Ferret Care & FAQs

We have provided information that we will hope answer your commonly asked questions on ferrets. We know this will help build the bond between you and your animal, and we hope it will continue to be a resource for your ferret’s happiness and health for years to come. Please click on the category you are interested in learning more about:

Before Getting a Ferret

Is a Ferret Right For You?

By: ASPCA Ani-Med

He’ll steal your heart–and he’ll also steal your keys if you leave them unattended! The ever-curious, charismatic ferret is weaseling his way into pet owners’ hearts, and some sources rank him as the third most popular pet in America, after cats and dogs. If it’s a high-octane, playful friend you’re after–and you’re prepared to put in the time and money required–you may find the ferret to be the ultimate pet for you.

Unfortunately, the ‘garden variety’ ferret commonly kept as a companion animal is the victim of a few major misconceptions. For one, they are not wild animals, but a domestic species that’s been living with humans for about 2,000 years. And though this frisky fellow may have a ratlike snout, he’s no rodent–but a member of the Mustelidae family, which includes weasels and skunks. The domestic ferret comes in a variety of coat colors and patterns, from silver and sable to Siamese and cinnamon. They range in size from a one-pound, 13-inch female to a 3 1/2-pound, 16-inch male. A well-cared-for ferret can live 6-8 years, and individuals reaching their 12th birthdays are not unheard of.

What’s a ferret’s favorite thing to do? Play! You won’t have to spend the whole day crawling around with him, but your furry friend will need a minimum of at least two hours of daily exercise out of the cage in a safe area. You’ll have to do some major ferret proofing, as these guys can get into pretty much anything. They can open cabinets, chew your plants, pull up the floor vent, you name it. If you can’t engage your pet fully during playtime, please consider keeping two or more ferrets. ASPCA experts recommend that beginners start off with one, and learn the ropes of litterbox training and ferretkeeping before getting another. Yup, we said litterbox training! They may not be as 100-percent perfect as the fastidious feline, but ferrets can most definitely be taught to use a litterbox.

In addition to the initial cost of the animal, cage and accessories, you must bring your pet to the veterinarian for annual check-ups, rabies and distemper vaccinations, and heartworm preventives. Most ferrets sold as pets have already been spayed or neutered, but if yours is not, he or she will have to be. An intact female will stay in heat until she is bred, leading to a weakened immune system and a greater than average chance of developing life-threatening anemia. Unneutered male ferrets mark their territory, are very aggressive with other animals, and have a very strong–to say the least!–odor.

Ah yes, the smell issue. All ferrets, including altered individuals, have scent glands located just near the base of their tails. When scared, excited or otherwise overstimulated, they may release a musky smell that, luckily, quickly dissipates. While this is not a frequent occurrence, the species also naturally produces a musky oil throughout the skin. Some people find it disagreeable; some people don’t mind it at all. It’s best for a potential owner to fall into the latter category, as sadly, many a ferret has been relinquished because of odor.

Has this fuzzy guy met your criteria so far? A ferret may be right for you, but not for your family. In most cases, ferrets and small children are a poor match. These animals can be nippy and squirmy during play–even more so with children who don’t understand how to properly behave around them. There are also legal considerations, and laws regarding ferret keeping, which vary around the country. In some places, it is illegal to keep a ferret as a pet; in others, you will need a permit. Please call your local humane society or Fish and Game department to find out the law where you live.

If you’re all set to bring a ferret home, we recommend getting yours from a reputable breeder or, best of all, adopting one from a shelter or ferret rescue group. Search on sites like www.petfinder.com for ferrets looking for a second chance at a good life–and good luck with your new fuzzball!

Bringing Your Ferret Home

Handling Your Ferret

By: ASPCA Ani-Med

Congratulations on your new ferret. Bet you can’t wait to get to know all about your little guy–and once he settles in, he’ll want to know all about you, too. To earn his trust and affection, it’s a good idea to begin handling him.

To tame your pet, you will need to pick him up frequently and, most importantly, CORRECTLY. Keep in mind that small animals like ferrets are prey in the wild, so a hand swooping down on them from above can be very frightening–and may result in the animal running away, hiding or even attacking. When you’re ready to give it a go, make sure he’s bright-eyed and alert–if you wake him up from a snooze, he’s less likely to be receptive–and speak to him in gentle, encouraging tones. Grasp him with both hands, using one to support his chest and the other to hold his hips and back legs. Next, you can gently lift him and cradle him in your arms. You can also try holding him on your lap. Don’t be surprised if he gets a little squirmy; most ferrets must acquire a taste for being handled and/or cuddled by humans! And remember, heaps of praise and a little treat will go a long way with a ferret who behaves during handling!

