Ferrets are amazing creatures! Are you finally thinking about getting yourself, or your child his/her first pet? and you’re possibly considering getting a ferret? This article will provide you all the most useful ferret facts and information that you’ll need to make the best decision about getting a small cuddly pet.
Do Ferrets Make Good Pets?
The answer is yes, ferrets make wonderful pets. Unfortunately, not all people are cut out to be ferret owners. Owning a ferret is not like owning a hamster.
They may be small but they are high-maintenance animals that require a lot of attention and supervision, and there are many things to take into consideration before making such a commitment.
Is a Ferret For You?
As the popularity of ferrets is increasing, so are the numbers of ferrets being surrendered to shelters or given away as owners are/ were NOT fully prepared for everything that comes along with ferret ownership. Many web sites and owners are very eager to talk about the cuteness factor, their playfulness, energy, etc, often neglecting to mention that a ferret is not the pet for everyone and that they are very high maintenance, unlike cats and dogs.
All too often ferrets tend to be an impulse buy without knowing beforehand what you are getting in to; perhaps if the price tag was higher this impulse buying would be reduced.
The purpose of this article is to help you determine if a ferret is a right pet for you before you go out to purchase one, as there are adjustments you as the owner will need to make.
All too often ferrets end up in shelters, where the financial burden is then placed on someone else, the ferret does not get the human attention/ interaction, the out-of-cage time needed, and they often suffer shelter shock or even worse.
Keep in mind, just like with a cat or dog, if you are making the decision to own a ferret you should be taking on all the responsibilities for the life of your pet.
A ferret is not a caged animal, and requires a minimum of 3-4 hours outside of the cage on a daily basis; they are very high energy animals. They need a cage with ample room to house a large litter pan, food bowl, water bottle, hammocks, bedding, and your ferret’s favorite toys.
- They cannot be left alone, by themselves, for more than 24-48 hours. What will happen when you want to go away?
- Do you have someone who will ferret-sit? Many pet sitters will not watch ferrets.
- Do you have a ferret knowledgeable vet? Many regular vets are not equipped or have the knowledge to treat ferrets.
- Do you have the finances to provide for their medical needs? Yearly checkups and vaccines are routine, but what about illnesses requiring surgery such as Insulinoma, Adrenal Disease, hairballs?
- Can you afford at LEAST 1 (avg is 2) surgical procedure in the lifetime of your ferret (7-9 years) which can run over $500 to $1,000?
- Can you afford the medical treatment for Adrenal Disease (Lupron Depot) which can run $300 every 4-6 months?
- Do you have the means to pay for medical attention when your ferret is not acting right, their poops are off, etc? Ferrets hide their illnesses extremely well; by the time any signs and symptoms are noticeable, the ailment is quite advanced and medical attention needs to be obtained asap.
Ensuring your house is fully safe is a big undertaking; you cannot watch your ferret outside their cage 100% of the time.
- Are you prepared to rearrange your home to accommodate a ferret?
- Are you ready to throw out any recliners you have or fully disable the mechanics and block off entry from underneath?
- Can you put up with their constant digging at carpets (especially corners)?
- Can you put up with poor potty habits outside of their cage, until they become potty-trained?
- Can you put up with their digging on furniture cushions, possibly tearing the fabric and making openings inside the cushions that they can crawl into?
- Can you secure the under part of your box spring, chairs, sofas, etc?
- Are you prepared to block off any dangerous openings such as under/ behind the refrigerator, oven, wall openings?
- Do you have childproof locks for all your cabinets?
- Is your washroom secure so that ferrets cannot get to it?
Ferrets can tend to be nippy, especially when they are young.
- Will you have the time and patience to teach them not to bite the proper way (hitting, flicking their nose, etc is 100% unacceptable and will only encourage the ferret to bite worse)?
- If your ferret is a biter, are you going to ensure there are no accidents with friends, family members, children, etc, keeping in mind they need a time out of their cage?
What about other pets in your house? What about children?
- Are you prepared to not have them interact and be kept totally separate?
- What if you add another ferret”?” Are you prepared that they “might” never get along and need to be housed separately with separate playtimes?
- Do you currently have young children in your house? If so, are you prepared to fully supervise ALL interactions?
- What about the future? Are you planning on having children? Will you still have the required time to devote to your ferret, keeping in mind a baby and a ferret should never be together?
- What happens when you get married? Will you still have the time needed to devote to your ferret?
Ferrets are obligate carnivores and need to be fed an appropriate diet. They are not a cat or dog and should not be fed that type of food (there are some high-quality cat foods that are an exception).
