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AMSH Survival Guide: Ferrets

Ferrets; are adorable and those cute little eyes almost get you every time at the pet store. But, do they make good pets? The answer is yes! You just need to know a few things before bringing them home, and we’re going to let you know!

What is a ferret?

Well, ferrets are a part of the Mustelidae family, which also includes weasels, badgers, and minks! They are fully domesticated animals and have become very popular pets. Physically ferrets are similar to cats. Male ferrets are also known as a “hob” can weigh up to 4 pounds. Female ferrets are also known as “jill” can weigh up to 2.5 pounds. Their average life expectancy is 6 to 10 years. Ferrets are known to have less of the “musky smell” that is associated with other animals in this family, and neutering early helps with this.

Ferrets are likened to kittens when it comes to their temperament. They are playful, sociable, curious, and highly active! They can even be taught to do tricks. They are fearless, and often get the zoomies which can include running, jumping, twisting in the air, and colliding with furniture. This is all completely normal behavior and is often a sign of high spirits! Ferrets will sleep up to 18 hours a day, and are known to sleep very heavily. Some new owners have started to worry when the ferret is difficult to wake. This is normal, they’re just sleeping soundly.

Where should they live?

Ferrets do not require much space, but they do require appropriate housing. A large spacious enclosure that does not have openings large enough for the ferret to escape is important. Placing the cage away from windows and damp areas as ferrets are sensitive to heat and humidity because they do not have sweat glands. Ferrets prefer to sleep in a relatively small and confined space. Using blankets or a clean towel for bedding works well, but we would not recommend shavings because they can harbor bacteria. Additionally, cedar shavings can release an oil that is toxic to ferrets! Fresh water and food should be available at all times, and having the bowls attached to the cage is best since they will try and tip them while playing. It is important to allow your ferret 2-4 hours outside of their cage daily to remain healthy and in a good mindset.

Ferret-proofing your home:

Due to their curious nature ferrets often find themselves in dangerous situations. They are very persistent, nearly fearless, curious as a cat, and have the ability to squeeze into very small places. So, when bringing one into your home it is important to make it ferret-proof. Starting with their need to chew on things, we recommend removing any small loose item such as rubber bands, buttons, pencil erasers, and other small items. Intestinal blockages are very common in ferrets and are something we would like to avoid at all costs. Next, sealing holes larger than an inch, removing toxic house plants, check all appliances for crawl spaces. Ferrets are known to manipulate objects with their paws, so childproof locks may not be up to the challenge. Getting down to ferret level is also very helpful in finding no-no spots. One of the biggest challenges when ferret-proofing is negating their “tunneling” behavior. This often leads to ferrets being stepped on or squished when under rugs, or in couches. It could be beneficial to find a readymade enclosure to satisfy the tunneling need.

What should they eat?

Ferrets have a high metabolism and short digestive tracts, which means they eat frequently. They should be fed a high fat and protein diet, due to their carnivore nature, it should be meat-based as well. You can feed commercial ferret food or high-quality cat food. Dry food is recommended because a diet of soft food can lead to disease of the gums and digestion. Dairy foods, honey, raisins, and fruit should not be given to ferrets. When changing their diets it is recommended to slowly introduce the new food to avoid stressing out the ferret.

What is routine care for ferrets?

Ferrets are proficient groomers and they rarely require human help. While it is uncommon, ferrets can shed hairballs which can be a concern. If you notice your ferret shedding, try a soft brush to comb, and regularly change their bedding! Your ferret will need their nails trimmed monthly. This keeps you from accidentally getting scratched and your ferret from accidentally ripping a nail out on a blanket, towel, or toy. Ear cleanings should be done monthly to help reduce the buildup of wax, as well as lower the chance for ear mites, and infection. A gentle drying cleanser is appropriate but please avoid anything irritating (alcohol or vinegar).  

With your Veterinarian:

It is recommended that your ferret be vaccinated annually for rabies and canine distemper. When it comes to rabies, they should be vaccinated at 16 weeks at the youngest and then repeated annually. With canine distemper, they should be vaccinated at 8, 10, and 12 weeks and then annually. Ferrets do have a history of having vaccine reactions, so we always recommend that your pet stays with us for about 20 to 30 minutes for observation.

We hope that this crash course in ferret 101, helps answer any ferret questions! Ferrets are such fun and unique pets, we love getting to treat them here at Animal Medical and Surgical Hospital. If you ever have any questions, just give us a call and we can get you and your fun friend in!

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