2 cute ferrets laying next to eachother

Ferrets

Ferrets are the long furry pets that love to play, run and hide for hours at a time. They make excellent family pets because they are so playful and curious. They are great for children over 6 years of age because they will keep them busy running around and playing games with them.

Many families like them because of their shorter life span. They have an average lifespan of five to eight years, which means parents won’t be caring for these while their children are away at college.

Ferrets are social animals and they’re usually happiest if you have 2 or more of them. This will keep them from feeling lonely while the family is out for the day, or if there isn’t time to let them out and run around for long.

Ferrets will get along with most family pets including cats, dogs, and certain other pets (except for birds, rabbits, and rodents). With a little bit of training they can even be taught to use a litter box. Their feeding needs are nothing crazy either, they can eat regular cat food or ferret food.

The one thing Ferrets can do that might drive you a bit crazy is they love to escape and hide.  They are quite talented at opening the doors to their cage, but there are ways to keep them inside. It would also be a good idea to Ferret-proof your home, blocking all holes and spaces under and behind furniture/appliances and preventing access to cupboards.

Information about Ferrets

  • Average Size: 9 to 15 inches
  • Average Weight: 2 to 4 pounds
  • Coat Colors: Sable, Black Sable, Black, Chocolate and Cinnamon
  • Grooming Needs: High
  • Sensitive to Touch: No
  • Good tolerance to Heat and Cold: Cold yes but not to heat 
  • Good Pet: With early socialization and training, yes
  • Safe with Children: With training yes but not for children under 6 years.
  • Good with Other Ferrets: Yes
  • Good with Other Pets: With dogs and cats yes but not with smaller pets like birds and rodents.
  • Suitable for First-Time Pet Owners: No
  • Training: Easy to train
  • Exercise Needs: Moderate
  • Weight Gain: Low
  • Health Concerns: They tend to have Ferret Dilated Cardiomyopathy, Ferret Lymphoma, Aplastic Anemia, Dental Issues and Digestive Disorders
  • Allergies: Ferrets are allergic to strong scents, dust and dirt which can lead to respiratory infections
  • Average Life Span: 6 to 12 years

Physical Appearance of Ferrets

Ferrets have a long and thin tube-like body with a short tail. They look very similar to weasels but are larger and also have different coat colors. Male Ferrets are longer and weigh more than females. 

Ferrets come in a variety of colors and patterns like solid, stripped, points and panda. Sable color Ferrets are the most common type kept as pets. These Ferrets have a top coat of brown color with an undercoat of cream to gold color. 

Ferrets are classified by type, which is a mix of colors and patterns. There is only one breed of Ferrets, but depending on the color and pattern they have is what type they are called.

Temperament of Ferrets

Ferrets are curious, sociable and playful. They are also intelligent and enjoy solving complex puzzles and games. Ferrets are mostly quiet and make noise only when they feel frightened. Most Ferrets love to interact and cuddle with their owners but sometimes like all animals they can enjoy time alone or with another pet. 

Ferrets are nocturnal animals and most active during the early morning and in the evening. They sleep between 14 to 18 hours a day! These are great pets for owners who are busy during the day and don’t have any free time for their pets until the evenings. The good thing is that Ferrets are known to adapt to the sleeping patterns of their owners.

They tend to bite other Ferrets and their owners during playtime. They can bite out of fear or in a way that seems playful for them. If the bite is anything more than a playful nip, correct the behavior when they do it, and eventually they will learn not to bite. Try not to punish them for biting as it can increase their aggressive behavior. You can use a time-out cage to reduce their biting.

a ferret outside looking for something to eat
3 cute ferrets in a line looking at the camera

Training Ferrets

Ferrets are intelligent and can be trained to perform various tricks and tasks. To train them you have to be consistent and affectionate. They should be rewarded with praise and treats while training. Some tricks that you can train your Ferrets to do are shaking their paws, to sit and to roll over. 

An important part of training Ferrets is to reduce their biting. To do this you can put them in a time-out cage every time they bite. The cage does not have to be big but should have a litter box and water bowl. It should be separate from the cage that the Ferret uses to sleep. A 60 x 30 cm time-out cage will be enough space since they will not be in it very long. Keep them in the cage for around 5 minutes but not any longer. Slowly they will associate the time-out cage as a punishment for biting.