Do you have access to high-quality ferret food they need? Will you provide meat-based treats only, rather than the junk treats marketed to ferrets which would only contribute to the onset of illnesses such as Insulinoma?
As a potential Ferret owner, the following are some other questions and answers you should be aware of before bringing your new fuzzy friend home.
Ferret Facts – Do ferrets smell? Why are ferrets stinky?
Are you wondering the answer to the question, why are ferrets stinky? Well, this depends on certain things such as whether or not your floors are carpeted and how often you clean out the ferret’s cage and litterboxes. Generally, ferrets are a lot like cats in that they don’t need baths to stay clean.
They do have a natural smell which is exuded from their scent glands but most ferrets are de-scented at the same time they are neutered as babies, so this isn’t really the problem. I find the bigger problem can result from the litterbox if it is not cleaned properly, and some fish-based ferret foods which have a strong smell.
There are herbal pills that you can give your ferrets that will remove the ammonia smell from their urine, but I wouldn’t suggest doing this as any chemical you are putting into any living creature can have unforeseen negative side effects.
Just make sure to wash their blankets often, clean their litterboxes daily or twice daily (depending on how many ferrets you have) and vacuum under the sofa (ferrets will take food and hide it around the house so it is easy to develop an odor problem if you don’t clean thoroughly) Doing these simple things should stop any serious odor problem from building up.
Ferret facts – What do ferrets eat?
Ferret Facts – How much time do you have to spend with your ferret?
If you plan on owning only one ferret you will have to make at least an hour a day to play with him or her. Most ferret owners start out with one ferret then realize they are too busy to give their ferret all the time and affection it needs, so they end up getting more.
Ferrets are much happier living in a group, so if you aren’t prepared for this possibility you probably shouldn’t get any.
Also, know that you can’t leave your ferret alone for days like you would with a houseful of cats. Ferrets are only awake about 4 hours a day, but when they are awake they are supercharged and can really make a big mess as well as get into a lot of mischiefs.
Someone should be there to make sure they are allowed out of their cage periodically threw out the day and supervise them while they’re playing. The ideal family for a ferret is one where someone is always at home.
Ferret Facts – Do ferrets get along with dogs/cats?
Yes, but it is NOT a good idea to let your pet ferret anywhere near an unmuzzled dog. Ferrets have a tendency to not recognize when they are outmatched by a larger animal.
Their style of playing is to attack and then wait to be chased, but in some dogs, this may trigger a hunting instinct. Cats and ferrets have been known to co-exist peacefully in situations where the ferret and kitten are raised together but it is not a good idea to put them together as adults.
Likewise, there are some animals that ferrets see as potential prey. These would be mice or any type of rodent, small lizards, even fish.
Ferrets are distant relatives of the mongoose, which are often eaten by hawks and other large birds, as well as by snakes, so both kinds of animals seem to bring out really obsessive “kill or be killed” tendencies in ferrets.
Ferret Facts – How expensive is it to own a ferret?
It can be very expensive. The main reason is because of their veterinary costs. Ferrets are prone to cancer and other diseases, which often strike them at a very young age.
You can minimize these costs to some degree by purchasing your ferret from a reputable breeder, and by feeding your ferret a good diet of high-quality ferret food, but even then there is no guarantee of good health.
It is a good idea to have some money saved in the bank to pay for vet bills later in your ferrets’ life. (Read my post about the costs involved in owning a ferret for more detailed information.)
Ferret Facts – Do ferrets bite?
This is another big concern people have with ferrets especially those who have small children. In part, this is due to misleading tv commercials and Hollywood movies that have tried to promote the stereotype of ferrets as wild, ferocious monsters.
In fact, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Ferrets have been fully domesticated for thousands of years. The compulsive “biting” that has earned some ferrets such a terrible reputation is for the most part just playing.
The behavior seems to start out as a defense mechanism in newborn baby ferrets which they all outgrow to some extent, depending on how much they are handled as kits, how much training they get, etc.
I do not suggest bringing a ferret into your home if you have small children. Though not really because of anything the ferret might do to the child, but because of what a child might do, either intentionally or unintentionally to a ferret. For more information about ferret safety, please see my next blog entry.
How to Care For Your Ferret- Ferret Care
Caring for a pet ferret is a great experience, however, it can turn into a nightmare if you don’t take the time to properly ferret proof your home.
Ferret-proofing your home – babyproofing
These ferret care safety tips will help you prepare your home for a new ferret, and may save your ferrets’ life, so please take them to heart.
Before bringing your ferret home to acquaint yourself with all of the things around your house which might present a danger to your new pet ferret, and either cordon them off or eliminate them completely. These include recliners, rocking chairs, folding sofa beds, and clothes washers and dryers.