Never grab your ferret or pick him up by his tail. If you need to control him during grooming or your weekly inspection of his teeth and ears, scruffing can be very effective–and, if done properly, completely safe. Just grasp the thick scruff of skin behind his neck with your hand and lift him, while carefully supporting his bottom half.

Don’t be surprised if your ferret nips you during the initial taming period. Young ferrets may nip to show that they don’t quite like being held, but you will have to let your pet know that this behavior is not acceptable. Experts recommend that you don’t just put your pet down after a nip–that’s what he wants, after all!–but firmly tell him “No!” and put him in his cage. You may have to do this several times, but he will soon learn that nipping puts an end to playtime and attention from you. Never, ever hit your ferret for nipping–or for any reason. Not only will this frighten him, it can lead to aggressive behavior.

Housing

By: ASPCA Ani-Med

Your ferret’s cage is his home, sweet, home–and it’s up to you to make sure it is as comfortable and clean, spacious and sturdy as possible. A well-made, multi-level cage can be expensive, but it’s one of the most important investments you’ll make for your pet.

Always buy the largest, most well-constructed cage you can afford. There should be enough room in the enclosure for your ferret to play and sleep, with ample space for a litter box, toys and food dishes. A typical cage for a single ferret should be at least 3 feet wide, 2 feet high and 2 feet from front to back; if you’ve got a multi-ferret household, get a larger one. Most experts recommend a cage of sturdy vinyl-coated wire; many of these have multi-levels that are great for their inquisitive, active inhabitants. Do make sure the enclosure you opt for has a door you can fasten securely–or your master escape artist will definitely escape! Avoid cages made of wood, which will readily soak up urine and other liquids, and glass aquariums, which do not provide adequate ventilation.

Ready to set up your pet’s digs? Location is everything. Select a cozy place that’s relatively quiet but not too far away from the action in the home. Avoid drafts and basements, and take care that the cage is not in direct sunlight. Super-sensitive ferrets can suffer from heat stroke or heat exhaustion if kept in a sunny, hot location. It’s also smart to place the cage about half a foot away from the wall–you’ll be glad you did when it comes to cleaning time!

Once you’ve found a prime location, you’ll need to make your ferret’s house feel like a home. If the cage has a wire bottom, cover as much surface area as possible with linoleum squares, a cloth pad, or pieces of carpeting–and never use wood shavings, please. For your little guy’s bedroom, you can buy a small cat bed, line a box or basket with old t-shirt, and cover the floor with old towels, pillowcases or other comfy bedding. You can even snip the legs off an old pair of jeans to make a fun ferret sleeping bag.

The food dishes should be as sturdy and possible. Ferrets love to throw and dig their food out of the bowl; unfortunately, this is normal behavior. Weighted, heavy ceramic bowls may work, but most experienced caretakers find that attachable bowls are the way to go. Same for the water bottle, but just make sure it’s easily reachable and can be mounted on the outside of the cage. You’ll also need a litter box–or two, depending on the size of the cage and number of ferrets–and be sure to check out our section on “Litterbox Training” for helpful hints.

To be a good ferret housekeeper, you’ll need to wash your pet’s bedding once a week, and scoop out waste from the litter box as often as you need. You should dump the litter and wash the box at least every week, but you’ll probably need to wipe the sides (ferrets don’t have the best aim) on a more frequent basis. If you have a backyard or other area where you can hose the entire cage down at least once a month, that’s great. If not, you’ll need to regularly remove particles of food and litter from the cage floor, remove all gunk from the sides of the cage and wipe the surfaces with a safe disinfectant. Just make sure everything’s dry before your ferret returns to his castle.

Understanding Your Ferret

By: ASPCA Ani-Med

Your ferret’s cage is his home, sweet, home–and it’s up to you to make sure it is as comfortable and clean, spacious and sturdy as possible. A well-made, multi-level cage can be expensive, but it’s one of the most important investments you’ll make for your pet.

Always buy the largest, most well-constructed cage you can afford. There should be enough room in the enclosure for your ferret to play and sleep, with ample space for a litter box, toys and food dishes. A typical cage for a single ferret should be at least 3 feet wide, 2 feet high and 2 feet from front to back; if you’ve got a multi-ferret household, get a larger one. Most experts recommend a cage of sturdy vinyl-coated wire; many of these have multi-levels that are great for their inquisitive, active inhabitants. Do make sure the enclosure you opt for has a door you can fasten securely–or your master escape artist will definitely escape! Avoid cages made of wood, which will readily soak up urine and other liquids, and glass aquariums, which do not provide adequate ventilation.

