Ferret Friendly Facts and Advice by Erika Matulich, Ph.D.

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Bringing Home your First Ferret

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Bringing Home Baby - Your First Ferret

© Erika Matulich

As you get ready to bring your new ferret home, there are many things to do to prepare for the big event.

After buying all of the appropriate supplies (carrier, cage, water bottle, food dish, food, litter box, litter, safe toys, bedding), your top priority is to make your home safe for your ferret.

Ferrets are incredibly inquisitive animals who will want to explore your entire house. Keep dangerous areas such as the kitchen, laundry room, and bathroom off-limits by closing doors or installing barriers. You'll need to ferret-proof all other rooms by blocking off any holes larger than a quarter. Staple a barrier (hardboard, Masonite, or heavy fabric) to the bottom of upholstered chairs, couches, or mattresses. Hang all potted plants out of reach and install baby locks on cabinet doors and drawers. Ferrets also like to eat things that aren't good for them, so hide anything that is rubbery or spongy (ferret favorites!).

Visiting the vet
Next, make an appointment with a veterinarian who treats ferrets. Baby ferrets need three canine distemper shots two to three weeks apart. Most often, baby ferrets have only their first shot when they're sold, so you'll probably need to make at least two visits to the vet during your pet's first few months in your home.

If you aren't sure of your older ferret's vaccination history, she may need a distemper booster or two. (All ferrets need this vaccine annually, because they can easily catch canine distemper, which is fatal.) If your ferret is 3 months old or older, an annual rabies shot is also in order. You'll need to plan to see your veterinarian at least once a year for a checkup and annual vaccinations.

Home at last!
Now, you're ready to bring your baby home. Moving to a new place is always a stressful experience for a ferret. (Vet visits are stressful, too!) Ease your new arrival's transition by letting him explore the cage; find his litter box, food, and water; and take a nap in a hammock. Then, close the door to the ferret room and be quiet for an hour or so, even if your ferret looks very excited and wants to play.

Later, you can take your ferret out of the cage for a 15-minute exploring session. (Check to make sure she uses the litter box first!) Don't let your ferret run all over the house yet. Confine her to one room and, over the next few weeks, gradually expand her exploring area and length of playtime. When you're not home, keep your ferret in her cage.

Food and water
Your ferret needs plenty of food and fresh water available at all times. Don't make the mistake of feeding him small portions of food only at certain times—this is very unhealthy for him. Ferrets have a fast metabolism that requires constant nutrition; without it, they can suffer from nutritional problems, metabolic imbalance, and blood-sugar swings—all of which can increase the probability of disease, lower the immune system response, and shorten a ferret's life.

Make sure your ferret eats a high-quality dry ferret or kitten food with 32 to 38 percent protein, 18 to 22 percent fat, and less than 3 percent fiber. Read the ingredient list and make sure that there are at least two protein sources from meat (usually poultry) in the first five ingredients.

Litter box training
Most ferrets tend to be pretty reliable about using the litter box in their cage. Like cats, they're clean animals who don't want to soil their bedding. Clean the box of solid waste every day and change all the litter weekly. However, if your ferret has a large play area, be prepared for him to use some other corner of your house as a litter box. If he's busy playing, he's not likely to walk all the way back to the cage to do his duty! It's much easier to go in a nearby corner.

Ferrets always use the litter box after they wake up, so don't take your ferret out until he does. Then you only have an hour or two before the next urge comes. You may want to put extra litter boxes or newspapers in the corners of the rooms your ferret explores, just in case. Don't punish your ferret for missing the litter box. Ferrets have short attention spans and they won't link the punishment with the miss.

Play time!
Ferrets are incredibly social, playful creatures. 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 as a buddy. Your ferret may also enjoy playing with your other pets, but this should only occur under supervision. Many cats and ferrets get along fine, but a dog and a ferret will need a careful introduction and training. Birds, reptiles, and rodents do not make good ferret buddies (however, they make nice ferret snacks).

There are plenty of fun, ferret-safe toys that your pet will love, so stay away from soft rubber, latex, or spongy toys that can cause intestinal blockages. Also, be prepared: When ferrets get excited during playtime, they may do the "weasel war dance," jumping and hissing with their mouths open. Some get so excited that they bounce into walls!

Nipping is a no-no
Ferrets have very tough skin, and may grab other ferrets' skin in play. This doesn't hurt them, 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. If your ferret nips too hard, scruff him by grasping the loose skin on the back of his neck like a mother ferret carrying one of her babies. Then say "No!" and gently put the ferret down. If your ferret continues to be overly excited, give him a five-minute time-out in the carrier. Never, ever hit or physically punish your ferret for biting, because that will just make him bite harder and more often.

Nap time
Ferrets play hard and sleep hard. Sometimes they're so difficult to wake up, you'll think they're completely unconscious. Ferrets sleep about 15 hours a day, but they'll wake up every two to three hours to eat a snack, drink water, or play. They tend to be most active whenever you are, or at dawn or dusk. Sometimes when you first wake ferrets up, they seem to be shivering. Don't worry, they're not cold or scared, they're just adjusting their sleeping body temperature to waking mode.

These tips will help your ferret to grow to be a happy, healthy, well-behaved member of your household. Ferrets are full of surprises, however, and there is a lot to learn about ferret health, needs, and behaviors. Get ready for a fun ferret education!

Is a ferret the right pet for you?

Ferrets are intelligent animals who need lots of attention from their owners, so they can be challenging pets. If you’re thinking about adding a ferret to your household, consider the following factors:

Commitment. Ferrets may live for 10 years. Are you ready to take on the long-term responsibility of caring for a playful bundle of energy?

Time. Ferrets will be unhappy and bored if you can’t play with them for at least an hour each day. Without adequate interaction, these social creatures may become destructive or even physically ill. Can you spare at least a full hour each day for playtime? If not, you should consider adopting two ferrets who can be playmates, or none at all.

Finances. Because ferrets need special food and regular veterinary care, you may spend more money caring for a ferret than you would caring for a cat. Does this fit into your budget?

Your household. Are you ready to make sure your home is ferret-friendly? You’ll need to ferret-proof all areas of your home, and you’ll have to supervise any other pets whenever they’re around a ferret. (Remember: Rodents, birds, and reptiles do not make good ferret buddies.)