Just like Rabbits, Ferrets can also be trained to use the litter box. You can train them to use the litter box by placing them inside the box after they wake up. Reward them with treats or toys every time they use the litter box to encourage them to use it.

An easier way to train Ferrets is by using clicker training to reinforce and reward positive behaviors. The Ferret understands from the click that they did a good job, and positive attention is the easiest way to teach things to pets.

Their Compatibility with Children

Ferrets are not a good choice for families with children under 6 years. Young children can get excited and be rough with the Ferret which can cause aggressive behavior from these small animals. They may bite the child and hurt them. Likewise small children can also injure Ferrets because they do not have an understanding of how to hold these small animals.

Older children should be trained on how to handle and play with Ferrets. The child needs to know that Ferrets behave differently than pets like cats and dogs. Until the children know how to properly interact with the Ferrets an adult should supervise their interactions. 

How to Handle a Ferret

Ferrets have varying temperaments and it is difficult to determine how they will respond to handling. Try to be gentle and slow when you start to handle them in the beginning.

Hold them by placing one hand around their neck and shoulders. It will support their fragile spine and make them feel safe. The other hand should support their bottom. If you lift them up, make sure to hold them against your body as it will prevent them from falling.   

To carry them around you can place the Ferrets inside a pet carrying bag that is available at most pet stores.

Best Habitat for Ferrets

When selecting a cage, make sure you have enough space to keep a water bowl, litter box and toys. Multi-level cages are great for your Ferrets because it lets them climb around and get some exercise even while you are not around. The cage should be easy to clean for your convenience. 

Place the cage in a location that is free from moisture and has a temperature range of 60 to 80 degrees. It should be kept in a well-ventilated area. Avoid keeping the cage close to the window which receives direct sunlight or in a hot area. Ferrets do not have sweat glands and can get a heat stroke if exposed to too much heat.

Cage

Ferrets are smart and small which can allow them to squeeze through tiny spaces. The bars for their cage should be spaced be less than 1 inch to prevent the Ferrets from squeezing through.  For Ferrets a wire cage with a padded bottom is the best option. The wire cage should not have any sharp edges or rough wire that can hurt them. 

The cage should be at least 3’L x 3’W x 2’H or they will feel cramped. The bigger size will help the Ferrets to exercise and move around. If you have more than one Ferret then the size of the cage should be larger. 

Ferrets are smart and will figure out how to open door doors with latches or clasps. To prevent the Ferrets from escaping the cage door should have a double-latch or be secured with a tight lock. 

2 cute ferrets laying together

Bedding

For bedding (the material at the bottom of the cage), shredded paper is a popular option, but newspapers don’t do much to absorb if your pet misses the litter box. There are commercial shredded paper options that are soft and hold odors well.  Soft cloth like felt can be nice and soft, and it is reusable after it’s washed. A clean towel or a small blanket can also be used for bedding. If you use fabric, make sure that if it starts to shred that you dispose of it so that your pets do not try to eat it. Avoid using rubber or foam as bedding because the Ferrets can eat these materials which can lead to intestinal problems. 

Sleeping Area

Ferrets like to burrow and sleep in a small and cozy area. You can expect that the Ferrets will arrange whatever bedding materials you get them in a way that you will not even be able to see them while they sleep. Anything that is washable is a great choice. Old towels, or t-shirts, dishrags or scraps of felt all make good choices. 

Toys

The cage should have ample toys to keep the Ferrets entertained while they are inside. Plastic toys or balls, Ferret balls, cardboard boxes, hanging parrot toys, play tents and cloth bags are some toys that should keep their interest. Avoid using soft rubber or latex material toys as the Ferrets can chew them apart and may choke on the pieces. 

Because Ferrets are very smart, another good option for them are puzzle toys.  Something that can keep them occupied for a short period of time and stimulate their mind. Pets are much happier if they have something that they have to actually think about to solve.  Most puzzle toys involve small treats being found as an incentive to have them solve it.