Ready to set up your pet’s digs? Location is everything. Select a cozy place that’s relatively quiet but not too far away from the action in the home. Avoid drafts and basements, and take care that the cage is not in direct sunlight. Super-sensitive ferrets can suffer from heat stroke or heat exhaustion if kept in a sunny, hot location. It’s also smart to place the cage about half a foot away from the wall–you’ll be glad you did when it comes to cleaning time!

Once you’ve found a prime location, you’ll need to make your ferret’s house feel like a home. If the cage has a wire bottom, cover as much surface area as possible with linoleum squares, a cloth pad, or pieces of carpeting–and never use wood shavings, please. For your little guy’s bedroom, you can buy a small cat bed, line a box or basket with old t-shirt, and cover the floor with old towels, pillowcases or other comfy bedding. You can even snip the legs off an old pair of jeans to make a fun ferret sleeping bag.

The food dishes should be as sturdy and possible. Ferrets love to throw and dig their food out of the bowl; unfortunately, this is normal behavior. Weighted, heavy ceramic bowls may work, but most experienced caretakers find that attachable bowls are the way to go. Same for the water bottle, but just make sure it’s easily reachable and can be mounted on the outside of the cage. You’ll also need a litter box–or two, depending on the size of the cage and number of ferrets–and be sure to check out our section on “Litterbox Training” for helpful hints.

To be a good ferret housekeeper, you’ll need to wash your pet’s bedding once a week, and scoop out waste from the litter box as often as you need. You should dump the litter and wash the box at least every week, but you’ll probably need to wipe the sides (ferrets don’t have the best aim) on a more frequent basis. If you have a backyard or other area where you can hose the entire cage down at least once a month, that’s great. If not, you’ll need to regularly remove particles of food and litter from the cage floor, remove all gunk from the sides of the cage and wipe the surfaces with a safe disinfectant. Just make sure everything’s dry before your ferret returns to his castle.

Taking Care of Your Ferret

Bathing

By: ASPCA Ani-Med

To shampoo or not to shampoo your ferret–that is the question! For the most part, the answer is no. But if your little fuzzball’s gotten herself into something especially stinky or sticky, a bath is in order. As your pet’s personal hairdresser, it’s up to you to make bathtime lots of fun–and as safe and stress-free as possible.

You may want to engage your ferret in a marathon play session before the bath–this can help to calm even the most high-octane individuals. Next, you should get everything ready for the big clean-up; it’s not fun (or easy) to scramble for the shampoo when you’re scrambling to control a slippery ferret. Here are some essentials for your pet’s toilette:

  • Safe, gentle shampoo specially formulated for ferrets. (Cat and kitten shampoos will work, too, but most others will dry out your pet’s skin.)
  • Rubber mat to ensure secure footing for your ferret’s tootsies.
  • Loads of clean, fluffy towels for drying off.
  • Vaseline or vitamin E cream to soften footpads. (Apply after bath, of course)
  • An assistant, especially helpful to help keep squirmy pets calm–and in the bathtub!

You may choose to bathe your ferret in the kitchen sink or, if you are lucky enough to have a furry companion who views bathtime as a fun time for splashing and swimming, in the bathtub or shower. Fill the tub or sink with water, just deep enough so her feet can still securely touch bottom. Take care with the temperature, please–ferrets have a higher body temperature than humans, so they will prefer their baths on the warm (but not hot) side. Use a spray hose or pitcher to thoroughly wet your pet. Next, gently massage shampoo into her coat, working from head to tail. Be sure to avoid the eyes, ears, and nose. Rinse thoroughly with warm water, until all soapy residue has been removed.

And now comes the best part! Soggy ferrets tend to get a bit hyper–and just plain silly–in their quest to dry off, so you’ll need to provide her with a clean, contained area for doing so. Place some fluffy towels in a cardboard box or in the bathtub (drained and dried, that is!) and watch her go to town. For an extra treat, you can even warm up the towels in your clothes dryer. FYI, some people may find it helpful to jump-start their ferrets with a quick towel-dry.

For the finishing touch, be sure to offer your little one her favorite food treat when she’s ready for some relaxation. Now doesn’t your bathing beauty look–and smell–great?

P.S. Did someone say “SMELL”? We know that ferrets naturally produce a musky oil throughout their skin–and that some owners who find the odor disagreeable may attempt to “neutralize” it with frequent bathing. Unfortunately, this will only dry out the ferret’s skin–and kick-start the oil-producing glands into double duty! The best way to keep your pet smelling fresh and clean is to change the bedding twice a week, and frequently clean the litterbox.

