- PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS
- MALE AND FEMALE STEREOTYPES
- THE BOTTLE-BRUSH TAIL
- FEEDING REQUIREMENTS
- LITTER TRAINING
- FREE ROAM
- FERRET PROOFING
- ONE OR TWO FERRETS?
- FERRETS AND OTHER PETS
- RAISING FERRETS
What is a Ferret? It is a very close and silly relative of the weasel, polecat and the mink. Ferrets are also related to otters, skunks and badgers. They are all part of the Mustelidae family. The scientific name for a ferret is Mustela furo. Furo is Latin for thief.
Ferrets are not related to rodents. They are carnivores. In fact, wild ferrets enjoy a tasty mouse. All Mustelidae have various scent glands for marking and protection. Most reknown is the skunk. While the ferret cannot spray, it can mark its territory or emit a smell when frightened. Today, most pet stores sell ferrets that have been descented. The anal scent gland is surgically removed when they are neutered or spayed. While ferrets have various scent glands throughout the body, the anal scent gland seems to be the main culprit. Both male and female ferrets are also surgically altered so that they cannot reproduce. This has the added benefit of reducing certain hormones in ferrets and in turn leads to a further reduction in their scent. Therefore, the descented animal’s smell is no more an issue with a ferret than it is with a hamster, dog or cat.
There are both wild ferrets and domesticated ferrets just as there are wild cats and domesticated cats, wild dogs and domesticated dogs. In North America, the wild Black- footed ferret is an endangered species. However, while it is a ferret, it is biologically and genetically different from your run of the mill pet ferret. The ferrets you see in your local pet store are domesticated and have been especially bred so for perhaps two thousand years or longer. Your pet ferret is not wild and would most certainly die if let loose in the the wild. A pet ferret may kill a mouse if it comes across one, but it not longer possesses the instinct to eat it.
The pet-store domesticated ferrets are most closely related to the European polecats which have the same number of chromosomes and similar colorings. Ferrets can be cross-bred with the European polecat and have fertile offspring. This lends credence to the theory that they are indeed very closely related. One common theory is that the pet ferret is really just a domesticated European polecat. Sort of like a German Shepherd being a domesticated version of a wolf. It is the fact of domestication which makes all the difference, not the difference in appearance of the animal.
Ferrets were thought to be first domesticated by the Egyptians to control rodents around 1300 B.C. However, they were probably displaced by cats which were domesticated shortly thereafter. While hieroglyphic records depict a ferret-type animal, some argue that this animal was actually a mongoose. Also, ferrets are not really hot or warm weather animals and can easily get heat stroke. So unless the weather in ancient Egypt was much more temperate than it is today, ferrets probably did not come from the pharaohs.
Today’s domesticated pet ferrets, the lineage that you will find in todays pet stores, probably came from the Romans and later Europeans who used the ferret in hunting. “Ferreting” meant the chasing of small game from their holes. The painting on the right is from a French book know as The Book of the Hunt written by Gaston Pheobus, around 1389 a.d. It demonstrates the hunting of rabbits with ferrets. The man in the green sleeves is placing a muzzled ferret into a rabbit hole. The rabbit’s exits have been covered with nets. Ferrets are most adept at tunnel-hunting but are susceptible to larger carnivores above ground. They are knowm to kill game twice their size. They were also used by farmers to rid barns of rodents and mariners to control rodents on ships. What rodents weren’t killed by ferrets were frightened from the barn for months due to the ferrets’ scent. Rodents are deathly fearful of the ferret’s scent. Queen Victoria had ferrets in 1875. Ferrets also appearing in the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie “Kindergarten Cop.” Ferrets were used in rodent control in the U.S.A. until they were displaced by chemical poisons and traps. Ferrets were even used by Boeing to run wires through tight spaces in aircraft assemblies. Strangely, in 1999 Lt. Co. Blaisdell came to the U.S. Space Commands rescue when it was having trouble wiring its new missile warning center. The good Lt. Col. recalled the aircraft exploits of ferrets long ago and volunteered his ferret named Misty. Misty ran wires for computers in conduits at the the Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado in areas that no humans could access. The ferret apparently worked for strawberry Pop Tarts.
While commercial and hunting uses for ferrets have disappeared, ferrets seemed to explode in popularity as pets once someone figured out how to descent them back in the 1970’s. Once the odor of the ferret was controlled, the ferret became a pet you could keep in you house without stinking it up.
Female ferrets weigh from 1.5 pounds to 2.5 pounds. Males are much larger in comparison, weighing from 3 to 5 pounds. Male ferrets are said to be more “lap ferrets” while females are notorious for being fidgety. Ferrets come in a variety of colors such as sable, albino white, cinnamon, silvermit and black. There are also many color permutations such as white paws, bibs around the neck, stripes on the head or back and colored tips of the tail. In the old days, albino ferrets were bred because they were particularly easy to spot and retrieve when used in hunting.
