Home Small Pets Ferrets Ferrets – A Guide to the Basics

Ferrets – A Guide to the Basics

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two young ferrets playing

Ferrets have become popular pets because of their size, playfulness and intelligence. However, deciding to bring a ferret, or any other pet, into your home takes some preparation and knowledge.  Like all pets, ferrets require adequate living environment, diet, and health care. While very active and curious when awake, ferrets sleep about ¾ of the day.  The average lifespan of a ferret is 7 years. They can be kept as single pets but are social animals and do well with a playmate.

Environment

Ferrets are by nature curious and full of energy. Their living environment needs to accommodate these attributes while providing a safe and comfortable home. While they should not be stuck in a cage all day, it is not ideal to let your pet ferret have unlimited and unsupervised access to your home. There are many dangerous elements that may cause problems should your ferret decide to explore them. So, first off, it is a good idea to be prepared with a comfortable and safe enclosure that can house your ferret while you are not watching him. Your ferret cage should have multiple levels and be chew proof. Additionally the material should be easy to clean. Ferrets like to burrow and dig so provide tunnels and hammocks if possible. Solid floors and ramps prevent foot injuries.

Ferrets can be trained to use a litter box. Corner litter boxes are preferable. If your ferret is kept in a large area, it is a good idea to have multiple litter boxes scattered around. Pellets made from recycled newspaper or shredded newspaper is preferable to clay litter as some ferrets have been known to eat clay litter.

If your ferret will have occasional free run of the house, it is necessary to “ferret proof” the area he will be allowed into. Ensure that there is no access to cleaning supplies or other chemicals. Remember, ferrets are curious so cabinets and other doors should have a latch or child lock. Block off openings or access to tight spaces such as behind the washing machine or refrigerator where your pet can get trapped or escape the home. Ferrets like to play with small objects, so valuable such as jewelry or keys should be put away.

Ferrets love to dig so boxes filled with paper can be a fun inexpensive toy. A large plastic (PVC) pipe can also make a fun tunnel for exploration – just be sure it is large enough that your ferret won’t get stuck. Many ferrets will also play with balls and other toys. There are several toys made specifically for ferrets on the commercial market.

Finally, be sure to keep your ferret in a climate-controlled environment. Ferrets cannot pant to cool themselves so temperatures over 75 degrees (F) can be dangerous and deadly. The ideal temperatures are around 65 to 68 degrees (F).

Ferret Diet

Ferrets are carnivores and cannot digest carbohydrates readily. Their diet should consist of proteins and fats. There are many commercial ferret diets that provide all the nutritional requirements for your ferret. Look for high protein, low carbohydrate diets. Avoid fruits and vegetables, dairy and sugars.  If you feed a commercial diet, additional supplementation with vitamins is not necessary for a healthy pet. Consult your veterinarian on diet for pets with specific medical conditions. Do not feed dog or cat (including puppy and kitten) foods to your ferret.

Ferret Grooming

Nail trimming is recommended on a routine basis to prevent snagging and injury. The frequency will vary by the rate of nail growth. This may be as often as 2-4 times monthly.

Check your ferret’s ears regularly and clean them if excessive or abnormal ear wax is noted. Too much ear wax buildup can make your ferret more prone to infections. If you see black crumbly ear wax, make an appointment with your veterinarian to check for ear mites or other types of infection.

Avoid bathing your ferret too often. Your ferret should be bathed no more than once per month, unless directed by your veterinarian to treat a specific skin condition. If your ferret is bathed more often than this, you risk stripping the skin of oils and causing dermatological problems.

Preventive Care and Common Medical Conditions

It is recommended that ferrets get Distemper and Rabies vaccinations yearly. Specific brands of vaccines are more preferred than others for ferrets so check with your veterinarian on approved vaccines. Distemper is a viral disease most recognized in dogs. The virus is transmitted via air or contact with bodily fluids. Although rare in ferrets, it is recommended to vaccinate your ferret yearly. Signs of distemper include lethargy, loss of appetite, coughing, sneezing, respiratory effort, discharge from eyes or nose and itchiness. Neurological signs such as behavior changes and seizures can also be observed. Supportive care is the only treatment available for distemper in ferrets. Ferrets are also susceptible to human influenza virus which can share the same symptoms as distemper. Influenza in ferrets is self-limiting and has a much better prognosis than distemper.

Ferrets are also susceptible to heartworm disease and should receive monthly prevention year-round in certain climates.  Consult with your veterinarian to determine the best prevention product and schedule for your pet.

Diarrhea is a common problem that should always be taken seriously even if symptoms are mild. Inflammatory bowel disease is a commonly diagnosed problem that requires long-term treatment. If untreated, this disease may progress to lymphoma. Both of these conditions are definitively diagnosed by biopsy of the GI tract, which is an invasive surgical procedure. Other causes of diarrhea include dietary indiscretion – eating diets high in complex carbohydrates and sugars – and parasites. Do not ignore diarrhea even if it is short-term or intermittent.

Gastrointestinal blockages are common in ferrets due to their curious nature. It is more commonly seen in young ferrets but any age ferret can ingest a foreign body. Older ferrets more commonly have issues with blockages from hairballs. Signs of foreign body can be intermittent to severe and include lethargy, anorexia, diarrhea or no stool, nausea and vomiting. Foreign bodies often require surgical intervention. Avoid allowing your ferret access to materials made of foam or soft rubber. Regular administration of hairball formulas or laxatives once weekly or more often during shedding seasons will help prevent hairball buildup.

Another common medical issue in ferrets is dental disease. Regular brushing is recommended for ferrets just as in cats and dogs. Dental exams should be performed by a veterinarian annually and cleanings should be performed as needed. If your ferret has bad breath, discolored teeth, difficulty eating, drooling, sensitivity of the mouth/face, consult your veterinarian to determine if dental disease is the underlying cause.

Summary

Ferrets make great companions and they will no doubt get up to adventures and mischief in no time in their new home.  We hope this guide helps you out and if you would like more info or have questions about anything, please let us know in the comments section.