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What to expect on Day 1 with your new ferret.
by Erika Matulich, Ph.D. Ferrets USA
Volume 7, 2002 Annual
These articles and images are copyrighted and may not be reprinted, re-used, reposted, copied, or otherwise distributed without permission from the author and publisher.

You should not rely on the veterinary advice or information provided on this site for diagnosis or treatment of any specific situation. Always consult your own veterinarian for specific advice concerning the medical condition or treatment of your own pet or animal.

The Essentials (you need these before you bring home a ferret)
* Wire cage, at least 2 cubic feet of space per ferret
* Water dispenser (bowls and/or bottle)
* Food (high protein, high fat, low fiber ferret food)
* Food dish
* Litter box
* Litter
* Bed: hammock and/or sleep sack (1-2 per ferret)
* Carrier (preferably airline approved)
The Extras (you’ll need these shortly after bringing home a ferret)
* Nail clippers (trim every 2-3 weeks)
* Toothbrush and paste (made for pets, not human babies)
* Ear wash and cotton swabs (clean every 2-3 weeks)
* Shampoo and conditioner
* Harness and/or collar and leash
* Supplements
The Fun Stuff (great ferret presents!)
* Toys (hard rubber or plastic)
* Treats
* Tunnels/Tubes
* Apparel

Ferret Resources
* Ferrets Magazine, 6 issues per year, (800) 365-4421
* Ferrets USA Magazine, annual issue, at petstores and newsstands
* The Ferret: An Owner’s Guide to a Happy Healthy Pet, by Mary Shefferman (Howell Book House ISBN 0-87605-498-X)
* A Practical Guide to Ferret Care, by Deborah Jeans (Ferrets, Inc. ISBN 0-9642589-1-9)
* Ferret Central and the online FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) on Ferrets;




A ferret can never be an impulse purchase. It takes time. Time to find a healthy ferret that suits your lifestyle (a topic for another article) and time to prepare for the new ferret’s arrival. The first few days (or even weeks) with your new ferret can be a challenge unless you are prepared. Before your ferret arrives, get your shopping done so you have its cage and supplies ready and waiting. (See the sidebar for a shopping list.) You must also ferret proof your house, especially the room that the ferret will live in. Then it’s time to set an appointment with a ferret vet.
Ferret Proofing
Ferrets are quite curious and will want to explore your entire house. Keep dangerous areas off limits (such as the kitchen, laundry room and bathrooms) by closing doors or putting up ferret barriers. Other rooms will have to be ferret proofed. Block off all small holes (anything the size of a quarter or larger), and staple a barrier (heavy cloth or masonite board) on the bottom of upholstered chairs, couches or mattresses. Put all potted plants out of reach (hanging them is best), and put baby locks on cabinet doors and drawers. Ferrets also like to eat lots of things that aren’t good for them, so put away all rubbery or spongy items.
Vet Vaccination Visit
Next, make an appointment with a ferret vet. Baby ferrets need a series of three canine distemper shots two to three weeks apart. Most often, baby ferrets are sold with only their first shot (and sometimes no shots at all). Older ferrets with an uncertain vaccination history may need a booster or two (all ferrets need this vaccination annually, because canine distemper is an airborne disease that is easily caught and fatal to ferrets). Veterinarians usually administer Fervac-D. If your ferret is 3 months or older, an annual rabies shot is in order, too. This will be the IMRAB-3 vaccine. Depending on your city or county, your ferret may need to be licensed as well. You’ll need to plan to see your veterinarian at least once a year for a ferret checkup and annual vaccinations.
Home at Last!
A new home, no matter how nice, is exciting as well as stressful for a ferret. Let your new arrival explore the cage, find the litter box, food and water, and take a nap in a hammock or sleepsack. Resist the temptation to “Ooh” and “Aah” over the ferret, play with the ferret or introduce it to all the family members. Instead, close the door to the ferret room and be quiet, even if your ferret looks very excited and seems to want to play. Be warned that your excited ferret may dig out the litter box, scatter the food bowl contents, dump the water bowl and, in general, make a giant mess as the cage is thoroughly explored. Just accept this as normal new ferret behavior.
Later, take your ferret out for a brief exploring session (make sure the ferret has used the litter box first). About 10 to 15 minutes is fine for the first session. Don’t let your ferret run all over the house -- keep it confined to one room (where the cage is) and gradually expand the exploring area and length of play time over the next few weeks. When you’re not home, keep your ferret in the cage, which will keep your new buddy safe and out of trouble.
Family Introductions
On the first day, let your ferret get used to your family members one at a time. Start with your oldest family member (an adult or older child). Let the ferret crawl around, sniff and explore this person. Talk to the ferret so it can get used to new voices. On a first visit, ferrets may try to “taste” their new friend, so be prepared to be licked or even grabbed with some teeth! Because of this “tasting” behavior, small children should be allowed to interact with ferrets only under adult supervision, and when the licking starts, put the ferret away.
