Mustela putorius furo, or simply Ferrets, is the European polecat’s domesticated form, joining cats and dogs’ ranks nearly 2000 years ago. They are members of the weasel family.
Ferrets’ furs’ are typically brown, black, white, or mixed in color. They are brilliant and social pets and, in the past, people used them for hunting rabbits.
Even though they seem small, easy to care for, taking care of them is a big responsibility and sometimes requires just as much care as a cat or dog.
Ferrets have their unique requirements as cats and dogs do, so let us learn about them.
Ferrets’ natural lifespan is 7-10 years, with the current record for the oldest ferret being 14 years, with some speculating it was 15 years. Ferrets are sexually dimorphic, meaning males are substantially larger than females.
Ferrets are social and affectionate animals, and if you wish to adopt one, please consider buying them in pairs so that they have a companion of their species and don’t feel lonely.
Ferrets weigh between 0.7 and 2.0 kg (1.5 and 4.4 lb) and with an average length of 51 cm, including a 13 cm tail. They are curious animals and quite active when they are awake.
Before adopting a ferret, one must check if it is legal to assume it in the region where you are staying; like Ferrets are banned in New Zealand because of the environmental havoc they may cause as an invading species.
If you have kids in your home, it is recommendable that you do not buy a ferret as they are easily injured if not handled well or may bite in self-defence. Ferrets are quite fragile and need proper care.
In nature, ferrets usually hunt rodents, rabbits, and birds, so you shouldn’t give them access to such animals if you are adopting one. Ferrets generally coexist peacefully and sometimes amicably with cats and dogs.
Ferrets, just like cats, love to nap and usually sleep 18-20 hours a day. When they are awake, however, they get zoomies and are playful pets. They love to bounce around, climb and run and would invite you to play with them.
Playing with them will make them happy, and they love to crawl through cardboard boxes, large PVC pipes, clothes, dryer hoses, paper bags, and even pant legs or long shirt sleeves.
Ferrets are like cats when it comes to grooming; they are naturally clean animals and have a mild musky odour. This scent won’t go away, no matter how many times you bathe your otter. They prefer to keep themselves clean.
The unneutered ferrets have a much worse smell, but most of the market’s ferrets remain neutered. A pair of anal glands are also present in them, which has quite strong-smelling secretions. But most of the ferrets have them surgically removed.
The process of grooming entails:
You must cut the ferret’s nails once a week from getting them from growing too long; if your ferret’s nails overgrow, then more than once in a week. The following is an easy way to do that:
- Lay your ferret on your lap
- Give the ferret its favourite liquid treat
- As the ferret licks it, cut the nails
Be careful not to cut a red vein near the nails; it will cause bleeding when nicked.
It would help if you cleaned your ferret’s teeth at least once every week. Ferrets have a nibble type of diet that makes it necessary to brush their teeth to prevent plaque build-up. Make sure that you use ferret-friendly toothpaste. Never use human toothpaste.
Ensure that you use a rubber finger brush to get each little tooth. The cleansing of teeth is a part that you should not neglect.
The ears need to be cleaned once in two weeks. To clean them, one must use a dampened cotton ball or swab with a ferret ear cleaning solution recommended by your vet.
Gently clean the loosened debris from the outer ear. If using a swab, make sure you don’t push it too far inside. If the waste isn’t coming out, put a couple of drops of the cleaning solution directly into the ear and gently massage, which will loosen the wax.
Note: If the debris coming out is black or dark black, it may be a sign of ear mites or infection, and a vet’s consultation is essential for that.
Bathing is one of the essential parts of the grooming process of a ferret. It would be most sensible if you bathe your ferret only once in 3-4 months. Ferrets, like cats, tend to keep themselves clean and maintain their appearance.
Keeping the bathing minimum is what you should not forget. Bathing a ferret too much will strip its skin and coat all of the natural oils, which will cause the body to replenish them and produce more and more fats. So, over-bathing a ferret can lead to its odor getting worse.
If your ferret has gotten into something muddy and is truly dirty, bathe it. If ferrets’ natural scent bothers you, change their bedding twice a week and keeping the litter boxes clean will lessen the smell’s intensity to a certain level.
When bathing a ferret, use warm water—test it first the way people do while cleaning a baby—and use a special ferret-friendly shampoo. It is better to avoid washing the head and eyes, and the focus should be on the abdomen and tail area.
Use a special massaging brush made especially for small animals. It will help if you rinse thoroughly, as shampoo residue will cause itching and irritation.
Ferrets are obligate carnivores, meaning meat should be the essential part of their diet. A ferret diet must be high in fat, the primary energy source, and meat-based proteins.
Vegetable-based proteins may cause medical conditions such as bladder stones, GI disease, low growth, etc., as ferrets can’t adequately digest them. Avoid foods high in fibre like grains.
If your ferret is consuming dry kibble, make sure that it contains at least 30% to 40% crude animal protein and 15% to 20% fat. Whole prey foods such as mice, rats, and snakes make up the best ferret diet.
A vet clinic can provide a specialised ferret diet. Make sure that this diet doesn’t have any fish-based ingredients. Giving them a piece of chicken or turkey as a treat is not a problem.
Ferret-specific treats on the market should be avoided as most of them do not contain meat, preferably grains and sweeteners, which can be dangerous to their health. Ferrets should consume a variety of food from a young age.
An instant change in the diet could make the ferret sick. Freshwater should be provided and changed at regular intervals.
The habitat having a minimum of 18 x 18 x 30 inches size with multiple levels of stairs or ramps they can climb is ideal for a ferret. A habitat as an aquarium is not recommendable due to lack of ventilation; wire cages are much more suitable.
Like cats, ferrets can squeeze through a minimal space, so the cage should have tiny gaps and a secured latch. Washable carpet, linoleum flooring, etc., should be covering the floor, and there should be no wires.
Newspaper covering, wood flooring, and pine or cedar chips are avoidable as flooring. The flooring should be getting cleaned regularly using vinegar as a disinfectant to kill the germs.
As ferrets or any other animal can’t live in a cage for all its life, so make sure you ferret-proof your house; here are some things you should examine:
- Cabinets and drawers which the ferret can open
- Filled bathtubs, toilets, water and paint buckets
- It can inhale furnace dust.
- Kitchen sponges, erasers, shoes, foam rubber, etc. are easier to nibble upon
- Holes and exposed wires
- Recliners and sofa beds, a ferret may be crushed between their levers and springs.
- Houseplants that may be poisonous
- Plastic bags
Ferrets can be easily litter trained, and as they like to litter in the corners, keeping a litter box at the hub can increase your chances. A litter box with paper-based litter is the best as they will not nibble it.
It would help if you kept ferrets in a chilly and shady area; in areas where the temperature regularly reaches above 27 degrees Celsius, a fan’s installation is recommendable in their habitat.
Ferrets require routine veterinary visits. A rabies shot is essential for your ferret in an area specified for dogs and cats. Heartworms, fleas, and distemper can occur to your ferret, so consult your veterinarian about preventive measures.
Note: Dips, sprays, or collars are not advisable to use to combat fleas.
Ferrets should be spayed and neutered before reaching sexual maturity, anytime between 6-12 months. The females must stay in heat once they are in the heat until they mate, leading to a few fatal conditions like pyometra and aplastic anaemia.
Neutering also dramatically decreases a male’s body and urine odour once he matures and prevents his habit of urine-marking his territory in your home. The grooming should follow the ways detailed above.
Some common conditions in ferrets are physical injury, adrenal disease, pancreatic cancer, skin tumors, human influenza, blockages in the stomach or intestines, green slime disease, heart disease, Aleutian disease, etc.