Ferrets reach adulthood rapidly in around six months and live an average of 6 to 8 years. The age rule for ferrets is 1 year of a ferrets life = 12 years of a human’s life. Ferrets retain their playfulness throughout their lives. But the older a ferret gets, the more likely it is that he will like to sit in your lap. Young ferrets are very fidgety, old ones are more likely to be cuddled.
Adult ferrets sleep around 15 hours a day. They usually coordinate their sleeping habits to conform to their owner’s schedule. They will awaken when you’re ready for breakfast and go back to sleep while you’re out at work. They will awake and be ready to play when you get home again.
Ferrets love to play. They will play with you, another ferret and usually another pet. They love to be chased and to chase you. They enjoy playing tug-of-war, running in tubes of pvc piping, jumping on blankets, hiding behind throw pillows, chasing small fuzzy balls, attacking squeaky little cat toys and in general, being very silly. They are also somewhat uncoordinated. When a ferrets gets excited and begins to dance and jump in little circles of joy, don’t be surprised if he jumps himself off of a sofa or runs zig-zaggedly into a wall. Fortunately, they usually aren’t phased by this.
All ferrets seem to like to steal whatever they can drag away, either in their teeth or by dragging something like a shoe with their paws. Even things as big as a boot. They like to hide whatever they steal. They usually just put things they find interesting in a place that they consider safe and convenient for themselves. They usually have one or two stashes in your home. Once you find them, you can find anything that turns up missing.
Ferrets are also relatively intelligent for having such silly small brains. They are able to solve problems which interest them. For example, how to get into the cabinet to drag away all the rolls of paper towels. However, this ability to get into and open things can be a problem, so see the section on ferret-proofing. Ferrets have good memory and know where they put things, like a squirrel remembers where he buries a nut. If you move a ferret’s “possession,” it won’t be long until they are back where your ferrets thinks they belong. Ferrets can also develop special attachments to certain toys. One of my ferrets goes crazy when you squeeze her squeaky hedgehog. She immediately comes tearing around the corner to the sound of the toy and tries to snatch it out of your hand. It’s as she thinks it’s one of her babies crying for mother. I can even squeeze it 100 feet from my house on the lawn and both ferrets will come running out an open door to the sound of the toy. One ferret, Pookie, is the panicky mother of the toy, while the other comes running alongside like a concerned aunt helping to insure the safety of the “baby.” The mother ferret grabs it out of my hands and they both run back into the house with tay and tails all puffed up. Pookie grabs onto it so tight with her teeth that you can actually carry her around by the hedgehog as she dangles from it.My males do not seem to care for squeaky noises.
MALE AND FEMALE STEREOTYPES
Like most other species of animals, male and female ferrets display certain characteristics that one might call stereotypical. For instance, females are quick to rise from a slumber whereas a male tends to lounge a little before finally getting up. Females spend more time making sure toys and other ferret possessions are in order. Males are less picky. Females spend a lot of time house cleaning, moving about, checking the territory and making sure toys are in the correct place. Males, on the other hand, have more extreme states of activity. Males are lazy most of the time, but when it’s time to get active, they’re more rambunctious than the females. Females dance around the home on their toes like cats while the males have heavy steps and stomp like small dogs. Female ferrets get very possessive of squeaky toys as if they were crying babies. Males could care less about the squeaking and often move away. Females are fairly fidgety and usually do not like to be held for extended periods of time. Males are far more likely to accept the pampering. Females feel more delicate when being held while the males feel heavier and more muscular. Females consume less food and water and also produce less waste in your litter box than males. Males require a little more cage space and definitely a large litter box. Males need a larger litter box not just because of their size, but because of the way their anatomy is. Females are neater and less messy than males when it comes to using the litter box. Females generally pile fecal matter while males usually do not. Males and females also pose differing logistic and security concerns. Males can get to places females might not because they are stronger climbers, higher jumpers and can open or move heavier items. But by the same token, since females are generally smaller, they can squeeze into places males might not be able to.
THE BOTTLE-BRUSH TAIL
When ferrets are nervous, scared, upset, or exploring new territory, they often exhibit a characteristic known as the “bottle-brush tail.” When this occurs, ferret tails get really big and puffy and the hair sticks straight out in a most silly fashion. But fear not. This is a normal ferret reaction to environmental stimuli and does not mean your ferret is sick. It usually lasts only a few minutes and then the tail will return to normal. Fruity on the right was freaked out from being outside. Pookie on the left got nervous around a cat. It’s probably good for a ferret to get excited once in a while like this. It makes them feel all wild and silly.