Babies and toddlers don’t have enough control of their motor skills to handle a ferret properly and could grab or squeeze too hard. The ferret may then bite back. Ferrets don’t have very good eyesight, so let your ferret get used to the smells and voice sounds of each family member, even if no handling takes place. Remember that your ferret has a limited attention span, so new introductions can be just five minutes per person (and remember, one at a time).
Your ferret may also have fun playing with your other family member pets, but this should only be done under close supervision, and probably not on the first day. Many cats and ferrets get along fine, but a dog/ferret combination will need careful introduction training. Birds, reptiles, and rodents are not good ferret buddies (they make nice ferret snacks, however). On the first day, it is more important that the ferret understand where it belongs, where it will live, and what are its toys. Understanding of territory is necessary before introducing another pet. It may take several days to a few weeks for your ferret to grasp the concepts of territory, so don’t stress your ferret out on the first day by introducing other pets.
Food and Water
Your ferret needs plenty of fresh water available all the time. Depending on how they were raised, some ferrets may not know how to use a water bottle, so on the first day you should provide both a bottle and a bowl of water. Attach the bowl under the bottle spout as a drip catcher, and be prepared for snorkeling ferrets, or those that like to dig the water out of the bowl. On the first day try to observe which way the ferret prefers drinking – bottle or bowl. After the first day, many people continue with the bottle/drip bowl combination. Just be sure you see your ferret drinking from the bottle on the first day.
In terms of first-day food, it’s especially important to know what your ferret had been eating before you brought your new baby home. Be warned that if you switched foods suddenly because you did not know what your ferret had been eating, diarrhea can be expected for a few days. In some cases, the ferret will refuse to eat a new food. This refusal is bad because the fast metabolism of ferrets require that they have food available constantly and eat every few hours.
If your new ferret had been fed something you don’t wish to feed or consider unhealthy, you can start the switching process on the first day. Mix half of their old food and half of their new food in a bowl and offer this. Make sure you see your ferret eat sometime on the first day -– if the mix is unacceptable, you may have to use less of the new food. Don’t assume that if the ferret gets hungry enough, it will eat. Some ferrets are very particular about their food and would prefer to stick with what they grew up with. The switching process may take several weeks or months -– starting on the first day, do it gradually.
Litter Box Training
In general, ferrets are pretty good about using a litter box in their cage because they are clean animals that don’t want to soil their bedding. However, on the first day, a new ferret may play in the litter box, dig it out, sleep in it and find somewhere else to do business. You may need to leave a ‘starter poop’ in the litter box so the ferret gets the idea.
Similar to the food issue, it may be useful to know what kind of litter the ferret had been using so far. Put some of this familiar material (that the ferret recognizes as litter, not fun) into the litter box on the first day, and gradually change to your preferred litter. Make sure you are switching to a ferret-safe litter. Avoid clumping litters and silica-based (pearl) litters, because those can cause serious health problems. Do not use any sort of cedar shavings either. Recommended litters are usually compressed wood pellets or compressed newspaper pellets. Some people use alfalfa pellets (rabbit food), but on the first day, ferrets love to either eat these pellets or snorkel in them.
When you bring your baby home, you may become quite aware of the unique smell of ferrets. In fact, you may be wondering why your ferret smells so much more at home than in the store. Remember that on the first day at home, the ferret smell is not being overshadowed by other animal smells in a petstore or shelter. Ferrety odors are “new” in your household and may seem stronger. After the first day, you will probably get used to the aroma.
Additionally, baby ferrets have a particularly pungent odor. If you brought home a kit, you may have to wait it out -- if the ferret is fixed, this baby scent dissipates as the ferret matures. (Of course if your ferret is not fixed, the odor can be tremendous and permanent – spay or neuter your ferret!)
Finally, a new ferret can be very excited about a new home on the first day.  Extra excitement can lead to an extra stinky ferret. Resist the temptation to shampoo your ferret on the first day, no matter what you think about the odor. Your ferret is already stressed out about the move, and a first-day shampoo adds extra stress and the possibility of illness. Additionally, the drier skin and additional activity during the drying-off process can actually make your ferret smell worse on that first day. Also realize that there are other sources of odors on that first day: dirty ears that have earmites, bad breath from rotten teeth or infected gums due to inadequate dental care, and even a poor diet that causes smelly skin and stinky eliminations.
Play Time!
Ferrets are incredibly social creatures and very playful. Again, resist the temptation to play all day with your ferret during the first 24 hours. Think about when you might usually play with your ferret in the future (in the morning, after work or school, during lunch, etc.) Your ferret will adjust his play schedule to yours, so start with the correct schedule on the very first day.