Litter Box

Keep one litter box in the cage and a few more in their playing area. If you have several Ferrets, you should have more litter boxes than you do Ferrets. Shredded paper or newspaper can be used for litter bedding, or cat litter can even be used.

Habitat Maintenance

Any poop or uneaten food on the bed of the cage should be removed every day. Clean the food dish and water bowls every day and replace it with fresh water. 

Weekly washing of bedding and toys should be done. The cage should be cleaned once every week using a light bleach solution. Carefully wipe the floor, walls, and sleeping area inside the cage with the bleach solution. 

Rotate and replace the broken or worn out toys with new ones every week. Giving them new toys will keep the Ferrets interested and help them avoid boredom from the same toys. 

The Attention Requirements of Ferrets

Ferrets are social and need a lot of interaction and playtime. They should spend 2 to 4 hours every day outside the cage. Because of their social and play needs it is recommended to keep Ferrets in pairs so that they can play with their companions.

Make sure you Ferret-proof your home before letting them out of the cage. They are small animals who can escape from tiny openings or easily climb over baby gates. 

Ferrets are known to chew on things. All the wires and the cords in the house should be covered with a casing to prevent the Ferrets from chewing them.

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Health Issues

Ferrets do not adapt well to changes in diet and many health conditions are because of poor diets. Diet changes can lead to digestive issues or changes in the texture of their coats. With good food and enough exercise, most Ferrets will live healthily and be happy.

Some common diseases in domesticated Ferrets are listed below:

Digestive Disorders

Ferrets will chew almost anything they can get a hold of, including their own fur while grooming themselves. It makes them prone to having certain digestive diseases like hairballs, or having small objects stuck in their digestive tract. The hairballs can lodge in their stomach or intestine, making it difficult for them to eat food or lead to constipation. They may also vomit the hairballs. Common signs of a Ferret having digestive issues are improper defecation, loss of weight or loss of appetite. If you see any of these signs, take them immediately to a vet.

Dental Issues 

Ferrets can develop plaque and tartar on their teeth. The accumulation of tartar can cause gum irritation or severe infections in the mouth. If you can, weekly brushings will go a long way towards keeping their teeth and gums healthy. Regular dental care like brushing their teeth and giving them lots of toys to chew will help them to keep their teeth clean. Ferrets with advanced periodontal disease may require them to have teeth removed. This is why regular teeth cleaning by the owners is essential. Give their teeth a weekly check and take them to the vet if you see any dental issues. 

Aplastic Anemia 

Aplastic Anemia is a common Ferret disease that results in lethargy, weakness and pale gums. The disease results in the bone marrows of the Ferrets to get suppressed. It will result in lower production of White Blood Cells. The condition occurs in unspayed females when they are looking to mate. The high levels of estrogen during this period can suppress bone marrow function. Treatments include hormonal therapy, iron and vitamin supplements, and antibiotics. To prevent female Ferrets from having this condition it is recommended to have them spayed when they are young.  

Ferret Lymphoma 

Lymphoma is a common cancer that affects Ferret’s lymphoid system. Symptoms of Lymphoma include diarrhea, coughing, breathing problems, weakness of the limbs and blood in feces. A major cause of concern is that affected Ferrets may show no symptoms for up to a year. There is no specific reason that would cause a Ferret to develop lymphoma. Surgery and radiation therapy, along with drugs are used to treat lymphoma. Treatments for this disease are not a cure and will only prolong the life of the Ferrets. 

Ferret Dilated Cardiomyopathy 

Dilated Cardiomyopathy is a common heart disease in Ferrets that causes the muscle cells in the heart to die which makes the heart unable to pump enough blood. The cause of the disease is unknown and is commonly seen in Ferrets who are above 2 years. The symptoms of Dilated Cardiomyopathy are:

  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Coughing
  • Increased Respiration
  • Fluid build-up in chest and abdomen

Most of these symptoms do not appear until there has already been a lot of damage. Take them to the vet immediately if your Ferret shows any of the above symptoms. The vet will give medications that will assist the Ferret’s heart to pump blood and prescribe dietary changes to improve their overall health.

General Grooming Tips for Ferrets

Just like rabbits and cats, Ferrets also like to keep themselves clean but they still need some grooming. Grooming includes bathing them, trimming their nails, brushing their fur and dental care.