Common Health Problems

By: ASPCA Ani-Med

With regular veterinary care, proper nutrition and plenty of playtime, your ferret should remain in fine form throughout his life. But members of this species are very sensitive, and are prone to a variety of illnesses. Discussed here are some of the most common ones to watch out for.

Did you know that blockage in the intestine and stomach is the leading cause of death in young ferrets? These curious animals will eat anything in their paths, including indigestible items such as erasers and rubber bands. Some signs of blockage include vomiting, bloating and constipation; in worst-case scenarios, stomach surgery may be required. As a responsible pet owner, you’ll need to ferret-proof your home and keep all dangerous objects out of your fuzzball’s reach. Blockages can even be caused by hairballs, so it’s also important to regularly give your pet a hairball preventive.

A great many ferrets, especially older individuals, suffer from gum disease, or inflammation of the gums. Particles of food, saliva and bacteria can quickly build up on your little guy’s teeth to form plaque, which can then harden into a grayish-greenish tartar. If left untreated, the buildup can lead to tooth decay. Regular home check-ups, twice-monthly brushings and, if necessary, annual cleanings by your veterinarian will help prevent problems.

Some animals may like it hot, but not ferrets. This species is highly susceptible to heatstroke, which can be fatal. Signs of heatstroke include heavy panting, lethargy and seizures. As a precaution, take care that your pet’s cage is not in direct sunlight, and never leave your ferret in a hot or locked car when the weather heats up.

Parasitic infections have bugged many a ferret. Coccidiosis, for example, a common protozoan infection, causes diarrhea, lethargy and weight loss. You vet can diagnose this disease via a stool sample. Helicobacter mustelae infection is a bacterial disease that affects the stomach lining, causing diarrhea, vomiting, weight loss and dark, tar-like stools. Although all too common, it can be treated with medication prescribed by your vet.

The three most serious–and among the most common–diseases in ferrets are adrenal disease, insulinoma and lymphoma. Signs of adrenal disease range from hair loss and lethargy to anemia and loss of appetite. In spayed females, often the most prominent symptom is a swollen vulva. Your veterinarian can diagnose this disease, and treatment may include the surgical removal of the adrenal glands. Insulinoma–cancer of the pancreas or tumors of insulin-secreting cells in the pancreas–causes a rapid drop in blood sugar level. Treatment varies from supportive care and medication to surgery. Some signs of lymphoma include lethargy, weight loss, enlarged lymph nodes and a severely weakened immune system. Some lymphomas can be treated with chemotherapy.

A little prevention on your part will go a long way to insure a healthy life for your ferret. If you live in an area where there are a lot of mosquitoes, talk to your vet about heartworm medication. Heartworm infection causes labored breathing, heart murmur and a constant cough. It’s also important that you have your pet vaccinated against canine distemper. This highly contagious virus can be brought in your home on shoes or clothing–and is fatal to ferrets.

If you notice any unusual symptoms in your pet, do not wait until your yearly check-up to consult your vet. Signs of illness include vomiting, diarrhea, hair loss, lack of appetite, heavy panting and difficulty breathing. If you think your ferret is ill, it’s important to contact the veterinarian immediately.

Dental Care

By: ASPCA Ani-Med

Bad breath, drooling, tartar buildup…. that’s just what you can expect to deal with as a ferret owner, right? Wrong! These may be warning signals that your pet is in need of dental care.

Unfortunately, a great many ferrets, especially older individuals, suffer from gum disease, or inflammation of the gums. Particles of food, saliva and bacteria can quickly build up on your little guy’s teeth to form plaque, which can then harden into a grayish-greenish tartar. If left untreated, the buildup can lead to tooth decay. Experts agree that one of the best ways to avoid gum disease is by regular brushing and dental checkups–all performed by you, the responsible caretaker, of course!

It’s smart to make a quick inspection of your ferret’s teeth every week or so. Look for signs of infection, such as bad breath, difficulty eating and excessive tartar. If you’re a new ferret caretaker, you’ll soon found out that members of this species are major gnawers and chewers, and often run into things–all in the name of play! This can be tough on their teeth, so keep an eye out for any chips or breaks. What about the gums? Healthy ones are moist and pink. If you notice anything out of the ordinary, contact your pet’s doctor. ASPCA experts also recommend that you schedule a yearly dental exam with your veterinarian and, if necessary, a cleaning.

