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© Erika Matulich, Ph.D.
I have always been interested in animals, and at the age of two was pestering my parents to have pets, visit zoos, and explore wildlife. I grew up with a succession of hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits, and rats. My parents helped me to be a responsible pet owner, learn about each animal I owned, give daily care to my charges, and visit veterinarians regularly.
During high school, I was a volunteer Explorer Scout at the Fort Worth Zoo. I was fortunate to work with "docent" animals that 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 and not sold as pets. I LOVED working with the ferrets. They always wanted to play, and were so engaging as they bounced and explored. I tried to learn about ferrets, but not much ferret information was available in the 1970s. I did learn that unaltered ferrets had a pungent smell, because my mother made me take off my zoo shirt in the garage before I could come inside!
A decade later, I saw my first petstore ferrets. Inside an aquarium was a pile of small, brown, fuzzy creatures intertwined like spaghetti. I inhaled the sweet, musky scent of baby ferrets, and memories from my zoo days flashed back. At the zoo, I had worked with only adult ferrets, and the sight of these petstore babies was entrancing! I extracted each adorable ferret from the pile for cuddling. The petstore manager pointed out one little girl who was missing an ear, and offered her at a discount. It took me only a moment to realize I was newly graduated from college, had my first job and apartment, and could actually have my very own ferret to be my best friend!
There were no ferret books, food, supplies, or anything available on the market dealing with ferrets. It seems that everything I first did is now known to be wrong, but I guess all of us early ferret owners did the best we 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 most wood shavings and bad for ferret lungs! I did feed Critter premium kitten food (which was good), but also offered her too many fruit and vegetable treats, which are not easily digested by ferrets. The vet gave her many shots, including feline distemper. Now we know to give only rabies and canine distemper.
Critter taught me that ferrets are wonderfully loving, faithful creatures. She waited for me in excited anticipation to play. 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, and she challenged me with interior decorating choices, ferret-proofing, and finding hidden treasures. She followed me everywhere around the house, in the park, and on shopping trips. She was my super travel-buddy all over the country. Throughout her life, Critter never lost her positive attitude, sense of adventure, playfulness, and love for humankind. Critter has long since passed over the Rainbow Bridge, but gave me many life lessons. The succession of ferrets following Critter have 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 I 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 lots of other supportive ferret owners. Ferrets are now estimated to be the third most popular companion animal in the United States, after cats and dogs. As a ferret owner today, you have the advantage of making informed choices and giving the best care to your best friend! So for all of you, I wish you joy on your ferret adventure!