a variety of beds, hammocks, and blankets for their sleeping pleasure and this gives them a fun obstacle course for play time too.
“Litterbox training” is in quotation marks for a reason – you cannot truly train your ferret to use a litterbox but you can train them to use the bathroom in certain areas. Mine have litterboxes in their cage that they do use but if they are out of their cage, they will back their little butt into a corner and go vs going into their cage. The most important aspect of the litterbox for ferrets is to NOT use clay/clumping litter. They can and will eat it or get it up their nose from trying to dig which can cause serious health issues. Using paper pellets with very little dust is one of the best options to choose.
4. Veterinary Care: Thankfully, ferrets do not require a lot of veterinary care like dogs and cats do. They do need vaccinations however: Distemper and Rabies are both fatal diseases ferrets can get from other animals. These vaccinations should be administered annually and, as a rule of thumb, your ferret should be monitored at the vet clinic for at least 30-60 minutes after their vaccination to ensure they do not have a reaction. Vaccine reactions can vary in severity, but the most common signs are vomiting, swelling of the face, fever, and collapse. These reactions can be life threatening, so staying at the vet is imperative so as to be able to administer necessary medications to counteract the reaction. If they do have a reaction, typically the ferret should not get that vaccine again. With the risk of reactions, Pikes Peak Vet has implemented a pre-medication protocol to decrease the risk of a reaction and we have seen very good results!
The typical lifespan of a ferret is 6-8 years, but one of mine lived to be 11 years old, so it is imperative to get a yearly exam for your senior ferret to ensure they stay as healthy as possible. Some of the most common diseases associated with ferrets are adrenal disease, insulinoma, lymphoma, and dilated cardiomyopathy (heart disease). I have owned ferrets with all these diseases and their treatments are different. If your veterinarian suspects your ferret has or diagnoses your ferret with one of these, ask questions and have your vet print out reputable information regarding the disease. Google is a wonderful source of information but there are too many websites with false information!
Raw vs Kibble – This is a very controversial topic in the ferret world. Ferrets are obligate carnivores, which means their diet needs to be high in animal protein, reasonably high in fat and low in carbohydrates. If you are willing to put in the work, time, money and patience to do a raw diet for your ferret(s) that is amazing! Personally, I do not have the ability to create proper raw meals for my ferrets, so I chose a dry kibble where the first 15 ingredients are animal-based protein sources (Orijen cat and kitten). If you see legumes, peas or any carbohydrates in the top five ingredients, avoid them as they can cause gastrointestinal upset and other issues. I give my ferrets a dehydrated raw treat (Wysong Ferret Archetype Rabbit) that they love and it’s a great source of protein.
- If you want to transition your ferret from a dry to raw diet, it will take some time and patience to get your ferret used to the new food as well as trying to prevent gastrointestinal upset. Do as much research as you can with reputable websites and ferret owners who feed raw.
- One more food trick is to make sure your ferrets like baby food. It is the best treat for them and if they happen to wind up sick or in the hospital, it is a wonderful bland food to get them through! I use chicken or turkey as they are not as fatty and easier on the stomach. Mine get it as a special treat and, when one of them is sick, they will eat it 9 times out of 10.
This is a lot of information. Ferrets are amazing animals that will give you hours upon hours of entertainment. They definitely require a lot of research and effort when you begin your journey with them, but in the end they will reward you with a lot of laughs and love. I love my silly fur snakes, weasels, cat snakes, furry noodles, and any other fun nickname you can dream up. I cannot imagine my life without them.
Please reach out through PPVC’s main number, 719-475-1747, if you want to make PPVC your veterinarian for your ferrets. We’ll be there for you if you have any questions. You can also reach out to me, Tyler, through the same number if you want to visit mine and see their set-up!