Ferret Care Tips
Ferrets are fascinating animals who require responsible owners for their protection and care
Ferrets are fascinating animals who require responsible owners for their protection and care. The average life span of a ferret is 7 - 8 years with some reportedly living 10 years. Male ferrets are called "hobs," and female ferrets are called "jills." Ferrets are not recommended for families with children under 6 years old. The following information is designed to help you take the best possible care of your pet.
Dry foods - Ferrets are carnivores, strictly meat eaters. It is recommended to feed a high-quality cat food or dry ferret foods because these are made up of highly digestible top quality meat protein. Dry food should always be available for your ferret. Obesity is rarely a problem because ferrets have a high rate of metabolism.
Do not feed grocery store cat foods to ferrets. They are mostly cereal or plant proteins and contain very little meat protein. The protein level of the food must be 32 - 38%. For the young ferret, under 3 years of age, it is recommended to feed the "growth" or "kitten" formulations of the better quality diets because of higher fat and protein content.
Table foods - Egg scraps and cooked, boneless meats are suitable table foods to offer your pet as treats. Many ferrets also adore a bit of fruit or vegetable, but these items should be fed sparingly because ferrets cannot digest fiber very well. The rule of thumb is to give no more than 1 heaping teaspoon per ferret per day of any treat. Some favorite fruit and vegetable treats are melons, cucumbers and green peppers.
Never feed your pet foods high in refined sugars. Foods such as candies, cakes, sugar-coated cereals, ice cream, chocolate and sweet dairy products will put a tremendous strain on the pancreas and may result in pancreatitis or diabetes.
Water - Water should always be available and changed daily. Water can be given in either a water bottle with sipper tube or in a bowl. Ferrets like to play in their water and overturn the bowl, so a heavy ceramic or weighted bowl is recommended.
Vitamins & Minerals - Vitamin supplements should not be necessary if your ferret is on a high-quality diet.
Fatty acid supplements - Ferrets have a high fat requirement, and it may be necessary for some animals to receive an additional supplement to improve coat quality. In these cases, it is recommended to use any fatty acid supplement used for cats (such as Linotone® or Ferotone®) and feed teaspoon on food per ferret daily. Many ferrets really love the taste and will take it right from a spoon.
Hairball laxative - The accumulation of hair in the stomach of the ferret is a very common occurrence and may result in a costly surgery to remove it. Cat hairball laxative is available and recommended to help prevent hair balls. This medication is a safe, sticky paste that acts only as a lubricant and does not cause diarrhea. A ribbon of laxative 1/2 - 1 inch long is recommended for each ferret at least every third day.
Cages - A wire cage of at least 24" long x 24" wide x 18" high with solid flooring is recommended to house up to two ferrets. Newspaper or pelleted bedding such as CelluDri®, Mountain Cat Country Litter®, Harvest Litter®, etc. may be placed on the floor of the cage. Do not use aquariums or solid-walled cages because of their lack of air circulation. Inadequate circulation has been directly correlated with an increase in respiratory diseases in ferrets.
Sleeping areas - An enclosed sleeping area is necessary or your pet will become extremely frustrated. A sleeping area can be as simple as a towel, shirt, an old stocking cap, the sleeve of a sweatshirt, a cardboard or wood box with a hole cut in the side, a commercial ferret bed or sling, etc. A section of PVC pipe or a large cardboard mailing tube can provide ferrets with exercise, play, and a place to sleep.
If your pet likes to chew and eat towels or cloth of any kind, a box or deep pan can be used instead of towels or cloth as a sleeping area. Eating cloth can lead to a fatal obstruction in the intestinal tract.
Litter boxes - Ferrets can be litter box trained about 90% of the time. A small, low-sided box should be placed in the area of the cage where your pet initially picked to eliminate. Non-perfumed kitty litter or pelleted bedding makes the best fill material for the litter box. Clay litter, which can dry out your ferret's coat making it brittle and dull, should not be used.
Ferrets do not cover up their waste; therefore it is necessary to change the box frequently to minimize odor. When you are home and your pet is loose in the house, it may be necessary to place several litter boxes in various areas because ferrets are not very good at returning to "home base" if they get the bathroom urge.
Cages should be cleaned and disinfected weekly. Food and water bowls, and litter boxes should be cleaned and disinfected daily.
Multiple ferrets - Ferrets are social animals, who tend to cohabitate well together. However, breeding is discouraged. It is highly recommended that you have your pets spayed or neutered if you plan to house males and females together.
Ferret-proofing your house - Ferrets love to explore. Some of their favorite hiding places are under things and in holes. You may think that an opening is too small for your ferret to get into, but if he can get his head through a hole, he will probably get his body through too. To prevent accidents, ferrets need to be caged when you are not at home.
Danger areas - Particularly dangerous to ferrets are areas with holes wider than an inch in diameter. These include openings in or around dishwashers, refrigerators, air-conditioning ducts, window and door screens, forced-air heating grates that are not secured, dryer vents, stoves, furnaces, walls and floors, sheeting and plumbing, pipes such as under kitchen and bathroom cabinets, etc. Other possible trouble spots include:
Recliners and sofa beds - Ferrets like to crawl inside for naps. Many ferrets have lost their lives when chairs were reclined or sofas opened. If it is not possible to remove these items from the house, make the rooms that contain them off limits.