Ferrets require a high protein diet and plenty of fresh water. Protein levels should be at least 33%. The protein should also come primarily from chicken or poultry. Steer clear of food that lists fish meal as its first, second or third ingredient. Ferrets are not big fish eaters. Minks are. Many so-called ferret foods are nothing more than an adaptation of mink feed. This is not acceptable for ferrets. I have been feeding my ferrets Iams chicken flavored kitten food and have had good results. Recently, I have also found an acceptable ferret food called “8 in 1 Ultimate Ferret Food.” It is high in protein and mostly chicken. I mix the Iams with the 8 in 1 for variety for my ferrets.
Ferrets also can be given meats such as turkey cold cuts. Mine do not like beef. Many ferrets will not even try real meat. They can also be given moderate amount of cereals and grains and some fruits and vegetable like, raisins, banana slices, bean sprouts, bland Cheerios, goats milk and cooked egg. What one ferret may love another may turn up her nose to. Their diet should also be supplemented with vitamins such as Ferretone or Ferretvite by 8 in 1 products. Remember that treats are just that, treats, and ferrets should be given them in very small amounts only.
Ferrets eat many small meals a day due to their short digestive tracts. There should always be a supply of food in a bowl for them to eat on their own schedule. Feeding them dry food helps keep their teeth in excellent condition. Canned food tends to go bad too quickly for the feeding habits of ferrets.
Ferrets should never be given any chocolate as you will find your ferret vomiting violently all night or perhaps dead. Chocolate is very toxic to ferrets. They are also lactose-intolerant, so do not feed them milk, ice cream, cheese or other dairy products, no matter how much they beg. Ferrets can ingest goat’s milk since it contains little lactose. Things made from goats milk should be fine for your ferret. Do not feed your ferret dog food or sugary sweets
Litter training of a ferret is not very difficult. Ferrets are natural latrine animals. They instinctively use a particular area as a toilet. Even young ferrets at the age of 3 weeks already demonstrate this instinct. Ferrets prefer to keep food, sleeping and play areas separate from the bathroom area. This makes the employment of litter relatively easy for ferrets. You can use regular cat litter and even recycled paper litter. Litters with lots of masking perfumes and scents are not recommended. Ferrets are suspected of being a little averse to such smells and it may in fact discourage them from using the litter box. I have used “Fresh Step” or “Yesterday’s News” and they liked it. You should never use clumping clay litter with ferrets. First off, young ferrets may tend to play with the clumps. Secondly, and more importantly, when clumping litter is accidentally ingested by a ferret after cleaning himself, it expands in the intestines of the ferret and may cause obstructions that could lead to your ferret’s death. Also stay away from cheap litter that has a lot of dust, powder and small granules in it. It may cause irritation to your ferret’s sensitive areas and lungs. You can use the new clumping litters that are made from wheat or corn because they are digestible and they clump nicely for easy clean up. The only drawback appears to be that at certain times of the year, the edible clumping litters can attract ants. If that occurs, just switch back to clay litter for a few months.
Most young ferrets at the store will already demonstrate the litter box technique. However, many stores just fill a ferret cage with wood shavings. The ferrets end up using a corner or two and it looks bad. Never fear. Once you get a ferret home and put a litter box in his cage, he will use it. You may have to encourage him to use it in the initial stages. Here a few tips.
1) Ferrets have two iron rules they always follow and if you follow them you will easily litter train your ferret. One, they never eliminate near their food or water. Two, they never eliminate in their bedding. For a new ferret, it is a good idea to have the litter box on one end of the cage. Put the bedding right next to the litter box. On the other side of the bedding place the food and water bottle. Do not leave your ferret any play area because it may end up an unintentional litter box. To the left is a good example of a trainer cage. This may seem restrictive, but it works. It even works for older ferrets that need to be retrained. Once you are sure your ferret uses his litter box routinely, you can expand his area or move him to a bigger cage. A restrictive cage like this is not acceptable long-term housing for a ferret.
2) Ferrets demonstrate a backing-up-into-a-corner motion with their tail up over their hips when the need to go. If your ferret is not in the litter box, pick him up quickly and place him in the box. Don’t let him out until he goes. A young ferret may have difficulty identifying what is a litter box and what is a play area. It is useful to leave a little excrement in the box so that he can smell it and know that this is a good place to go. This is not necessary for established ferrets.
3) Ferrets use their sense of smell for many things, including going to the bathroom. A ferret will often smell an area to see if it is used for a bathroom. If it smells like a potty stop, a ferret will likely reuse that spot. So if your ferrets makes an accident outside of a litter box, clean it up and remove the odor. Ferrets have a powerful sense of smell, so odors must be diligently removed. White vinegar works well with a little club soda on most surfaces including carpeting. Bleach can also be used if it is a problem spot on a hard surface or cage. You should try to remove the bleach after a few minutes with a damp paper towel or cloth. There are other cleaning agents on the market including enzyme type cleaners. Always keep in mind that any cleaning solution other than white vinegar can be harmful to your ferret if he comes in direct contact with it. Try to remove the cleaning agents before your ferret walks on it with his soft paws. Carpet spots can be very effectively cleaned with a portable steam cleaner.