Twice-monthly brushings can help keep your ferret’s teeth in tip-top condition. You can use a cat toothbrush with a toothpaste specially formulated for either ferrets or felines, or a piece of soft gauze or nylon stocking wrapped around your finger. Start out with just a little paste on your finger or the gauze. You may need an assistant to hold your pet steady until he gets used to this procedure. Gently rub along the outer teeth and gums for 5 to 10 seconds. Over time, you can gradually increase the length of your sessions and, if you desire, switch to a toothbrush. Always be sure to pay close attention to the gum line, and never use human toothpaste, which can make your pet sick should he swallow it.

Animals who exclusively eat wet food are prone to dental problems, so it’s recommended that you feed your ferret a kibble-based diet to prevent tartar buildup. However, hard food can be really tough on older ferrets whose teeth are excessively worn–it’s best to discuss this with your veterinarian, who may suggest a softer diet.

Fleas

By: ASPCA Ani-Med

So, you thought that only dogs and cats could get fleas? Think again! Ferrets are just as susceptible to these pesky little parasites. Your fuzzball can bring home some unwanted guests after a supervised walk around the garden with you, but indoors-only ferrets are also at risk–particularly if you share your home with dogs, or a cat who has access to a yard.

Playing host to fleas is no fun for ferrets. Aside from making your pet extremely uncomfortable, fleas can pass on internal parasites such as tapeworms. In the case of severe infestation, a ferret can become dangerously anemic.

You’ll need to have a safe, effective strategy to keep your ferret flea-free. First, it’s smart to conduct regular spot checks. Simply look for small black specks on your little guy’s skin. You may also notice them on his bedding or towels. Known as “flea dirt,” these specks are a sign that your pet-and your home-are host to fleas. You might also see actual bites on your animal’s skin, or notice that his fur is thinning or discolored.

If you think your pet has fleas, you’ll want to get rid of them–FAST! The following tips can help ensure a safe, speedy resolution of the problem:

Check with your veterinarian before using ANY flea-control product. He or she can determine whether your pet is healthy enough to undergo chemical treatment, and can recommend the safest, most effective plan. This is of utmost importance when you’re dealing with young, sick or older animals.
There are a variety of shampoos and sprays available especially for ferrets. In general, most products formulated for kittens are safe for ferrets, but again–consult with your vet first!

Beware of flea-control products that contain organophosphates or petroleum distillates, which are dangerous for your fuzzball. And flea collars and flea dips should NEVER be used on a ferret, even if they are labeled for use on kittens. Always read the label on any product you’re going to use, and be sure to follow the instructions carefully–and exactly!

In addition to eradicating the adult fleas on your ferret, you’ll need to tackle the eggs and larvae that live in rugs, upholstery and your pet’s housing and bedding. You may, in fact, wish to replace the bedding completely, but you’ll still need to launder it regularly. Be sure to thoroughly wash the cage, cage furniture, dishes and toys, and ask your veterinarian about a ferret-safe flea spray you can use in and around the cage. It’s also a great help to vacuum–just remember to throw out the bag regularly. And finally, keep in mind that no matter your plan of attack, the ASPCA recommends that you treat ALL animals in the house, not just the ones with obvious symptoms.

In cases of severe household infestation, you may need to “flea bomb” the home with an insect fogger. Ask your vet to suggest a brand, and follow directions carefully. To cover all bases, you might have to re-fog in two weeks when the eggs have hatched. During each application, you must evacuate all human and animal residents in your home for about four hours.

If fleas seem to be a recurrent problem, consider asking your veterinarian about long-term treatments. These preventive medicines are applied directly to an animal’s skin and work to kill fleas before any eggs are laid. While these medicines, available by prescription only, are not labeled for use on ferrets, a great many ferret-savvy veterinarians have found them safe and very effective; ask your pet’s doctor for more information.

Nutritional Needs

By: ASPCA Ani-Med

When it comes to feeding your ferret, protein and fat are where it’s at. A born carnivore with a high metabolism and energy level, your pet will need the right food to fuel his active lifestyle. And in order to meet your ferret’s strict dietary requirements, you must be prepared to read lots of labels!
Ferrets do best on a food specifically formulated for their species or a high-quality kitten food. Either will work–as long as the brand you choose contains no less than 34 percent animal protein and no less than 20 percent fat. Take care when making your purchase at the pet supply store–even though a food may be labeled for ferrets, it may not contain these percentages. You will need to read the labels carefully; in the highest quality foods, you’ll notice that animal protein–in the form of chicken, turkey, beef or lamb–makes up the first 2 or 3 ingredients. If you’re opting for kitten food, avoid a fish-based formula. It may result in smellier stools, and ferrets don’t seem to like it anyway.

