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

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All the Right Gear for Your Ferret

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All the Right Gear for Your Ferret

© Erika Matulich

Bringing a ferret home for the first time? Congratulations!

It's likely that the first products you'll buy are the essentials: cage, water dispenser, food, litter box, and so on. Other products such as grooming supplies, carrier, harness, leash, collar, hammock, and toys are also important. Finally, you might want to consider a few "nice-to-have" products—they're optional, but fun!

Here's a guide to the equipment and supplies you'll need for your new arrival:

The essentials:

Cage. Ferrets do best in a wire mesh habitat that provides plenty of ventilation. Wooden cages absorb odors, and plastic or glass aquariums don't provide enough ventilation. At the absolute minimum, a cage for one ferret should provide 2 square feet of floor space and 18 inches of headroom. Double the size for two ferrets, or add another story for each new ferret. Bigger is always better!

Water bottle and bowl. Ferrets need constant access to fresh water, so a no-drip water bottle for the cage is a must. Try using a bowl to catch any drips from the bottle. Ferrets actually prefer drinking out of water bowls, but they tend to splash around and make a big mess. When your ferret is out of her cage, keep a bowl of water available on the floor in your house. Try a heavy, crock-style bowl that won't tip over.

Food. Look for a ferret-specific food or a premium kitten food with a guaranteed analysis of 32 to 38 percent protein, 18 to 22 percent fat, and less than 3 percent fiber. Read the packaging to make sure that at least two meat protein sources are listed among the first five ingredients. The food should be a dry kibble; reserve the canned food for ill ferrets. Most canned formulas don't provide enough calcium, and they contain higher levels of preservatives, which may not be healthy for your ferret in the long run. And unlike crunchy dry food, canned food won't help prevent tooth decay.

Bowls. Bowls should be heavy and difficult to tip over. Ferrets like to dig in their food, so bowls with an interior lip are a plus, because they help prevent scattering. Choose a bowl that's easy to clean; ferret foods have a high fat content, which leaves residue inside bowls.

Litter box. Ferrets need a litter box or pan with a high back and a low, easy-entry front. Ferrets naturally like to go in corners, so a triangular high-back litter pan is often a good option. However, as ferrets grow older and larger, some may not want to use a corner pan. In that case, a high-backed square box may be a good choice.

Litter. Try a pelleted litter made from compressed newspapers or organic vegetable matter (such as denatured pine, citrus peels, or aspen wood). Clay and corncob litters tend to be too dusty for ferrets. Never use clumping litters—which are dangerous for ferrets for a variety of reasons—or silica litters, which are dangerous if ingested.

Bed. Ferrets must have a bed where they can sleep. Old towels and T-shirts will do in a pinch, but keep a close eye on your pet while she's using them to prevent any dangerous snags. Many ferrets love fleece-lined sleep sacks, and hammocks with a pouch inside for sleeping. Make sure bedding is washable and snag-proof.
Things that'll come in handy:
Nail clippers. You'll need to trim your ferret's nails every other week or so. Clippers designed for birds' or kittens' claws are best. Don't use human nail clippers on your ferret—they'll block your view of your pet's nails, making it easy cut off too much.

Toothbrush and paste. Ferrets' teeth need brushing every few weeks. Never use toothpaste meant for humans—it can be toxic if your pet swallows it. Also, human toothbrushes are too harsh for ferret teeth and can damage the tooth enamel. Use a brush and toothpaste formulated for cats instead.

Ear washes. Ferrets need their ears cleaned every few weeks to prevent ear mites and the buildup of smelly earwax. For regular cleaning, choose a gentle ear wash that you can apply with a cotton swab. Treat ear mites with a miticide gentle enough for kittens or rabbits.

Shampoo and conditioner. You can bathe your pet every month or so using a pH-balanced ferret shampoo, but remember: Very frequent baths actually cause ferrets to smell worse! Ferrets tend to overproduce musk oils if bathing strips their skin and fur of its natural oils, and the dry fur absorbs extra odoriferous oils.

Conditioners are optional, but they can help moisturize the fur that was stripped during the shampoo process.

Supplement. Ferrets who eat a balanced diet probably don't need extra vitamins, but they can benefit from a liquid supplement of essential fatty acids, which helps maintain a healthy skin and coat. Actually, most ferrets think this oily stuff is a great treat!

Carrier. A carrier is a must for vet visits. A soft-sided carrier is fine for short, local trips. You'll need an airline-approved plastic carrier for long-distance traveling. It can also be used for brief time-out sessions when your ferret needs some training.

Harness, leash, and collar. Whenever your ferret is out of her cage, you'll be able to locate her more easily if she wears a safety collar with a bell. A harness and leash are a must if you want to take her outdoors. Choose a harness in an H-type design, and a lightweight leash.

Ferrets seem to love sleeping in hammocks. You can give your pet more floor space by suspending a hammock from the top of her cage. In a multistory cage, hammocks can catch a ferret if she ever falls from a high lookout point.

Toys. Ferrets are playful creatures who love playing with toys. Just make sure the toys are safe: Avoid latex, soft rubber, and anything with small parts that a ferret could swallow. Ferrets love anything that moves, so toys on stretchy cords, balls, and fishing rods with fun lures are very entertaining.

Treats. If you're training your ferret or rewarding him for good behavior, look for healthy treats with minimal sugar and lots of meat protein. Ferrets also enjoy the occasional fruit or vegetable, as well as some cereal products. However, don't use treats as a substitute for food, or nutritional problems may result.
The extras:
Tubes. Ferrets love running through tubes—translucent plastic maze tubes and clear dryer hoses are great fun! Just be sure there are no exposed wires or sharp edges on the tubes, or any areas where a ferret could snag a toenail or trap a paw.

Apparel. Your ferret can wear clothes that make for perfect photo opportunities! Try a cute baseball cap or a leather jacket. Just remember that your ferret should wear apparel only when you're there to supervise.
Well, now you have it, the complete shopping guide for your new ferret! These products will help your new best friend live a healthy, happy, and long life.