4) Ferrets do not like dirty litter boxes. They will turn their noses up at it and may not use it until you clean it out. Or perhaps they will even throw some of their toys or blankets into the litter box as a protest. For one ferret, you should scoop excrement every day or two and change the litter entirely when needed.
Ferrets do need to be let out of the cage everyday for exercise and recreation, both for yourself and the ferret. I let mine out when I get home from work and they stay out until I go to bed. Often they are out in the morning before I go to work as well. Mine are well-trained and they are sometimes out of the cage for days at a time. If you are going to leave your ferret out, it must be litter-trained again. A ferret, once outside of the cage, will not likely return to the cage to use the litter box. Instead, the ferret will look for suitable spots around the house. Some of the ferret litter boxes sold at stores are far too small for your ferret. It should be large enough so that a ferret can be completely inside of the box and even have plenty of room to turn around inside the litter box. On the right is a typical corner litter box for outside of the cage, although it is a little on the small side. There is some plastic runner under it to help protect the carpet and it makes for easy clean up of litter trackings. When the ferrets were young, they wanted to move the litter box so I put some heavy rocks or bricks on the ends to stop them. On the left is a larger, tupperware-type container turned into a very good litter box with a lid. Several holes were cut into the sides to allow ferret access and several hole on top to allow air circulation. Every corner is a potential bathroom for a ferret. Here are some tips to prevent accidents around the house.
1) Keep a close eye on your ferret for the first few weeks that he is allowed out of the cage. At the first sign of trouble, pick up the ferret and place him in the litter box. Again do not let him out until he goes. Once he goes, you can relax for a while.
2) Place a litter box in a convenient spot for both you and your ferret outside of the cage. When a ferret has to go, he usually can’t make a long trip to a litter box. Position the litter box in a corner of a room so that no matter what silliness the ferret is in to, it will not have to travel too far to get to the litter box. I got mine successfully trained to travel 32 feet at a maximum to reach a litter box. Perhaps this distance could be extended, but that’s all the room I have.
3) Do not give the ferret too large an area to roam. The further a ferret has to travel to a litter box, the harder it is to train him to use it regularly. When your accidents are at a minimum in a particular area, you may try to expand your ferret’s roam zone.
4) Discourage the use of corners as ferret bathrooms by placing immovable objects there. Books, furniture, playhouses, etc…Perhaps at a future date you can remove the objects.
Ferrets will make an accident on your rug once in a while. Maybe once every few weeks, months or longer if they are well-trained. This is an unfortunate fact all ferret owners must accept. (Although my female named Pookie never once in her lifetime made a boo-boo.) They simply are not as reliable as most cats. Fortunately, ferrets accidents are relatively small and easy to clean up. Ferrets are also occasionally known to make a doo-doo in the middle of your rug when they are upset. That might be their way of saying you need to spend more time with them.
Many people have asked me, “What do you do with your ferrets when you leave town for a few days?” If you are going to be away from your home for more than 24 hours, you should put the ferret back in the cage. You can leave a ferret or two locked in a cage for two or three days if you are away for a weekend. However, you better let them out when you return and make up some lost quality time. If you are going to be gone for a longer period, have someone visit at least every other day to check up on the ferrets. The food and water should be attended to and the litter must be changed. The ferrets should be allowed out of the cage for at least an hour during that time.
Potted plants are a large and silly invitation for ferrets. Ferrets are natural diggers and cannot be trained not to dig. It would be like trying to get a fish not to swim. If you leave a ferret alone with a plant, you will find a pile of dirt and a dirty but happy ferret. So how do you stop a ferret from digging in your plant? Move the plant to another room or put it on a high plant stand. If the planter is big enough, you could cover the top of the plant soil with colorful decorative gravel. Each piece of gravel or rock should be at least one and a half to two inches long. Put a two inch layer over the soil. This looks nice and the ferrets hate to put their paws on the rocks.
All ferrets teethe when they are young. When ferrets teethe, they are trying to relieve the pain and discomfort of their teeth growing in. It is not a sign of viciousness. Young ferrets need soft, yet firm things to grind their teeth and gums on. They will slowly stop teething by the time they are around four months old. A plastic toy, a finger and the rubber sole of a shoe, have all been victims of the teething process. I have even seen ferrets painfully attempt to teethe on the metal wires of a cage if there is nothing else to teethe on. The poor guys look like they have rabies! A very useful and recommended item is the teething “Super Chew” from Marshall Farms. I am sure there are other similar items on the market. Young ferrets willteethe, which creates a danger that a young ferret will ingest something that will cause an intestinal obstruction. The Super Chew is perfect for young ferrets to teethe, gnaw and slobber on. Ferrets seem to enjoy the taste. If a piece breaks off and is accidentally ingested, it is safe for a ferret’s digestion. The same thing cannot be said of rubber or plastics. Providing a safe teething toy is a necessity. I wedge the teething toy between the wires of the cage which hold it in place, giving the ferrets easy access and leverage. If a ferret can teethe sufficiently, he will be less likely to teethe on you or something dangerous. Once a ferret is grown, he will no longer require a teething toy.