Opinion is divided among the ferret set as to wet vs. dry. While kibble helps prevent tartar buildup, too much can wear down the teeth. Moist food fed exclusively, some say, can result in tooth decay and, yet again, smellier stools. You may want to offer soft food on occasion, or moisten the kibble with a little water. Whatever you choose, make sure that food is always available to your pet–ferrets can easily chow down 10 or more small meals a day. If you are feeding soft or moistened food, be sure to remove any leftovers to avoid spoilage.

It’s crucial that you provide fresh, clean water at all times, too. You probably won’t have much luck with a water dish, as your playful pet is more likely to splash in it or knock it over than drink from it. We recommend a water bottle that attaches directly to your ferret’s cage.

If you’re feeding a high-quality diet, regular supplements aren’t necessary. If your pet’s coat seems a little dry during the winter months, however, you can give him a few drops of a vitamin supplement such as Ferretone twice weekly. Most ferrets love this stuff, and it makes a delicious treat. And did you know that ferrets can get hairballs? To combat this problem, many caretakers offer their pets a few drops of cat hairball remedy once or twice a week, particularly during shedding season.

Your fuzzball will appreciate a little variety now and then, so be sure to offer a few treats every day. ASPCA experts recommend 1 to 2 very small pieces of nonacidic fruits like melon and apple; cooked, chopped veggies such as broccoli and green pepper; a few pieces of low-fat, low-sugar cereal; cooked egg yolk, and small bits of cooked meat. Never give your ferret chocolate, alcohol, coffee, tea, dairy products, seeds, nuts, and anything high in sugar and/or salt. Please be careful not to overdo the treats. Feeding your little guy the wrong foods can lead to health problems–and even shorten his time with you!

Spaying and Neutering

By: ASPCA Ani-Med

First-time ferret keepers are often surprised to learn that their new pet must be spayed or neutered. “I don’t plan to breed her,” they may reason, or “Why should I have him altered if he’s never going to come into contact with any unspayed female ferrets?” The fact is, this simple surgical procedure can save your pet’s life.
Most companion ferrets for sale by breeders and pet shops have already been altered. This is commonly done when the animal is as young as five weeks old. However, if for some reason you have purchased an unaltered animal, it is recommended that the ferret be spayed or neutered by the time she or he is six months old.

For females, spaying is an absolute medical necessity. Unlike other mammals who go into heat for a fixed, short period of time, a ferret will stay in heat until she is bred. And if she stays in heat long enough, she will most likely become anemic from the constant blood flow to her uterus and vagina–a condition that can be fatal. The stress of the heat can also weaken her immune system, putting her at risk of disease and infection. A female can be spayed after she goes into heat, but the veterinarian will first have to administer a hormone injection to bring her out of heat. Hormone injections, however, are NOT a viable alternative to spaying.

Wondering when ferret mating season begins? If you have an unneutered male, he’ll be sure to let you know. When a ferret enters rut–the period of time when he is ready, willing and able to breed–he will mark his territory with an unbelievably smelly slime. (FYI when not in rut, he will also smell much stronger than his neutered counterparts.) Unaltered ferrets also become very aggressive with other males and even females in the home; in some unfortunate cases, an unaltered male will try to kill other ferrets, even if they are neutered or spayed. For these reasons, it is strongly recommended that only neutered males be kept as pets.

If you do not want to spay or neuter your pet because you are thinking of breeding your ferret, please think again. There are so many things that can go wrong during pregnancy and, in general, female ferrets make poor mothers. It is not uncommon for mothers to fail to nurse or, in the worst case scenario, kill their young. And should she have a difficult pregnancy or labor, which happens often, the female could die. Ferret breeding should be left to the professionals. And did you know that there is a serious ferret overpopulation problem? Rescue groups and shelters are filled with fuzzballs in need of homes, If you absolutely must have another ferret, by all means consider adopting one. You’ll feel good just knowing you’ve given an animal a second chance at a good life!

Supplements and Treats

By: ASPCA Ani-Med

A high-quality kitten or ferret food should be the “meat and potatoes” of your pet’s diet–but every self-respecting ferret appreciates some variety once in a while. You’ll need to inform yourself about what’s good–and what’s not–for your animal companion.
Most ferrets enjoy fruits and veggies, just make sure you offer yours only a few very small pieces at a time. ASPCA experts stress that all vegetables must be cooked, as raw veggies can block a ferret’s digestive tract. Try chopped green pepper, broccoli and mashed potato. Even cooked, vegetable matter isn’t easy for a ferret to digest, so please feed sparingly. You can also try nonacidic fruits such as apple and mashed banana, but be cautious with these high-sugar treats. Your pet may also enjoy a few pieces of low-fat, low-sugar cereal, hardboiled or scrambled egg, cooked meats (especially chicken livers!), peanut butter and freeze-dried liver or other cat treats. If you notice that your ferret has diarrhea after eating any of these items, it’s best to stay away from them.

