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

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Ferret Profile: 

What is a Ferret?

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© Erika Matulich 
What is a Ferret?
The domesticated ferret (Mustela putorius furo) is a small mammal related to weasels, mink, badgers, otters, and skunks. A close relative is the highly endangered wild American black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes). The pet ferret has been domesticated for thousands of years and can make a wonderful (although challenging) pet.
Ferrets have short legs with long bodies and tails. Male ferrets range between two and six pounds and 13-18 inches long (not including the tail), while females range between one and three pounds. Ferrets have 40 teeth, similar in structure to a cat. Most ferrets have a white mask and brown fur with darker fur on the legs and tail (called “sable”). Other ferrets are “silver” and have various gray shades. Ferrets can also have white paws (called “mitts”). Some ferrets are albino (white or yellowish with red eyes). There are a number of specialty colors and fur types as well.
Ferrets are carnivores. They need a high-fat, low-fiber, meat-based diet. Dry kibbled ferret food is the best option, and some premium kitten foods can work. In general, cat foods are too high in fiber, and dog food is definitely bad for ferrets. Ferrets have quick metabolisms and should have food available to them 24 hours per day, as well as a constant supply of fresh water. Ferrets do like treats of fruits and vegetables, but treats should make up no more than 10% of the diet.
Ferrets should be kept indoors in cages when they are unsupervised, but need to be let out of their cage for plenty of playtime each day. The cage should contain a litterbox, cloth bedding, food and water dispensers, a solid floor, and hiding places. Ferrets should not go outside unless they are wearing a harness and leash and are supervised. Ferrets cannot tolerate heat – anything over 85°F (27°C) is dangerous.
Ferret proofing is a challenge that will require constant vigilance on your part. Ferrets are highly curious and mobile critters who love to get into trouble! You will have to seal up holes, block access areas behind appliances and under furniture, put up plants, hide electrical cords, and many other tasks to keep your ferrets safe while they are out playing.
Ferrets are highly intelligent animals with a very social nature. Consider having more than one ferret so they can play together. Also plan on spending a few hours each day interacting with your ferret. Ferrets love to explore, but need supervision. Ferrets do fine with older children (age 8 and up), but can be introduced to younger responsible children if supervised. Infants and toddlers are not a good match for ferrets – both parties can hurt each other. Young ferret kits can be nippy and must be gently trained.
Ferret Health
Ferrets live from 6-10 years, and sometimes longer. Ferrets need annual canine distemper and rabies vaccinations, as well as veterinarian checkups. In areas where mosquitos are a problem, heartworm medication is necessary. Other common health problems are intestinal blockages (from ferrets eating household objects or having a hairball), adrenal disease (causes itching and baldness), insulinoma (causes seizures), and various intestinal disorders. Ferrets can also catch human flus, as well as dog/cat fleas. Ferrets should also be neutered or spayed at about 6 months of age to prevent health and odor problems.
Is a Ferret the Right Pet for You?
One can purchase a ferret from anywhere between $50 and $500, although most are in the $100 range. However, ferrets are generally more expensive pets to keep than other common pets such as cats. They require more veterinary care, need to eat premium foods, and often have a major surgery sometime in their lives. Additionally, they need lots of attention and time from you, including regular grooming and playtime. Children will need adult help to make sure the ferret is fed, watered, and cleaned on a daily basis. And everyone will need to commit to keeping the ferret safe and the house ferretproofed. Ferrets also have a unique odor that some people find offensive. Finally, ferrets are illegal in some areas – check your animal control codes.
Ferrets are not the easiest pet, and they are not right for everybody. But if you can make the commitment to care for your ferrets properly, they will reward you with lots of laughter and love!