Ferret-proofing tips 1
Any large piece of machinery or furniture that has moving gears or that can fall or snap shut is potentially dangerous. Ferrets often get crushed when they crawl inside reclining chairs looking for a cozy place to snooze. Washers and dryers are also particularly dangerous because ferrets have a habit of going to sleep inside them. Often they curl up inside a pile of dirty laundry to take a nap, then get thrown in the washer by accident.
Ferret-proofing tips 2
Block off any openings in the walls or around appliances that your ferret could squeeze threw and cover all heating vents and drains. Refrigerators and other appliances have moving fan blades and other parts that can mutilate a curious ferret.
Other appliances like stoves have openings in the back that allow a ferret to sneak inside. Often they end up going in the broiler section as this is the lowest to the ground, so it is best to keep your ferret away from these appliances and just to be safe always check first before turning on your stove or dishwasher.
Ferret-proofing tips 3
Rooms like the bathroom, kitchen, laundry room, any room with exercise equipment, or a door leading directly to the outside, like a foyer or garage are particularly dangerous and should be 100% off-limits to your ferret. Block them off with a baby gate or other barrier that you are sure your ferret can’t climb.
Ferret-proofing tips 4
Remove all poisonous chemicals, cleaning products, foods, and toxic materials and put them somewhere safe. Ferrets have been known to eat all kinds of crazy things, including soap, vitamin pills, lipstick, glue, pantyhose, polyurethane foam, etc. so be very careful. Digestive obstructions (as well as accidental poisonings) are very common in ferrets.
Ferret-proofing tips 5
Next, put child-safe locks on all your floor level cabinets and cover wall outlets with baby-safe covers. Cover trash cans so your ferret can’t get in, and if it’s possible to make sure electrical wires are kept away from your ferret. (This isn’t always necessary.Not all ferrets chew on electrical wires. But some do and so keep an eye on your new ferret to see how he acts around wires before trusting him around them).
Ferret-proofing tips 6
Plan in advance to allow your ferret free range of one or two “safe” rooms such as the dining room and living room, (block off access to all the other rooms in your house).
If you want to let your ferret have access to a hallway that is ok, but staircases are another story. Most staircases have opened in the balustrades that a ferret can easily fall threw. Some people block these openings in the balustrades with plexiglass or other materials.
Ferret-proofing tips 7
If you plan on letting your ferret have access to the stairs this is very important because ferrets are not able to judge heights very well, and have been known to fall to their deaths.
Ferret-proofing tips 8
Never let your ferret get outside. Don’t take him outside except in very careful conditions. Ferrets are domesticated and can no longer survive in the wild.
If you want to take your pet ferret outside for an occasional treat make sure he or she is wearing a harness, not just a collar. And keep him on a tight leash.
If you plan on getting more than one ferret don’t leave them alone together until you know they are friends. (ferrets will almost always bond eventually but it can take a while.)
Ferret-proofing tips 9
Never leave a new baby ferret with adults unsupervised until you know how they will react. Never expose your ferret to an unmuzzled dog, cat or other larger animal, even if you think they’re friendly. It’s also not a good idea to let small children play unsupervised with a ferret.
Ferret-proofing tips 10
Keep your ferret away from deep water sources i.e (pool, toilet bowl).
Ferret-proofing tips 11
Never sleep with your ferret you will crush him when you turn over in your sleep.
Ferret-proofing tips 12
When walking into a room that your ferret has access to, always open the door very slowly and carefully. Just like dogs, ferrets will often wait in front of the door when they hear someone coming.
They like to stick their noses in the space underneath the door to get a glimpse of what’s going on in the next room, so be sure never to swing the door open suddenly if there’s any possibility your ferret might be standing on the other side!
Ferret-proofing tips 13
Also, be very careful where you step. This may seem obvious but when you first get your ferret you may find it hard to remember to constantly watch where you step.
Ferret-proofing tips 14
It may a good idea to get a bell for your ferret’s collar until you are used to him being always underfoot.
Collars are not advised under normal circumstances because if they become snagged on something while your ferret is playing it can hang him like a noose.
But until you are used to being shadowed everywhere you go your ferret faces a much bigger danger of being stepped on.
Why Does My Ferret Bite Me?
Explaining why a ferret bite is not an easy thing to do. There’s a number of reasons why ferrets bite, and a number of solutions. The first step in breaking your ferret of this behavior is to understand what motivates him to do it in the first place.
Let’s examine some of the three most common reasons ferrets bite.