Ferret-proofing the home is essential if you have a ferret. Due to their incredible curiosity and fearless nature, they will, if given the opportunity, get into anything. Your ferrets must not be allowed into your cabinets where they can get into your cleaning agent, garbage, poisons, etc. They can open a cabinet by lying on the floor and working the door with their paws and claws. I had to put strong magnetic latches on all my lower cabinets to keep them out. To the right you can see jumpy who figured out how to climb up inside of my end table. He seems to love sleeping in the drawer, particularly when it is closed. Ferrets are not rodents and therefore do not chew on things like wires or furniture, but they will taste soap, detergents and poisons.
You must make certain your ferret cannot get under your stove, behind the refrigerator, between your washer and dryer or in any large appliance. They can find their way to a motor or fan belt and end up dead. They might end up stuck under your stove and you might not know he’s there. Fortunately, most appliances are low enough that an adult ferret cannot get under it. But care must be taken to insure they cannot get behind an appliance where an opening might lead to the internals. The answer sometimes lies in using duct tape, wood and plastic.
If a ferret observes you entering another room and closing the door, the ferret is sure to try to follow you. If you have wall to wall carpet, he may scratch at it trying to dig into the other room. To remedy this situation, I put scrap pieces of carpeting or a plastic runners by that door. Sometimes I have to hammer down the runners to keep the ferrets from tunneling.
I have a hallway leading to the rest of my home and I chose to keep the ferrets from accessing the whole house. I developed a ferret barrier to keep them out while at the same time allowing me the convenience of stepping over it. I cut a two-foot high board which is exactly as wide as the hallway. It slides up and down for removal. On the walls are attached some clear pieces of plastic to hold the board in place. On the board, I taped a piece of cardboard all along the top which angles down to the floor like a roof. It is only attached at the top. A ferret can jump higher than a two-foot wall and drag himself over it. However, when he tries to get over my barrier, he has to jump over the angled piece of cardboard. It is slippery and when he tries to grasp it, it collapses and he falls to the floor. After about a half hour of effort trying to figure out how to get over the barrier, my ferret gave up and never tried again.
ONE OR TWO FERRETS?
A common question is whether to buy one ferret or two. There are both positives and negatives to this argument. Two ferrets cost twice as much. Not just the purchase price which is around $110.00, but also food, litter, and vet bills. They also require a larger cage which can accommodate two ferrets comfortably. Two ferrets get into twice as much trouble. However, two ferrets is the way to go if you can afford it. Ferrets are not like dogs. While they will bond with humans, they still need ferret companionship. Ferrets are very communally-oriented animals.
A group of fish is called a school, a group a whales a pod, a group of dogs a pack, and group of lions a pride, a group of geese a gander and a group of ferrets is called a business. I call it a funny business.
Having two ferrets helps keeps them from being bored and depressed if you’re not home all day. Ferrets enjoy each other’s company and almost always get along. Ferrets enjoy sleeping in a pile and playing special games only ferrets can play. Ferrets love to wrestle, bite and chase each other in mock combat. They are only having fun and get great exercise when this goes on. While humans can play many games with ferrets, there are certain natural ferrets games only ferrets can play. One ferret game is “fanging.” This is a silly game where two ferrets face each other in a tight space with their mouths wide open as if to chomp down on each others’ nose. They twist their little heads and roll around trying to “ferret out” the other ferret. Here is a series of images in which Tuco seems to be getting the better of Jumpy. It may look harmful, but they both love alternating between the attacker and the victim. Tuco has got a silly mouthful of fur in the first image, but fear not, Jumpy is actually enjoying it. Having two ferrets is not only rewarding for the ferrets, it is also rewarding for the owner. Once you see for yourself two ferrets playing one of their silly games, you will never regret getting two. It is simply one of the funniest things to watch.
I have observed my ferrets grooming and cleaning each other from time to time. While it does not seem as important a routine as cats attach to it, I nevertheless believe they do benefit from this in a way which I cannot be a substitute for. I have observed them licking each others necks, ears, faces, tails and so forth. I do give them a bath about every fourteen days, but nothing beats a custom grooming from another ferret.
If you are going to buy two ferrets, I recommend that you purchase them within 6 months of each other. I bought my two ferrets several months apart. In this manner, I was able to bond with each one individually at a young age. I initially kept both ferrets in separate cages very close to each other. This way they could smell each other and get used to each other’s presence. They both were obviously excited about there being another ferret. I then physically introduced them to each other once the second ferret was large enough to roughhouse with the older one. The new ferret was 8 weeks old at this time. This was done over a two week period through short supervised play periods. The older, larger ferret will want to drag the younger ferret by the scruff under the nearest sofa as if it were a toy. Obviously, you should discourage this activity until the younger ferret is big enough to fight back. The play periods eventual got longer as they got comfortable with each other. Only then did I house both ferrets in the same cage.
