The Care and Feeding of Ferrets

by Herder Asriene

What is a Ferret?

Most people, when asked what a ferret is, would say something along the lines of, "Oh, it's a little stinky weasel thing." /Wrong/! There's so much more to this little Mustelidae than meets the eye.

The domestic ferret, closely related to the otter, badger, weasel, polecat, and skunk, came over from Europe several hundred years ago. Since then, their popularity as pets has shot upward at an amazing rate.

If you are thinking about getting a ferret for a pet, you should keep a few things in mind. First , ferrets are not any different than any other pets that you may have owned. As a ferret pet owner, you must been willing to provide your ferret with the right kind of food, necessary health care (vaccinations, checkups, ets.), and clean, safe surroundings. Ferrets are very social animals. They will need attention from you. If you will be away from home frequently, you might perhaps consider purchasing an additional ferret as a companion. We would highly recommend that you consider purchasing a ferret that has been spayed or neutered (this can be done by any Beasthealer), descented, and has had its first set of vaccinations. This book is dedicated to telling you more of the habits and behavior of this fascinating animal.

Food and Exercise

Feed a high quality dry ferret or kitten food with at least 32% protein. Ferrets also like a variety of tastes, preferring chicken and lamb. We mix three kinds together, alternating flavors. Steer towards all natural foods preserved with Vitamin E and little star shapes. Steer away from fish-based foods because they can cause your ferret to smell very strong.

Ferrets are obligate carnivores. They lack the elongated cecum it takes to digest non-animal based proteins, so it is best to avoid feeding your ferret fruits or vegetables. Treats should consist of meat-based items such as jerky or dried liver. After all, if you're going to feed your pet treats, you might as well make sure it's healthy! Limit amount of treats to to roughly one tablespoon per day. Food and water should be made available at all times. Ferrets as a rule do not overeat but if you have an overweight ferret and have eliminated other causes, it may be time to place your ferret on a lower-calorie diet. Please consult with your Beasthealer before placing your pet on a diet.

Play and activity are essential to good health. Ferrets need at least 4 hours free time a day, more is preferable. A ferret will sleep about 18 hours out of every 24 in small intervals, but will quickly adapt to your schedule. A ferret that is caged too much will develop apathy and depression. This will result in their either refusing food or getting too fat, eating out of boredom. If a ferret has love handles it needs more time out! They are naturally curious and will entertain themselves, coming around often to seek you out to play. They are also good sleeping companions and like to snuggle under the covers at night, getting up only to use the litter pan or eat.

Housing

For the protection of your ferret you should choose to confine them during times that you are sleeping and away from home. Some people have set up special "ferret-proof rooms" for this confinement. Others use wire cages (you can get these from your local herder).

The major components of a comfortable home for your little one consists of:

* a litter box of some type
* a snug place to sleep
* an area for food and water
* a place to play
* a place for toys that will keep your ferret busy and occupied while you're away

Ferrets are very curious. More so than cats, and they're capable of getting into very small places. If you are planning to allow your little "rug shark" free run of the house or a special room, you will have to inspect to be certain there are no small holes your pet can get into. Spaces 1"x2" or larger are big enough for almost any ferret to crawl through. They're not intentionally destructive. They do not claw furniture, rugs, etc. like a cat. But they will select some amusing items to store in secret hiding places of their own choosing.

Ferrets are people-oriented. They /must/ have human contact every day, just like a human child. They bond to their people and become very depressed if left to sit in a cage constantly. They /can/ be caged, however, if you aren't able to safely ferret-proof your home. In that case, they should be caged when you aren't home or overnight. NEVER keep a ferret in a glass cage or container. They need ventilation and fresh air. Ferrets aren't rodents; they're mustelids.

Your ferret's cage should be no less than 24"x24"x18" high. A multi-level cage is even nicer if the rug shark must be in it for any length of time. Recommended creature comforts: small pieces of cloth or rug on the ramps, ceramic tile on the floor, a litter box, and something snuggly for your ferret to curl up in. The Herders carry a line of "ferret-approved" bedding items. They're warm, washable, and the ferrets just /love/ them!

Litter Facilities

Ferrets make wonderful pets because of their engaging personalities, playful activity, and fastidious nature. They can be trained to use a litter box as well. Clumping litters are not recommended because they can clump on your ferret's bottom and cause an infection. Never use soft-wood shavings in your carpet shark's litter box—they cause fumes that can irritate and depress the immune system of the respiratory tract. Litter should be changed frequently (1-2 times a day) to reduce odor.

When pottying, ferrets tend to back into corners, making them fairly easy to litter train. A litter box in one or two corners of the cage or ferret room will usually do the trick. But remember, accidents /do/ happen.

Health and Care

VACCINATIONS
Canine distemper is one hundred percent fatal to ferrets. We suggest getting your ferret vaccinated immediately, especially for kits (babies) and ferrets who have never been immunized. This should be followed by a booster once a Turn.

COLDS AND FLUS
Ferrets are highly susceptible to human colds and flus. They will develop the same symptoms humans do; runny noses, watery eyes, and may develop sneezing or coughing fits and not eat properly for several days. There is generally no need for medication. Just keep them warm, dry, out of drafts, and give them plenty of water and rest for five to seven days.

FATTY SUPPLEMENTS
It may be necessary for some animals to receive additional supplements to improve coat quality. We find this most essential during the winter months when the air in our rooms in very dry and detrimental to a ferret's skin and coat. Fatty supplements may also be given as a treat, believe it or not. You can get these from your local beasthealer or herder, but they must be used sparingly (4 to 5 drops per day). Be sure not to overdose.