In the weeks after a ferret is born, it will bite almost constantly. Until their eyes open up, biting is partly a way for them to ‘see’ what’s around them. It’s also how they communicate with their littermates, and for some chewing relieves the pain of teething.
The important thing to know is that their second set of teeth will be much less sharp than the first set. And they will bite less as they get older too. You cannot do much about biting in this stage of a ferrets life as the ferret is not yet old enough to learn. Just know it’s temporary, and be ready to start nip training as soon as your ferret has outgrown the infant stage.
Once ferrets are old enough to start playing, that’s when play biting starts. What you have to understand is that play biting isn’t meant to be mean.
It’s just the result of a misunderstanding. You see ferrets love to play rough and in fact, they have much thicker skin than we do, so they often need to be taught to adjust their bite when playing with a human, to make up for our much thinner and more sensitive skin.
This can be achieved easily. For more detailed information, check out my tips on nip training your baby ferret. The good news is, ferrets tend to play bite less as they get older.
Ferrets that like to chew
Chew biters as I call them will often start off licking or nibbling your hand (or toes) and then at some point they just lose control and bite you. It’s nothing personal against their owner. This kind of biting isn’t malicious at all. It’s more of a compulsion.
For some reason, human hands and feet are just irresistible chew toys for some ferrets. The downside is that you will probably never get your ferret to completely stop doing it. The upside is that chew biters usually don’t break the skin and they tend to warn you ahead of time with the licking.
This gives you a little time to distract them. Blowing gently in their face sometimes distracts them enough to get them to forget about chewing on you for a while.
The fear factor
Ferrets that feel threatened will often bite as a means of self-defense. This kind of biting is a normal reaction to some abnormal problem in the ferret’s life, and should not be punished or treated as a problem but should be treated as the symptom of a problem.
Sometimes fear biting is triggered by physical pain and is a sign of medical problems, other times it can be a result of deep insecurities, such as a ferret might develop if they were abused or neglected. Fearful ferret bites are usually more serious than other types of bites because the ferret is actually intending to do you harm. But even so, the bite itself is not the real problem.
The best way to stop this kind of bite is to find out what triggered it and then eliminate that from the ferret’s life.
Training Your Ferret Not To Bite
Humans often misinterpret nipping as a sign of malice in ferrets, which is unfortunate because baby ferrets use their mouth to explore and for them biting is mostly a friendly behavior. A way to communicate and play with other ferrets and humans.
Being social animals they are normally pretty willing to cooperate with whatever rules we lay down but they aren’t born knowing that we don’t like being bitten. Our skin is much thinner than theirs and so we have to tell them that biting hurts us.
How we tell them is the subject of this article.
The most common methods for nip training baby ferrets is by gently pinning them on their back when they bite, scruffing them or restricting their movement in some way, just like a mommy ferret would.
Be firm but gentle. Make sure never to squeeze or hurt your ferret while nip training. Some ferrets may squirm to get free.
The point is not really to assert dominance the way you would with a dog but more to show the ferret what bothers you. Some ferrets are naturally more cooperative than others. But generally the closer you are to your ferret, the more he or she depends on you for friendship, the more he or she is likely to want to please you.
One method that seemed to work particularly well for many owners was to hold your baby ferret in both hands, with one hand underneath her jaw so as to allow you to restrict her from making any biting movements.
Once you have her in this position, then hold her up close in front of your face and wait for her to try to bite your nose. Just as she would inevitably lean forward to bite your nose, tighten your hold a little to restrict her, at the same time pulling her a few inches away from your face.
After a few failed attempts at biting your nose, she’ll start licking it instead.
This method should only take about half-hour or so for her to get the idea.
From then on whenever you’ll hold her up to your face she always gave you a kiss instead of a bite.
Keeping ferrets teeth and gums clean is more than just for cosmetic reasons. Ferrets are very capable of getting cavities as well as gingivitis. Untreated dental problems can lead to health problems for your ferret, some life-threatening, which can be avoided.
Untreated dental problems can lead to the bacteria getting into the bloodstream causing serious health issues including damage to the heart, liver, kidneys, and lungs.
How to Brush a Ferret’s teeth
While the hard kibble does help in breaking up tar, more assistance will be needed. If your ferret will allow, you can try brushing their teeth on a regular basis with a toothpaste made for cats/ferrets. You can use an infant’s toothbrush or finger brushes.
You should have your veterinarian inspect and clean their teeth if needed on a regular basis. Professional tooth cleaning will involve a small amount of anesthesia, and scaling of the teeth, often with an ultrasonic scraper. Older ferrets will most likely need to have this done more often.