Couches, chairs and mattresses - Ferrets will burrow into furniture from underneath and often will eat the foam rubber stuffing, leading to an intestinal blockage. To prevent burrowing, attach hardware cloth or a thin sheet of plywood underneath.
Kitchen and bathroom cabinets - Ferrets like to roam through cabinets and across counters. It is wise to install child-proof latches on cabinets in which household cleaning products or poisons such as mouse bait, roach motels, insecticides and mousetraps are stored.
Clothes washers and dryers - Ferrets love to curl up in dark, warm places. Appliance doors should be kept closed at all times and checked before using.
Clothes hampers - On that same note, these are perfect hiding places. Clothes must be checked before placing them into the washer. Another favored hiding place is under or inside clothing lying on the floor. Be careful if you step on clothing or you could step on a ferret.
Stereo speakers - Ferrets can be destructive in certain situations. Keep speakers out of your pet's reach.
Electrical Wires - Some ferrets like to chew on wires. Keep these covered or out of reach.
Electric Floor Fans - Ferrets are very curious. A paw could be seriously injured by trying to catch a moving fan blade. Fans must be kept out of your pet's reach.
Open Doors - Ferrets are quick. Doors leading to the outside must be kept closed. When a person enters or leaves he must be alert to the ferret's whereabouts.
Potted Plants - Ferrets love to dig in the dirt. Small stones or a cardboard "cover" (cut a piece of heavy cardboard to the size of the top of the flower pot and split from the outer edge to the center with a hole large enough for the plant base) can be placed on top of the dirt. Some plants can also be poisonous to your pets. See the MHS handout, "Poisonous Plants," for more information.
Carpet powders - These include powered cleaners and odor neutralizers, and they can be dangerous to ferrets. They may cause chin burns if he rubs his face on the carpet. The perfume and fine dust may cause respiratory tract irritations.
Commonly ingested materials - These include latex or rubber pet toys; foam rubber soles and insoles of shoes; anything made from vinyl, rubber or plastic; Styrofoam or packing materials; sponges; refrigerator insulation; cotton balls; couch or chair stuffing; rubber bands; yarn; electrical cords; chair foot protectors; pipe or house insulation; bits of cloth; etc. Ingesting any of these items can cause medical problems such as intestinal obstructions or poisoning.
Never give ferrets rubber or vinyl toys. They like to chew and swallow rubber and vinyl, which could result in an intestinal obstruction and possibly death.
Safe toys - It is okay to give your ferret nylon bones, ping pong and golf balls, paper bags, cardboard mailing tubes and very hard plastic toys. Cloth toys are also suitable but need to be checked carefully and often to make sure pieces of the cloth are not being ingested.
Ferrets are relatively easy to handle and enjoy a lot of play time out of their cages. Daily handling is recommended for proper socialization of your pet. A lack of handling could result in aggressive behavior.
Grooming - Keeping your ferret healthy requires some "maintenance." Frequent ear cleanings and nail trimmings should be a regular routine for you and your pet. An occasional bath with a gentle pet shampoo can keep your pet shiny and clean and remove some strong body odors, but, once every two weeks is the absolute maximum you should bathe your ferret.
Ferrets produce oily secretions on the skin that have a strong odor in the mature, intact male and female. The odor is controlled by the hormones; therefore, when your pet is spayed or neutered the odor is largely eliminated.
Flea control - Like other pets, ferrets can get fleas, but, do not use flea collars on ferrets. They could cause skin irritations and, in some cases, a toxic reaction. A flea product that is safe for cats, such as a powder or pump spray, is recommended. Fleas spend most of their lives off of your pet laying eggs all over the environment. Therefore, the house and yard must be treated at the same time as your pet.
Heartworm - Ferrets are susceptible to heartworm disease. This disease is caused by a microscopic parasite that lives in the salivary glands of the mosquito and is transmitted to a pet through a mosquito bite. Heartworm preventative, called Ivermectin, should be given once a month from April to December. A veterinarian should be seen in early spring for heartworm preventative.
Canine distemper - Ferrets need to be vaccinated to prevent distemper. Started young, ferrets should receive the last of the initial series of vaccinations at 14 weeks of age. Thereafter, boosters should be given annually. This disease is nearly 100% fatal in ferrets.
Rabies - All ferrets must be vaccinated against rabies. The first vaccination should be given at three months of age with annual boosters thereafter.
HEALTH & MEDICAL PROBLEMS
Fatal anemia of females - This is a condition brought on during a female ferret's extended heat cycle when the estrogen levels are very high, causing a damaging effect on the bone marrow. By the time the external signs of anemia are seen, the condition in the bone marrow is irreversible and frequently fatal. Anemia is totally preventable by having your pet spayed before she reaches 6 months of age.
Viral flu - Ferrets are highly susceptible to human colds and flu. They will have runny noses, watery eyes, and may develop sneezing or coughing fits, along with a reduced appetite for several days. If your ferret completely loses his appetite, develops green or yellow eye or nasal discharges, has profuse bloody diarrhea or diarrhea accompanied by crying and straining, or becomes depressed or lethargic, his veterinarian should be contacted immediately.
Geriatric diseases - The average life span of the American ferret is 5 - 7 years. Starting at about 3 years of age, there is a marked increase in a variety of diseases in the ferret. Cancer and liver, kidney and heart diseases are very common. A veterinarian can provide more information on caring for these special pets.
(Some of the information within taken with permission from "Caring for Ferrets," Midwest Bird and Exotic Animal Hospital, Illinois.)