I do not believe you will have too much trouble either if your ferrets are bought at the same time and are the same age. You will also have success if you introduce much older ferrets to younger ones, but I believe the best route is to keep them relatively close in age. An old ferret just may not want to rough house with a much younger ferret as much as the newbie wants to. As with people, it is nice for ferrets to grow up and age together.
Ferrets will kill your birds, hamsters, mice and insects if they can get to them. However, ferrets can easily coexist with cats and some dogs. The most important factor is whether the other pet has a friendly disposition. New ferrets and other young pets have the best chance to bond over time but that is not the necessarly the rule. An established pet may accept a ferret into your home, but it is rare they will really bond with your ferret. Very territorial animals and ferrets should not be placed together. A ferret can handle its own with a declawed cat, but a dog must be friendly and trustworthy to have around ferrets. Ferrets learn their place in most instances and if a cat does not like your ferret, the ferret will not harass the cat, usually. At New Ferret City, Silly Tuco loves to jump on the backs of cats and scruff them till the are subdued. Most cats can avoid this and even fend off little Tuco, but he is sneaky, and can catch a fur ride on a distracted cat. Silly Jumpy likes to steals cat toys and hide them under a sofa where the cats cannot retrieve them.
You should not allow ferrets and cats to share the same litterbox. Cats may use a ferret litter box from time to time so the box should have a lid and holes in it so only a ferret can get in and out easily.
What kind of ferret you end up with will largely depend on how you raise your ferret. One that is neglected and kept in a cage in the garage will never develop bonds with humans nor show affection to his captor. You hear stories about someone’s ferret that would always bite and had to be kept in a cage. Well, if you were kept in a dirty cage, beat all the time and kept sticky because no one want to bathe you or clean your cage, wouldn’t you be a little unfriendly? Just remember, in the year 1997, there were over 320,000 reported dog bites in the United States.
A ferret that is raised with love, shown plenty of affection, kept clean and healthy, played with and allowed adequate time out of his cage will return your efforts. You must start young with your ferret in your raising and training. Young ferrets are easier to train than older ones. You would do the same for a dog or cat, so why wouldn’t you do it with a ferret? Ferrets are very intelligent and learn quickly. Just because they are small, do not assume you should treat them like hamsters. Ferrets can be taught to do simple tricks like this one that understands “up” for a raisin.
Young ferrets should be discouraged to nip at human hands. They do not know that if they bite us too hard it hurts. Ferrets have very thick skin and bite the living tar out of each other without much fuss. This is part of their sibling play behavior. By biting you, they are really just playing. Young ferrets do not have the aggressive instincts that an adult may have. When handling a ferrets that is nipping, it is useful to firmly pat his head or hind quarters while saying “NO!.” Scruffing, or the holding of a ferret by the loose skin behind the neck, has also been shown to be effective. Do not beat the ferret. After a few times, the ferret usually gets the hint that biting your hand has its repercussions and will stop. This is called “training” for all you idiots. If you allow your ferret to nip as a youngster, it will probably do it when he is an adult. Put an end to it once and for all. Another alternate option you may want to try is putting a little ferretone or lanotone on your finger and letting the ferret lick your finger. You may find that you ferret finds that licking your finger is more enjoyable than nipping it.
When a ferret is young, you should spend as much time with him as possible. Play with him, give him treats, and refrain from beating him for accidents. Remember, ferrets are small, so a spank may seem like a brutal attack to them. If you are going to punish your ferret for misdeeds, only pat lightly on the hind quarters or scruff him. Negative reinforcement has been shown to be a useful technique in training of all animals, including people. A very useful punishment is to grab your ferret immediately and put him back in his cage and lock it up. Ignore him for ten to fifteen minutes. Ferrets do not like to be ignored. Another useful approach may be to encourage good behavior, such as giving a treat when he runs across the room just to use the litter box. You should always remember that ferrets seem to have short attention spans. So if they do get into trouble, punishing them or rewarding them even only a few minutes after the fact will not have much effect. Your ferrets will simply not connect the behavior and your reaction. You must punish or reward immediately. Likewise, an extended stay in jail for your ferret will not have much effect since the ferret will have forgotten why he is in there after a while.
Ferrets love toys. Whether it is the furry toy mouse you bought at the store for them or making their own toys (like unrolling a roll of toilet paper all over your house). Ferret toys should be first and foremost safe for them. They should not have small pieces on them that can break off and be swallowed by a ferret. Here you see Tuco playing with a fuzzy cat mouse and baby Pookie playing with a very safe infant toy from K-mart.