It is possible for your ferret to break or chip a tooth, lose a tooth, get infections, etc. Unless a chipped/broken tooth is causing problems, there isn’t an urgent rush to have it attended to. Canines are problematic due to the root depths. Lower canines are easier and safer to remove than uppers. Pulling an upper canine runs the risk of a hole forming in the nasal cavity, causing serious medical issues, as the root goes into the upper jaw. It’s a decision that needs to be made with your veterinarian.
Keeping your ferrets nailed trimmed is very important to avoid any injuries or having the ferret possibly pull out the entire nail bed. Long nails can easily get caught in carpets, towels, clothing, toys, small openings in the house or even their cage. Nail clipping should take place every 1-2 weeks.
You should have a sharp pair of nail clippers and styptic powder on hand and ready to go. Examine the nails pushing back the surrounding fur. Their nail should appear semi-translucent with a red line going through it which is the blood vessel known as the quick, which you should never cut into.
Locating the quick, you should cut slightly above it. If your ferret has dark nails or you cannot find the vein line, you should have your veterinarian assist you.
Ferrets will generally not stay still and allow you to clip their nails voluntarily, so a little bribery is in order. You can try applying Ferretvite, Laxatone, Petromalt, Nutrical, Ferretone, etc to their tummy, and while they are busy licking away, you have the opportunity to clip away. They will usually be too busy to notice or pay any attention to what you are doing.
You can also try other ways, such as waiting until they are sound asleep. Most ferrets in deep sleep will not wake up while your clipping their nails. You can also try scruffing them with your mouth, and with your two free hands clip away. Of course, having someone to assist you is always by far the easiest.
No matter which technique is used, the important thing is that they do get done every 1-2 weeks. If you should ever cut the quick by accident, your ferret will flinch in pain and start bleeding. Immediately get the styptic on the nail to stop the bleeding and always reassure your ferret all is well. Don’t panic, as they will sense that and react.
It is important to check and clean your ferret’s ears on a regular basis, as well as check for ear mites on a weekly basis. If ear mites are found, you can treat with the following medications, including the flea control products Frontline and Revolution:
Acarexx is actually diluted Ivermectin ear drops. You should use 1 tube per ear and repeat after 3 weeks.
Ivomec: This is an injectable or topical form of Ivermectin, and should be repeated in 3 weeks.
Tresaderm: Ear Drops. 3 drops per ear twice daily for 10 days, stop 10 days and repeat another 10 days.
Ferrets are not very found at having their ears looked into or being the recipient of drops, so this can be challenging. You can try applying Ferretvite, Laxatone, Petromalt, Nutrical, Ferretone, etc to their tummy, and while they are busy licking away, you can tend to the ear cleaning.
When all else fails, you will need to gently restrain the ferret so you can attend to the task at hand. Holding the ferret in your arm, position him so that with one arm is supporting the body with your hand under their neck supporting their face.
With your free hand carefully and gently proceed to place the q-tip into their ear. The hand supporting the neck should also be slightly pulling back the ear, providing you clear access.
The ferret’s ear canal is very delicate, so proceed with caution, without going too far down. Gently swap the surface area and a small part of the canal. You should use an ear cleaner which is readily available in stores.
When administering drops, the same technique should be used. Try and place the drops as quickly as possible and rub their ears to help it make its way down the ear canal.
How do I litter train my ferret?
Start your ferret out in a small cage with just enough room for a litter box, small sleeping space, and food and water. This will force the ferret to use the litter box because it is not going to go to the bathroom where it sleeps or eats.
Expand the space as it becomes better at using the litter box. If it regresses to going in corners, put it in a smaller space again.
Do not let your ferret out of its cage until it goes to the bathroom. Almost all ferrets will go very soon after waking up. Letting your ferret out after it goes to the bathroom will teach it that using a litter box is good behavior that is rewarded by playtime. With that said, look out for fakers!
Lots of ferrets think that they can fool their owners by just hopping in the litter box and then hopping out again. Make sure you see the ferret go to the bathroom and look for the telltale butt drag when it gets out of the litter box.
Positive reinforcement is the best way to cement the training. Reward your ferret with a treat and praise after it uses the litter box. On the other side of that, if your ferret doesn’t use the litter box, do NOT rub its face in the mess. This will do absolutely nothing. Try scruffing it and scolding it with a firm “No!”, then putting it in its cage for a time out.
If your ferret picks a corner that you don’t want it to use, you can try putting food, water or bedding there so it views the corner as something other than a toilet. You should also thoroughly clean the area to rid it of the smell. If a ferret can smell that it has used a corner before, it will use it again.