HAIRBALLS
Ferrets do lick themselves clean, much like cats, and may accumulate hair in the stomach. In order to avoid this, a small, stiff brush is recommended to be used upon the ferret's coat at least once every two or three days.

BATHING
Kits (baby carpet sharks) have a musky odor. Just as babies learn to control their bodily functions, a kit learns to control its musk glands. Normally, by four months of age, your kit will no longer 'automatically' smell funny. Occasionally, fear or excitement will cause your pet to express a heavy musky odor. Much like the passing of gas, this dissipates in minutes. A 'convenience' ferret is already spayed/neutered and descented. Whole ferrets do smell more because sexual hormones makes them 'more desirable' to other ferrets. Having them altered removes these normal, heavy, musk smells. Generally your pet shouldn't need a bath more than once a month. Keeping the bedding clean helps as well. In between bathing we wipe ours down with an aloe extract on a rag.

OOC Facts

  • All ferrets sold in Massachusetts must be spayed, neutered, and have initial rabies and distemper vaccinations.
  • Ferrets are not often territorial. They actually get along with other ferrets quite well, and with dogs and cats if introduced properly.
  • Ferrets do not go "feral" or "wild". A loose ferret will typically die of starvation within 4 days. They have no instinctive knowledge of what is or isn't food because they imprint on food at young ages.
  • They will die within twenty-four hours of exposure as they cannot tolerate freezing weather or heat of 90F or higher.
  • There have been no reports of any feral colonies of domestic ferrets in any of the 48 United States in which they are legal.
  • Ferrets are commonly mistaken for their distant cousin, the Black-Footed Ferret.
  • In Massachusetts, only licensed breeders and research institutes are allowed to possess "whole" or unaltered ferrets.
  • Male ferrets typically weigh from 2-5 pounds and can grow up to 18 inches in length.
  • Female ferrets weight about half as much as males and can grow up to 16 inches in length.
  • A group of ferrets is called a "business".
  • A female ferret is called a Jill and a male, a Hob.
  • A spayed female is called a Sprite and a neutered male is called a Gib.
  • A single adult ferret can eat between 5 and 8 pounds of high-quality cat food every month.
  • Queen Elizabeth used to give away albino ferrets as gifts.
  • It is rumored that Gengis Khan had a ferret as a pet.
  • Ferrets first came to the United States over five hundred years ago from Europe.
  • Ferrets give off special musky odors in their burrows that scare mice and rats away (good for people who dislike these animals!).
  • It is noted that male ferrets typically become quite aggressive if they are not neutered.

General Overview

WHAT IS A FERRET?

a) A small furry mammal of the mustelid family whose size ranges from 1 to 5 pounds.
b) An animal derived from the Steppe and European polecats and domesticated over 3000 years ago, long before the house cat.
c) Only distantly related to the endangered American Black Footed Ferret (Mustelid Nigripes).

WHAT DOES MY FERRET NEED TO TAKE HIM HOME?

A carrier for travel from herder's office to home.
A roomy, well-ventilated cage with a solid floor, more than one level preferred. (NEVER use an aquarium to house a ferret) A litter box with non-clumping cat litter.
Food in a heavy, non-tip dish or bottle for the side of the cage.
Some bedding; a cotton towel, old sweatshirt, or a hammock to curl up and sleep in. NEVER use cedar or pine shavings as they cause respiratory illnesses.

WHAT SHOULD I FEED MY FERRET?

A dry cat/kitten food with at least 20% fat and 32% meat or poultry protein (OOC: http://www.mdferretpaws.org/care/food_treats.html). Ferrets need to eat every few hours so food and water should always be available.

WHAT CARE DOES MY FERRET NEED?

Introductory canine distemper shots, usually at 6, 8, 12, and 16 weeks; rabies (NEVER a modified live virus vaccine) at 12 weeks; then rabies and distemper annually. Consult your beasthealer for exact schedules for shots.
Twice monthly nail clipping and ear cleaning.
Lots of 'out of cage' playtime each and every day.
Weekly 'Petromalt' treatment to prevent hairballs and pass obstructions.
If your ferret is unusually inactive or stops eating for more than a day, consult your beasthealer immediately.

HOW DO I PROTECT MY FERRET?

Ferrets cannot tolerate temperatures over 80-90 degrees F and overheat very quickly. Never leave a ferret alone in a car, even for a moment.

Ferrets are extremely curious and will sometimes chew or eat things that can cause problems. Be especially careful of pencil erasers, balloons, rubber bands, and Styrofoam (or the equivalent). Dishwashers, clotheswashers, dryers, refrigerators, and other large household appliances can quickly 'exterminate' a curious carpet shark who happens to wander into or under them.

Ferrets like to explore. Loose windows and screens and any small opening can easily result in an unwanted adventure for a ferret and its owner who, undoubtedly, was not watching carefully. 'Ferret proofing' is best carried out by a ferret and its owner working together as a team to carefully ferret out (hardy har har) and seal off these hidden hazards.

FUN THINGS TO BUY FOR MY FERRET:

A comfortable sleeping hammock to hang in his/her cage.
A ferret tent or basket to provide some privacy while sleeping.
A ferret harness (must be an H-type body harness) and leash for walking in the warmer weather.
A ferret-carrying sack to hoist your carpet shark around with you.
Tubes and tunnels (piping) in which your pet can play.
Another ferret to sleep with and to be a best friend.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License