Do not give a ferret a latex dog toy for a ferret will likely chew small pieces off and swallow them. This runs a very serious risk of intestinal obstruction. Latex toys are not durable enough for ferrets. Also, do not give your ferrets toys filed with catnip. While it does not make ferrets “high,” it may not be safe for them. Other great toys are fuzzy things on the end of strings, tubes, an old pair of pants, small soft balls, and small toys that squeak and jingle. One of the favorites is the fuzzy furry spider with the pipe cleaner legs on string. The ferrets attack it like there is no tomorrow. I have seen Fruity actually kill a few real spiders and catch a couple flies. However, Pookie does not seem to be inclined to insect control.
Ferrets need to bathe. Otherwise, they will begin to stink. Adults should be bathed about every two weeks. Use a shampoo such as Johnson & Johnson Baby shampoo. You can spend the extra money on ferret shampoo, but I have found they are not really any better and they are more expensive. Ferrets’ eyes are sensitive to soap just as our eyes are. When you get soap in a ferret’s eye, he cannot tell you his eye hurts. He will just seem difficult to handle and squirm. For that reason, I recommend a tear-free shampoo. I am not sure all ferret shampoos are tear-free. In fact, none seem to make that claim. Human baby shampoo is tear free and gentle enough for a ferret’s sensitive skin. Sounds like a commercial eh?
All ferrets will hate their first bath. However, after a few baths, mine became very tolerant of water. In fact, when they hear the water running in a tub or shower, they come running as if to say, “we want a bath.” You can fill your tub up with a couple inches of water and put your ferret in it for a bath. Just make sure he can touch his toes on the bottom. You can take a shower with your ferret or you can wash him in a sink. The sink is my least favorite since it makes it easy for him to walk around on the counter all wet. I found it is best to bathe your ferret in an environment in which he cannot escape, like inside a shower or a deep tub. Once the ferret realizes he cannot get out, he will give up and take a bath. This might take a few trips to the tub though.
Get you ferret thoroughly wet and then put some shampoo in your hands and work it into his wet coat. Take care to avoid the eyes and try not to get water in the ears. Lather your whole ferret, the back, stomach, rear end, tail, and don’t forget around the neck. Rinse him. Ferrets will shake sort of like a dog to get the water off. However, ferrets dry themselves on the ground by rubbing. All you have to do is put a towel or two on the ground, and your ferrets will rub himself on it, crawl inside of it and roll around on it. This should be done in an area like a bathroom tile floor. Otherwise your ferret will just go off and dry himself on the carpet or sofa. You will see that ferrets love to be clean. They are especially spunky and playful following a bath. After a bath, you will find out how crazy and silly a ferret can be.
Ferrets need very little grooming. In fact, I do not brush mine at all. Since they do not shed all year long, you do not have to brush them to remove shedding hair.
However, ferrets do shed their fur twice a year: once in the spring and once in the fall, when they shed much of their fur during about a three-week period. The old fur is replaced by new shorter fur which will eventually grow out. They can make a mess on your furniture during this “molting” period. Ferret hair gets all over the place. My remedy for this is to pick up the ferret over a garbage can or take him outside during this period and pluck him like a chicken. The old hairs come out easily in clumps. That way you can remove much of the old hair before it gets on your sofa. The ferret doesn’t mind too much except when you pull on some new hair which does not come out so easily. I do this maybe twice over a two-week period and get most of the shedding fur. Don’t pull too hard and don’t pluck your ferret so there is no hair. Just remove the loose ones.
Ferrets need their nails clipped every three to five weeks. Ferret nails are not retractable like a cat. Furthermore, as a ferret’s nails get long, they can split or crack and get caught in carpeting or blankets. This could make for a very painful experience for your ferret. Pick up some nail clippers for a small animal at your pet store. Ferrets do not sit still for nail clipping so you will need to distract him while you cut his nails. Put some ferretone or similar treat in front of him. A liquid which he cannot scamper off with is preferable. While he is eating and licking, cut each nail, paying most attention to the front nails. Carefully examine each nail before you cut. You can see a small vein in each nail. Make sure you cut below the vein in the nail and not the vein. Otherwise your ferret will experience pain and may bleed for a while. But if you do cut the nail too close, it is not the end of the world. Your ferret will be fine in a few minutes.
Ferret ears should also be cleaned a few times a year. Use a soft cotton swab soaked in hydrogen peroxide diluted with water and gently wipe the inside of your ferrets ears. There is a slot inside the ear near the bottom of the lob which accumulates a lot of dirt and grease. Make sure you hit this spot. Slide the swab in the slot, and gently turn the swab a few time. You may notice dark brown/red or blackish and yellow stuff stuck to the swab. Continue using new swabs until the ear is clean. Never try to put anything inside of the ear canal. Ferrets hate to have their ears cleaned no matter how much you bribe them. You will have to hold your ferret securely. You will probably need to scruff your ferret, which is the grabbing and holding of the loose skin behind the ferrets head around his neck. When this area is securely held, either by you or another ferret, your ferret will submit and become lame. It may even yawn as a sign of its submission. This is an instict left over from when the mother ferret would grab and hold her babies.
