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

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Ferret Affinity: My First Ferrets

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A Personal Tale: My Introduction to Ferrets

© Erika Matulich, Ph.D.

I have always been interested in animals, and at the age of 2, I was already pestering my parents for pets, zoo visits, and wildlife-viewing excursions. I grew up with a succession of hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits and rats. My parents helped me to be a responsible pet owner—to learn about each animal I owned, to give daily care to my charges and to visit veterinarians regularly.

My first ferret experience
During high school, I was a volunteer Explorer Scout at the Fort Worth Zoo. I was fortunate to work with docent animals who were used for educational events. Along with skunks, kestrels, screech owls and ball pythons, ferrets were part of the menagerie. At that time, ferrets were considered exotic creatures, not sold as pets. I loved working with the ferrets. They always wanted to play, and they were incredibly engaging as they bounced and explored. I tried to learn about ferrets, but not much ferret information was available in the 1970s. I quickly learned, however, that unaltered ferrets have a pungent smell—my mother made me take off my zoo shirt in the garage before I entered the house!

Owning a ferret
A decade later, I saw my first pet store ferrets. Inside an aquarium was a pile of small, fuzzy brown creatures intertwined like spaghetti. I inhaled the sweet, musky scent of the baby ferrets, and memories from my zoo days flashed back. At the zoo, I had worked with only adult ferrets, and these pet store babies were entrancing! I extracted each adorable ferret from the pile for cuddling. The store manager pointed out one little girl who was missing an ear and offered her at a discount. I was newly graduated from college and had my first job and apartment—and it took me only a moment to realize I could actually have my very own ferret as a best friend.

Learning as you go
There were no ferret books, food or supplies of any sort available. It seems that everything I did then is now known to be wrong, but, like other early ferret owners, I did the best I could. I took Critter home and housed her in a 35-gallon aquarium with wood litter; now we know that aquariums don't provide adequate ventilation for ferrets and that most wood shavings are bad for ferret lungs. I did feed Critter premium kitten food, which was good, but I offered her too many fruit and vegetable treats, which are not easily digested by ferrets. The vet gave her many shots, including feline distemper; we now know we need innoculate ferrets only for rabies and canine distemper. Ferrets are not susceptible to feline distemper. Canine distemper, however, is nearly always fatal in ferrets.

Bonding with a ferret named Critter
Critter taught me that ferrets are wonderfully loving, faithful creatures. At home, she waited in excited anticipation for playtime. Her antics cheered me up when I was sad or stressed. She helped me keep my house neat—because if I did not put things away, she would! I played hide-and-seek and discovered a variety of unique ferret hiding places. Critter's intelligence continually amazed me. She challenged my interior decorating choices and my ferret-proofing efforts (she always found hidden treasures). She followed me everywhere: around the house, in the park and on shopping trips. She was a super travel-buddy—all over the country. Critter never lost her positive attitude, sense of adventure, playfulness and love for humankind. She has long since passed over the Rainbow Bridge, but she gave me many life lessons.

The modern world of ferrets
A succession of ferrets since Critter has taught me that owning ferrets is challenging, requires patience, can drain your wallet and is sometimes frustrating. But at the same time, owning ferrets will keep you laughing and will reward you in more ways than you can count. Today, ferret owners have the benefit of advanced ferret veterinary medicine, an abundance of information resources (books, magazines, and online resources), super ferret products and a community of supportive ferret owners. As a ferret owner today, you have the advantage of making informed choices and giving the best care to your best friend. If you decide to get a ferret, I wish you joy on your ferret adventure!