Topping the absolute no-no list are chocolate, alcohol, coffee, tea, seeds, nuts, raw egg whites, and anything high in salt and/or sugar. And yes, we know that ferrets love milk and vanilla ice cream, but ASPCA experts strongly discourage your from giving them to your pet. Dairy products can cause diarrhea, which can lead to dehydration.

If you’re feeding your ferret a high-quality diet, daily supplementation should not be necessary. If you have a very young or sick ferret, however, your veterinarian may suggest a vitamin supplement; always be sure to follow the doctor’s guidelines for recommended dosages. During the winter months, many ferret owners offer their pets a few drops of a supplement such as Ferretone twice weekly. This is especially helpful if your fuzzball’s fur is on the dry side. As it turns out, most ferrets happen to love this stuff, so feel free to add it to your list of recommended treats–but take care not to offer more than a few drops a couple of times a week. These supplements are rich in Vitamin A, which can be harmful in excess; some caretakers mix the product with equal parts olive oil or vegetable oil to “dilute” it.

Supplements can also be used to combat hairballs. Yes, ferrets get hairballs–but unlike cats, they do not cough them up and are, unfortunately, prone to intestinal blockage. Many caretakers offer their pets a few drops of cat hairball remedy once or twice a week, particularly during shedding season. It’s easy to figure out the correct amount to give based on your ferret’s weight.

Veterinary Care

by: ASPCA Ani-Med

Welcome to the world of companion ferrets! As a responsible owner, you’ll need to provide your pet with good food, good fun, lots of TLC and regular veterinary care. As soon as your fuzzball has settled in, we recommend a trip to the vet for a thorough examination.
Veterinarians specializing in ferrets aren’t always easy to find. You can ask the members of your ferret club or local shelter for a referral, or call veterinary practices in your area to ask if the doctors have experience with the species. This is also a good time to purchase a carrier or travel cage to safely transport your pet.

When you bring your ferret for his exam, be prepared to provide information on where and when you purchased your pet, what you’re feeding him and anything unusual you’ve noticed about him. The veterinarian will conduct a complete physical exam of your ferret, including a check of the heart, lugs, ears, eyes and teeth. Your pet’s temperature and weight will be recorded. The veterinarian may ask you to bring a fecal sample with you, so he or she can determine if your ferret has internal parasites, such as worms and coccidia.

If your pet is older or ill, the veterinarian may recommend additional testing. The results of a general blood panel can point to problems with the liver, kidney and pancreas, for example, and radiographs of the chest and abdomen can be useful in diagnosing tumors or heart conditions-especially in ferrets over the age of three, who are considered geriatric. Older ferrets may also require more dental care, including an annual scaling to remove tartar buildup.

It is also imperative that you keep up-to-date on your ferret’s shots. These little guys must be vaccinated against canine distemper, which is 100-percent fatal to ferrets, and rabies. Most ferrets get their distemper shots before they enter the pet trade, but if you have purchased or adopted a ferret who has never been vaccinated-or one with an unknown medical history-he will need both initial and booster shots. After that, annual vaccinations for distemper are required. Rabies shots should be given after the age of 12 weeks, with a yearly booster. And if you live in an area of the country where mosquitoes are a problem, ASPCA experts strongly recommend that you give your ferret a monthly heartworm prevention medication. Talk to your veterinarian about the various types available.

Most ferrets sold as pets have already been spayed or neutered, but if yours is not, be sure to schedule a date for the surgery with your veterinarian. An intact female will stay in heat until she is bred, leading to a weakened immune system and a greater than average chance of developing life-threatening anemia. Unneutered male ferrets mark their territory, are very aggressive with other animals, and have a very strong–to say the least!–odor. It is recommended that all ferrets be altered by the time they are six months old.

If you notice any unusual symptoms in your pet, do not wait until your yearly check-up to consult your vet. Signs of illness include vomiting, diarrhea, hair loss, lack of appetite, heavy panting or other difficulty breathing. If you think your ferret is ill, it’s important to contact the veterinarian immediately.