If you don’t have time to play with your ferret for at least a few hours every day, consider getting a larger cage and another ferret buddy. There are lots of fun, ferret-safe toys that your ferret will love, but stay away from soft rubber, latex or spongy toys, which can cause intestinal blockages. When ferrets get excited during play time, they may do the ‘weasel war dance’ and bounce and hiss with their mouths open. They may get so excited, they bounce right into walls and fall off furniture! Especially frenzied dancing is common during the first day. Ferrets will also run up and nip you as an invitation to play, which is normal ferret behavior that you might not appreciate (more on nipping later).
Nap Time
Ferrets can play hard and also sleep hard. In the excitement of the first day, your new ferret may fall asleep quite suddenly, in mid-bounce. Sometimes they are so difficult to wake up, people think they are completely unconscious or even dead! This is normal for ferrets, especially during the first few days in their new home or when they are under a year old.
Normally, ferrets will sleep about 15 hours a day, but will wake up every two to three hours for a snack, water or the possibility of play time. They are most active when you are, or at dawn and dusk. But the first day, they may not sleep as much because they are waiting for something else to happen. Then they get so tired that they sleep very deeply. Sometimes, when ferrets first wake up they seem to be shivering. Don’t worry, they are not cold or scared, they’re just adjusting their body temperature to waking mode.
No Nipping!
Ferrets have very tough skin and play by grabbing other ferrets’ skin, which doesn’t hurt. But the same toothy grab may be painful to you! Baby ferrets, in particular, are quite nippy and don’t know their own jaw strength. Ferrets must be gently taught to be gentle beginning on the very first day. If your ferret nips too hard, scruff the ferret (grasp the loose skin on the back of the neck like a mother ferret carries her babies) and say, ‘No!’ and gently put the ferret down. If your ferret continues to be too excited, give them a 5-minute time out in their carrier. Never ever hit or physically punish your ferret (not even a light nose flick) for biting, because that will just make your ferret bite more and harder. How your ferret interacts with you is molded early, so the first 24 hours are critical.
Stop, Thief!
Ferrets are natural thieves. In fact, their latin name (Mustela putorius furo) translates into ‘little fur thief.’ Common items to steal are socks, keys, minty items (toothpaste or breath mints), rubbery items (pencil erasers, remote controls or telephones with rubber keys), and leather items (gloves, wallets, belts). Ferrets love to store their treasures in a unique hidey-hole -- you may need to learn where this special stash is so you can locate your keys, glasses or calculator. Don’t disturb the stash too much or a new hiding place will be established.
Pesky Pests
Ferrets can get fleas and ticks, so your new ferret may bring these pesky parasites home with them. It is important to get rid of these pests in the first 24 hours, before they can breed and spread throughout your household. Ferrets are very sensitive to insecticides, so you can’t use all the same products you might use for cats and dogs. For example, never use a flea collar, flea powder or flea dip on your ferret. You can use flea shampoos that are labeled as safe for kittens or rabbits.
There are also a few drop-on-the-neck products that appear to be safe for ferrets and get rid of fleas within that critical first day at home. Use half the recommended cat dose of Frontline or Advantage. Frontline appears to be less toxic for ferrets and, additionally, has the ability to kill ticks. Farnam also has a Bio-Spot product specifically designed for ferrets and a Flea Wipe product.
Ferrets are also susceptible to earmites, which is the most common ferret social disease that your baby will bring home. Clean your new ferret’s ears on the first day, and have your vet check for mites at the exam. Finally, ferrets can get heartworm, which is usually fatal. Even one mosquito bite can deliver heartworm to your ferret, so on the very first day home, start your ferret on monthly heartworm medication (if you live in an area where a mosquito might enter your home).
Common Medical Problems
There are some common medical problems to look out for in the first few days of owning your new ferret. Veterinarians say the most common reason for a ferret needing surgery is for intestinal blockage. Ferrets have a tendency to chew and swallow all sorts of indigestible household objects that cannot get past the stomach, causing life-threatening problems. This problem is a particular danger for a new ferret in a new household. Look for symptoms of vomiting, lethargy, or extremely skinny stools within the first 24 hours.
Another problem that can manifest in the first 24-48 hours is dehydration and heatstroke. Keep your ferret indoors in temperatures below 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure the ferret knows how to drink its water.
Finally, your new ferret could catch diseases from other household members. Ferrets can catch human flus, distemper from dogs, and ECE or ADV from other ferrets. Even though your ferret may have caught something in the first 24 hours, the symptoms and problems may not show up until later.
Expect the Unexpected
Hopefully these tips will help you know what to expect on that critical first day and let your ferret grow up to be a happy, healthy, well-behaved member of your household. Ferrets are full of surprises, however, and there is much to learn about ferret health, needs and behaviors -- so get ready for a fun ferret education!