Ferret sleeping pattern
When trying to come to a decision about whether or not you should have ferrets as pets, one thing that needs to be taken into account is their sleeping patterns.
Many people hear from friends who own ferrets that ferrets sleep a lot or that they are nocturnal and they get the wrong idea that a ferret is able to stay happily in a cage all day while they are at work.
The truth is that while ferrets sleep a lot, (about 20 hours a day) they have irregular sleep patterns that involve sleeping in four or five-hour intervals throughout the day.
During that time they will usually wake up for short periods, which can last anywhere from 20 – 90 minutes at a time.
Ferrets do tend to be slightly more active in the evening or late night than during the morning or afternoon. Therefore a lot of people will allow their ferrets to have free roamed of their house (or at least a few very ferret proofed rooms) while they are work.
This is generally a good idea because ferrets are curious animals that need mental stimulation just like people do.
They might wake up every few hours while their owner is at work, to eat and poak around the house, but will usually save their really big bursts of energy for when they have someone to play with.
One problem that develops frequently is that because ferrets have such sporadic sleep patterns people will often find it difficult to be there to play with them when they wake up.
So one solution is to get multiple ferrets to be companions and playmates for each other. A group of ferrets are able to amuse themselves and each other wonderfully without needing much human input.
Though having some human supervision is always best. A group of adult ferrets will tend to synchronize their sleep patterns so they can all wake up and play at the same time every day.
How To Take Your Ferret’s Temperature.
Sometimes when you have a sick ferret, the vet will tell you to monitor their body temperature. Knowing if your ferret is feverish will help you figure out if a medicine is working or if an infection is present after surgery, so it is important to know the correct way to do this.
The normal body temperature for a ferret is anywhere between 101 -103 degrees. (37.8 – 39.4 C). Depending on what time of day it is, and if your ferret is experiencing other symptoms a high or low body temperature can be a very bad thing that requires a visit to the emergency vet.
You cannot judge a ferrets temperature just by touching it, unfortunately. There is only one way to know for sure what your ferret’s body temperature is and that is with a rectal thermometer.
Naturally, ferrets tend to squirm and grumble quite a bit during this procedure so it can be rather tricky to accomplish. You may need to ask someone for help keeping your ferret still. Another idea is to wait until your ferret starts to get sleepy, when he is less likely to fight you, and take his temperature then.
To begin with, always lubricate your thermometer first. (Any kind of water-based product such as ky jelly will be fine.) and make sure you shake down the thermometer first. The starting temperature should be less than 94 degrees otherwise you may get a false reading.
Next, if you have someone helping you, have them place a hand gently but firmly over the ferret’s body to keep it still. Otherwise, take your ferret by the scruff and lift him just about an inch from the surface of the floor or table. Doing this usually tends to have a sedating effect.
Once your ferret stops squirming use the other hand to slowly place the thermometer approximately an inch into the rectum. Hold it there for 2 minutes, or if you are using an electronic thermometer until it makes a beeping noise.
A word of caution. Sometimes after having their temperature taken ferrets will want to poop, so be ready just incase by making sure to have them on a towel or newspaper.
Wild Polecat Versus Domesticated Polecat
The difference between a wild polecat and a domesticated polecat (aka ferret) is comparable to the difference between a wolf and a domesticated dog. The polecat, skunk, mink, badger, and stoat are all wild relatives of the ferret and belong to the same family, called Mustelidae.
The domesticated ferrets closest known relative, the European polecat also belongs to the same genus as them, and in fact, there is no way to tell them apart genetically, though there are superficial differences in the two animals which sometimes makes it possible (though still difficult) to tell them apart by appearance and behavior.
In some places, though it has gotten harder in recent years to tell them apart by looks alone as the two creatures have been hybridized to such an extent.
Before hybridization took place the differences were more obvious. To begin with, the polecat would normally be darker in color and have a much larger ‘mask’ which covered it’s entire face up to the base of its snout, as opposed to the ferret which often has a light-colored face and/or ears and only a very small mask just around the eyes. Polecats are also more muscular and have stronger jaw and bone structure than ferrets.
Probably the biggest difference though is seen in their temperament. Ferrets are more friendly, sociable and trainable as would be expected from a domesticated animal, whereas wild polecats live solitary lives and tend to be a bit cagey and unmanageable when forced to live in captivity.
It is possible to keep a wild polecat hybrid as a pet, though they are mostly used as working animals for hunting purposes, and not so much for companionship.
Even then the ferret is actually a better choice as they have been bred to flush rabbits out of holes in the ground, whereas polecats are independent-minded hunters and often decide to eat the rabbit themselves rather than just chasing it of its the hole for their human owner.