Training Your Ferret

Litter Box Training

By: ASPCA Ani-Med

When your ferret’s gotta go, he’s gotta go. As a responsible pet owner, it’s up to you to show him that he’s gotta go in the right place. Luckily, your little guy is a fast learner and, if you take the time to teach him, will readily take to using a litter box.
The first step is selecting the best equipment for the job at hand. Older and ill ferrets will have an easier time getting into a low-sided litter box, but a high-sided model works well for individuals who prefer to back into a corner and tend to aim high. Your pet’s cage will need at least one litter box, but keep in mind that larger enclosures and multiple ferrets will necessitate multiple boxes.

Most ferret aficionados like pelleted litter as a filler. The dust-free pellets are large enough that your pet can’t easily fling them out of the box–as he probably will do with a lighter material. Cheap and readily available, newspaper is also a safe choice. Please think twice before using clay litter, as the dust it raises can lead to respiratory problems. Cedar shavings are a must-to avoid, as they can also cause respiratory complications.

During the initial stages of training, young ferrets, or those who aren’t yet up to speed on their toilet habits, should be confined to a cage. It is recommended that you leave a piece of feces in it as a reminder that the box is his bathroom and not a playpen. It’s also smart to place him in his box as soon as he wakes up for playtime, and pile on the praise when he does his duty. As he gets the hang of it, you can gradually increase his territory, moving him to a larger cage or small play area. When he’s out and about, be sure to put another box in his play area, and place him in it every half-hour or so.

When your pet’s properly trained, it’s smart to keep multiple boxes in his expanded territory. If a box is nearby, he’ll be more likely to use it. Please keep in mind that ferrets aren’t quite as fastidious as felines in this department, and even the most well-trained individuals will have slip-ups–particuarly if they become overly excited or frightened. If your ferret goes where he shouldn’t, clean the area with disinfectant or a solution of vinegar and water or an enzyme-based odor neutralizer and, if possible, try to block off access to the spot. Never hit your pet or rub his nose in his mistake–these tactics are not only cruel, but ineffective. Instead, concentrate on praising him profusely when he gets it right–and always remember that because of his small size, at least his “accidents” will not be big ones!

Play Time & Toys

By: ASPCA Ani-Med

For a ferret, life is just one big game. Your intelligent, inquisitive pet loves nothing more than play time–especially if it involves you. As a responsible owner, you’ll need to provide safe toys and a secure environment for your fuzzball. In return, you’ll have a healthy, well-adjusted pet whose antics will never fail to amuse you!
Did you know that your furry friend will need a minimum of at least two hours a day of daily exercise out of the cage? Failure to provide this can result in an unhappy ferret who may exhibit negative behaviors. Bored ferrets may resort to digging in their litterbox or chewing on the bars of their cage. If you can’t meet this daily requirement for play, it’s best to consider a less interactive pet.

To prepare for playtime, you will need to do some major ferret-proofing, as your little guy can get into pretty much anything. Keep electrical cords, garbage cans and poisonous plants out of your pet’s reach, and make sure he doesn’t have access to areas where dangerous chemicals, appliances and cleaning items are stored. Keep in mind that your pet can worm his way into an opening as small as two inches in diameter, so block any holes under refrigerators, cabinets, or elsewhere in the walls. And did you know that ferrets can easily open drawers and floor vents, and have been known to burrow through the bottoms of couches and beds? You will also need to be extra careful of where you step when your ferret is out of his cage. These guys are fast and quiet, and can get easily underfoot–or can be found snoozing underneath that cushion you’re just about to sit on!

The toys you select for your pet must be safe, too. Experts suggest hard rubber balls, hard-plastic cat toys (opt for the noisiest ones you can find!), and golf and tennis balls; some large parrot toys may work well, as will plastic rattles and squeaky toys made for human babies. Do-it-yourself toys provide great entertainment, too. Ferrets love PVC piping and plastic dryer hose tubing for tunneling; cardboard boxes, especially when arranged together with cut-out ferret-sized entryways, are great, too. Got an old pair of jeans around the house? Cut off the legs and you’ll have two great toys that your ferret can nap in and/or crawl through! Avoid anything made of soft rubber or plastic, and toys with small pieces that can be chewed, pulled off or eaten. Your curious ferret is likely to eat anything in his path, including these indigestible items that can cause a potentially fatal blockage of the intestine or stomach.

It is recommended that you spend a good hour of your pet’s playtime interacting with him. You won’t necessarily have to crawl around on the floor with him, but you can pick up a toy and play tug of war, or roll a golf ball past him. Ferrets are good jumpers, and many owners find that interactive cat toys such as a “kitty teaser,” a simple wire or plastic-string toy with a securely attached feather or other object, bring out the gymnastic abilities of their fuzzballs. And don’t worry about feeling silly when you find yourself engaged in a game of hide-and-seek or chase-the-ferret–you’ll probably be having too much fun to notice!