Here’s some basic information
Ferrets have been domesticated for over 2000 years. They were originally used for pest control and hunting. They make great pets because they are very playful and love interacting with people. The name “ferret” is derived from the Latin word ferittus meaning “little thief”, hence ferrets are known to find and hide any little treasures they acquire.
A baby ferret is called a kit, they are usually spayed/neutered and de-scented before being sold. The process of descenting does not eliminate a ferret’s musky odor, it simply means the anal glands have been removed. Most ferrets only express their anal glands when startled or frightened. The musky odor of a ferret does not originate from these glands, but rather from secretions produced by other glands in their skin.
Housing: Ferrets are very sensitive to heat stroke, or stress. Their environments need to be at or below 80°F, therefore the cage should be in a well-ventilated area. Ferrets are usually easy to litter train by using a corner litter box that they can back up into easily. They sleep an average of 18 hours a day and do not mind being caged. When they are out playing, they need to be monitored closely. For example, if their head can fit through an opening, their body will follow. Ferrets love to chew on anything including but not limited to, foam, plastic, or rubber. They will often chew and eat off small pieces of objects thus leading to gastrointestinal blockage and possibly expensive surgery. Ultimately, “ferret proofing” your house before letting them play is the best prevention.
Grooming: Ferrets can be bathed every 2-3 weeks using a mild hypoallergenic shampoo. Bathing more frequently can cause an overproduction of oils in the skin resulting in a pronounced musky odor. Additionally, they need their nails trimmed, ears cleaned, and teeth brushed. Ferrets groom themselves much like a cat and are prone to develop hairballs. Administering a product called Laxatone a couple of times a week is a good way to prevent hairballs from forming.
Diet: Ferrets should have food and fresh water available at all times. They are true carnivores and require a diet that is very high in protein. A high-quality food such as Totally Ferret is a good choice. Supplements are usually not necessary if feeding a high-quality diet. A product called FerraTone can be used for training or distracting your pet during a nail trim. Treats should be kept to a minimum and those that contain dairy or sugar should be avoided. Many of the same things that are toxic to dogs and cats are also toxic to ferrets. Make sure to check with a licensed veterinarian before giving your ferret any new treats.
Vaccines: Young ferrets should be vaccinated with an approved distemper vaccine at 8 weeks of age and then every 3 weeks until they are 14-16 weeks old. After that, the vaccine is boostered yearly to maintain immunity. At 12 weeks of age, a rabies vaccine should also be given and then boostered yearly. Most baby ferrets have not received their rabies vaccine before being sold.
Parasites: Kits are known to have ear mites so, on the initial veterinary exam, an ear swab should be performed. A yearly fecal exam is necessary to check for intestinal parasites. Ferrets are also susceptible to heartworm disease and fleas. Just one heartworm can be fatal to your ferret so they should be on an approved preventative all year long. Do not use a flea collar on your ferret and consult your veterinarian about which flea products are safe and effective.
Senior care: Ferrets usually live 6-8 years and are considered geriatric at 3 years of age. Diagnostics such as yearly blood work, a urinalysis, and radiographs should be performed to allow for early detection of diseases. Dental disease also occurs in ferrets therefore, they may require a professional dental cleaning.
As you can see, ferrets require a bit more care and commitment than some other pocket pets.
However, for someone looking for a very intelligent and fun-loving pet, these little creatures can be perfect. As long as you do your research before bringing home these balls of energy, you can gain a pet that will bring you lots of joy and companionship for years to come.
By: Dr. Michelle Hessell, The WellPet Center Veterinary Hospital