Baby Ferrets Versus Older Ferrets
There is hardly anything cuter than a baby ferret. But are you prepared for one? Hard as it is to believe these cute little balls of fluff can be a lot of trouble and responsibility. The upside of buying a ferret as a kit is pretty obvious.
They are more adorable, playful and trainable, but this also means more responsibility for you. Often times people aren’t really ready for all the work attached with a baby ferret but find them too cute to resist and then end up getting unnecessarily frustrated with the experience of raising one.
So let’s talk about what to expect.
- Baby ferrets need to be litter trained and trained not to nip. This can be frustrating as they have a very very sharp set of teeth (sharper than adult ferrets), which are almost like little razors. Don’t worry their jaws are usually pretty weak at this point. But the sharpness of their teeth can still make training them not to bite a pain literally, as they are born with the instinct to nip at anything and everything that comes near them. This instinct will diminish somewhat as they grow older though. A lot of people handle a baby kit for the first time say oh my God! I can’t deal with this animal he bites like crazy! If only they knew that this is just a passing phase. And once he is old enough to start understanding things there are ways to teach him that biting hurts.
- You will need to litter train your baby ferret. This isn’t really hard as baby ferrets have an instinct to poop away from their food and in corners in particular. But what you need to understand is that ferrets aren’t as picky as cats about where they go. They will naturally choose a corner but teaching a baby ferret to always go in exactly the right spot in that corner can take some work.
- Baby ferret requires special housing to protect them from just about everything. You must take extra precautions to make sure your baby ferret’s cage is safe and does not have spaces where his head or feet can get stuck. When he gets old enough to be released from the cage you must be extremely careful at first and only let him have very limited, supervised excursions outside his cage. This is the case with new older ferrets to some extent but with babies, you have to be extra careful.
If there are older ferrets in the house you must keep your baby sequestered from them because sometimes older ferrets act funny around new babies. They might see the baby as a threat and bite. Even if they respond positively they could hurt the kit just because they weigh so much more. Ferrets like to snuggle and lie on top of one another. Ferret babies have extremely fragile bones which can easily be broken by an adult putting too much weight on them.
Baby ferrets also have special medical needs. You must inquire when buying a baby ferret what shots or vaccines he has been given so your vet will be able to know which ones he still needs. Normally eight weeks is the age when kits get their distemper shot.
A booster is then given at eleven weeks. Then a few weeks later is when the first rabies vaccine is given, which is also followed by a booster a few weeks after that. Also if your pet is not spayed, neutered or descended you must have these things tended to yourself. Most breeders neuter and spay all their kits before selling them but it’s still something to inquire about because female ferrets that are not used for breeding can become seriously ill if they are not spayed.
Caring for the Elder Ferret
As your ferret ages, their needs and activity level will begin to change. There is no magic number when your ferret will begin to slow down, just as in humans, each one is unique and has its own timetable. This is one main reason when considering surgery, physical age is not that important, but rather it’s how well and strong the ferret is.
Beginning at the age of 2 or 3, you should consider yearly chemistry panels, semi-annual fasting blood glucose checks and having an adrenal hormone panel run to detect problems early on, as well as have semi-annual veterinarian check-ups. At a minimum, you should have a blood glucose test to detect early signs of Insulinoma. As your ferret ages, his internal body goes through changes that are not visible. Some of the outward changes you will notice include:
- Skin is not as tight as it used to be, and the muscles might begin to atrophy (waste).
- Develop cataracts, lose sight and/or hearing completely.
- Diminished taste buds.
- Startles more easily.
- Sleeps more than usual and doesn’t play or interact as much.
- Teeth loss.
- Hindquarter weakness.
- Wanting to be left alone more or held more.
- Unable to climb or jump up.
- Decreased overall mobility.
During these years, your ferret is counting on you to provide for his new needs. You might have to re-arrange the cage to ensure it’s easy to move about and restrict the height access. You might also have to separate your elder ferret from the younger ones, especially if special care is needed.
You want to keep your ferret as stress-free as possible and comfortable during this time.
Creativity is important during this time, as it will take more to engage your ferret into exercise, which is still needed. He may not be able to eat kibble anymore, and you will need to feed a bland diet, for example, duck soup. You might also have to syringe feed your ferret every 3-4 hours to ensure food intake. Fluid intake is just as important to ensure dehydration does not occur.
It is possible for ferrets to develop arthritis, osteoarthritis, etc. Special care will need to be provided.
The most important thing you can provide during this time is unconditional love and frequent medical exams. The key here is too keep them as comfortable as possible, provide for their changing needs and ensure they have the quality of life. They have given us so much love and joy over the years, it is now up to us to return the favor and ensure their senior years are spent in comfort.