Bathing

When it comes to bathing there are diverse opinions on how frequently to bathe them. Most owners will bathe their Ferrets because of the strong scent that these animals produce. Bathing tends to dry out their skin and coat. It is recommended to bathe them only when they get dirty, if they smell too bad or once a month. Use a special pet-friendly shampoo to bathe your Ferret. Check how your Ferrets responds to bathing as some may not enjoy bathing as others do. 

Brushing

Regular brushing is important as it will help to keep their coat clean and also prevent the Ferrets from having hairballs inside their stomach or intestine. You can use a soft-bristle brush to brush their coat. Ferrets may not like being brushed for long, so make sure the duration is short. You can brush them once every week and more frequently when they are shedding.

Dental Care

To prevent tooth and gum infections, the Ferrets should be brushed once every week. A toothbrush for cats can be used to brush their teeth. Avoid using human toothpaste as it can be harmful for them. Some Ferrets may not like brushing and a lot of patience might be needed. 

Use a liquid supplement to gently wipe their teeth.

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Nail Trimming

To trim their nails use a clipper designed for animals. Avoid trimming too far as it can cut the blood vessels in their nails and cause them pain. The part of the nail with blood vessels will have a slight pink shade. Make sure you restrain your Ferret carefully before you start trimming their nails and have a styptic powder close to you. If you accidentally cut their blood vessels, take some powder and apply it to the affected area. 

Ear Cleaning

Ferrets tend to have wax build-up in the ears. Check and clean their ears every week to prevent possible blockage or ear infections. Put a few drops of mild ear cleaning solution in their ear and massage their ears from the outside. When you finish the Ferret will almost always shake its head. Any loosened wax should come out of their ears when they do this so it is best to do it where you can easily see and clean up the wax. Avoid inserting a cotton swab inside the ears as it can compact the wax or damage their ear canals. Use the cotton swab to only remove the wax from the outside part of the ears.

a brown ferret eating ferret food from a glass bowl

Feeding Ferrets

Ferrets are carnivores and should be fed eggs, fish and meat. You can also feed them commercial Ferret food or kitten food. Make sure the commercial food you get is a high-quality pet food that has high levels of fat and meat-based protein. To keep their gums and teeth healthy they also need to be given some dry food. If the Ferret owner wanted they could be fed frozen pinkies, mice, and chicks daily as it will more closely mimic their diet in the wild. For cost reasons most will feed them other foods already mentioned.

Most Ferrets generally eat 5 to 7% of their body weight but you can also give them more as they will eat only what they need and are not known to overeat. Treats should not be more than 5% of their daily food intake. Feeding them more treats can lead to health issues from a poor diet.

The Ferrets have a high metabolism rate and a short digestive tract that allows them to digest the food quickly. It means they need to be fed more frequently than other animals and it is recommended to feed them something 3 or 4 times a day. If you are not able to feed them as much you can feed them extra when you can because overeating is usually not a problem for them.

If Ferrets don’t have access to water they can overheat and get dehydrated easily. Water should always be available in their cage. 

They should not be given a plant-based diet as it can cause bladder stones. Avoid feeding them milk and other dairy-based products as these are difficult for them to digest. Sugary foods like honey, fruit, raisins and other snacks are also not good for them.

Related Questions:

Is it legal to keep a Ferret as a pet?

In most states Ferrets are legal to be kept as pets but some have banned them. Ferrets are not allowed as pets in Hawaii, New York City, California and Washington, D.C. The State of Hawaii has an outright ban on keeping Ferrets as pets. Any violation can lead to imprisonment and a fine of up to $200,000! Some areas like California and the District of Columbia (Washington) grant waivers on a case-by-case basis. Reasons for banning Ferrets include concerns about biting, rabies and the possibility of escaped Ferrets establishing their own population that can disturb the local wildlife. Check with your local municipality before getting a Ferret as a pet.

Does the coat of the Ferret change colors?

Yes, Ferrets shed their coat two times a year – in the winter and summer. While shedding the color and the texture of the coat can change. The summer coat is short and silky while the winter coat is darker and thicker. Their coat can also change when they age or if they are fed a poor diet.

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