Like all animals, ferrets can fall ill from time to time. Here is an x-ray of the inside of a male ferret. As you can see, they have a very silly interior which is necessary in order to act silly. Because of their silly nature, or the silliness of their owners, they can sustain unfortunate injuries to the spine or limbs from being stepped on, dropped or crushed in doors. This unfortunate ferret sustained a fracture to the skull. Fortunately, with immediate medical care and skilled vets, the ferret made a successful recovery. The New Ferret City ferrets have had their share of troubles. At age two, Pookie had a tumor on the very end of her tail. It was a small bulb the size of a small marble. The Vet removed it as well as the last two vertebrae of her tail. The tail shortening was not noticeable. At age four, Fruity was diagnosed with Adrenal Disease. The tell tale sign was a very swollen vulva. She was also very lethargic and thin for the year prior to her surgery. The Vet opened her up and took out the diseased gland which is located in the abdomen. While inside of the ferret, the Vet examined the stomach and discovered a piece of rubber weather stripping which had lodged itself in Fruity’s stomach. It was just a tad larger than a pencil eraser. Too big to pass from the stomach but not big enough to kill the ferret. It also did not dissolve in the ferrets stomach. We concluded that it had been in there for at least several months, perhaps over a year. That too had to come out. Ferrets will ingest things they should not if given the opportunity. The partial obstruction caused Fruity to never get enough food in her stomach and contributed greatly to her thinness. Within a month of the procedure, Fruity was eating more and was much more energetic. Within a year, she put all her weight back on and was what I would consider within normal ferret operating parameters.
A year after Fruity’s surgery, Pookie became very ill. In one month’s time, she lost about 40% of her body mass. She was anorexic and lethargic. I also notice near the end that she was vomiting and not eating at all. Tests did not reveal her condition. Only after the Vet opened Pookie up, he discovered that her spleen was five times the normal size. Enlarged spleens are common in ferrets, but not this large. The Vet said it was so large that it pressed up against her stomach and intestines, making it difficult for the ferret to eat and digest food. The spleen came out and within a week, Pookie was eating and playing again. Three months later, she was back to her normal weight and fully recovered. You can clearly see her incision and stitches. The Vet had to shave the area before he could operate. Ferret hair will not grow back fully until the next shedding cycle in spring or fall. The two major surgeries cost about $250.00 each.
Ferrets need a cage and various other areas to nap or relax in outside of the cage. The more ferrets you have, the bigger the cage needs to be. Here you see the New Ferret City cage. It is actually two cages combined into one. Perfect for two ferrets. I disassembled one end on each cage and attached the two together to make it twice as long. You can see the seam. Within the cage, you need a food bowl and a water bottle. A two-story cage is a must. The litter box goes in one end of the bottom of the cage, the water and food go at the other end of the bottom of the cage. The second level should have sleeping and play areas with things such as a bag or some sort of soft, partially enclosed area. I put in some baby blankets since ferrets often bundle themselves up. The cage should be some sort of wire cage with a wire bottom and a tray. The better ones have epoxy-coated wires which makes the wires feel softer. I also cut some indoor/outdoor carpeting to fit the second level. Ferret feet get sore from too much exposure to wire-bottomed cages. The carpeting really helps make the sleeping quarters more pleasing to them. Why not carpeting on the lower level then you may ask. Well, when ferrets eat, food often falls around the food bowl. Water also drips and spills. If you have carpeting, food and water will just sit on the carpeting and rot instead of falling below the wire bottom of the cage to the tray. The same is true of the litter box area. Litter is tracked out of the litter box and will fall below the wire floor. It’s just not healthy for carpeting in a cage to have litter and food particles laying around where ferrets are exposed to it. As a compromise, you might want to put a small platic mat next to the food bowl to make feeding a little more comfortable for them. The ferret cage should have at least one door which can be left open or latched open. Ferrets often return on their own to their cages to eat and sleep and need access to it any time they get out of the cage. You may also want to cover the cage with a blanket or big towel on cold nights. Place the cage where the ferrets will get some sun light, but not too much, and it also should not be drafty.
Outside of the cage, ferrets like nap sacks like the one on the right. It’s machine washable and nice and snugly. Bags and tubes with the warm sheepskin-like interiors are very popular with ferrets, as are enclosed cat houses. If you are lucky to find a ferret house, it makes for a better hangout. I do not think ferrets like the tall cat houses with perches and pillars. Ferrets are burrowers, not climbers by nature. Ferrets prefer their private places to be in secluded, out-of-the-way areas, like behind sofas, in the corners of rooms or even inside of drawers. You will likely find a ferret’s own toy collection inside one of these silly ferret hideouts.