Ferret Illnesses and health problems
One of the unfortunate side effects of domesticating animals is that we tend to ignore the presence of genetic diseases that often get past down with desirable qualities like cuteness or a docile personality. This has especially been the case with ferrets. Let’s take a look at some of the most common diseases and disorders in ferrets.
This is probably the most common disorder among ferrets. It is caused by abnormal growths that affect the adrenal glands making them swell and produce too much of the female hormone estrogen. The most frequent symptom is hair loss starting at the base of the tail and working up toward the neck. Females may exhibit a swollen vulva while males may experience difficulty urinating due to an enlarged prostate.
The symptoms of the disease can be controlled with medication, though typically surgery is needed, especially if the growths are found to be cancerous. Without treatment the disease is terminal. No one really knows for sure what causes Adrenal disease.
It’s less common in Europe than in the United States and it seems to be at least partly caused by the common practice of American breeders to spay and neuter ferrets while they are still babies. Another possible contributing factor could be overexposure to bright lights. Ferrets are creatures that would normally spend much of their time underground, in the dark, so too much light has a deleterious effect on their little bodies.
– Insulinoma is a cancerous growth of the pancreas which produces excessive amounts of insulin. The ferret then suffers from hypoglycemia as a result. Some of the common symptoms of Insulinoma are weakness in the hind legs, lack of energy, glassy eyes, and a dazed appearance.
If blood sugar drops too low seizures will result and then coma and death. Surgery is often required, but sometimes the illness can be treated with medications or a combination of surgery and medication. The medications will not cure the disease but treat the symptoms.
Lymphoma or Lymphosarcoma
Both are types of cancerous growths that can affect various organs and are usually fatal. There are usually few early warning symptoms of this kind of cancer. Later on, the ferret may develop weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea or show signs of difficulty breathing. Chemotherapy or surgery can sometimes stop the advance of the disease but more often than not the cancer is discovered too late.
Aleutian Virus Disease
This is not a genetic condition though there may well be a genetic component to the disease, or rather in certain ferrets being resistant to it. Studies have shown that about 10% of shelter ferrets carry the virus without ever showing signs of illness. What happens in ferrets that get ill is their bodies react to the virus by releasing massive amounts of antibodies. It’s these antibodies that cause problems, not the virus itself.
There is no cure for Aleutian Virus and the disease is often fatal, though it is a slow wasting disease and some of the symptoms can be treated so as to allow ferrets a decent quality of life for at least a year or two. Persistent weight loss and lethargy are the two most common symptoms. As the disease progresses the liver or kidney can fail. There can also be neurological problems.
How Long Do Ferrets Live?
A properly looked after ferret will typically live somewhere between 5 and 8 years, though living up to a decade is not an unknown thing. A ten-year-old ferret is equivalent to a one-hundred-year-old human. Part of this is just natural and can’t be changed much as we would surely love it to be. But it’s also very likely that the ferret’s diet, atmosphere, and breeding all have a big part in determining how long it will live.
Right now breeding is probably the biggest factor. It’s an unfortunate fact that many ferret breeders do not take health into account but will often breed kits just for their fur or eye color. This reckless practice has allowed cancer and other genetic illnesses to be passed down that normally would not be if natural selection were
taking place. As a result, large corporate breeders have a tendency to sell adorably cute and docile ferrets who are pretty much doomed to a short life span. What can we as ferret lovers do about this? Well to some extent we can exert influence on these corporations. But the best idea is to avoid them altogether and opt instead for
ferrets bred by small business owners or hobbyists who are more likely to actually care about the well being of the wonderful creatures they sell.
The second factor in the ferret life span which ferret owners can control is the ferret’s diet. One mistake that is often made by ferret owners is that they will spoil their ferret’s health with sugary treats which are bad for them.
I know many people who think this is just fair considering that humans like to indulge their sweet tooth once in a while, but the fact is humans are omnivores and sweet things are a part of their natural diet, while ferrets are carnivores and do not have the capacity to deal with sugar the way we do. They are very quick to develop diabetes and other illnesses.
Therefore the less sugar you give your ferret, whether it is in the form of fruit, or in the form of starchy foods like bread, the better. Remember one of the reasons ferrets in the United Kingdom have often been said to live longer is because of the fact that many were kept outside and allowed to hunt their own food.
This does not eliminate all fruit or sugars from their diet but it keeps them down to a healthy level. A good rule of thumb when deciding whether it’s OK to give your ferret a sweet snack is to ask yourself, “Is this something that could be found in the digestive tract of a mouse?”