If you looking for a pet that is quiet, cute, cuddly, and playful, then ferrets might be the right choice. Ferrets are smart, can learn their name, and can even be taught to do tricks. Many people tend to mistake them for rodents, but they are actually part of the weasel family and more like a cross between a cat and a dog.
Mustela putorius furo
Pet ferrets were domesticated over 2000 years ago and were used to hunt vermin. They are descendants of the European polecat, also known as the common ferret, which are native to western Eurasia and north Morocco.
7 to 10 years.
Full grown adult ferrets average 20 inches (51 cm) long, which includes a 5 inch (13 cm) tail, and they weigh 1.5 to 4 pounds (0.7–2 kg). Males are larger than females.
Where it is illegal to own ferrets
In the United States, it is illegal to own ferrets in California, Hawaii, Washington D.C., and New York City. Some states and cities require you to have a permit. It is best to check what the laws are where you live before you get a ferret.
How to tell males from females
Male ferrets are called hobs or jacks, and females are called jills. You can tell them apart similar to how you tell male and female dogs apart. Here is a website with more info and pictures if you need them: Ferret Sexing
Ferrets do have an odor caused by hormone production and anal scent glands. They only produce an odor from their anal scent glands if they are afraid. Pet ferrets are kept in a safe environment and very rarely scared, so this shouldn’t be a problem. In the United States, it is common to have their anal scent glands removed, but it is actually an illegal procedure in many countries.
You can have your ferret spayed/neutered to eliminate the odors caused by hormones. Most other odors can be taken care of by keeping their cage and litter box clean and giving them occasional baths (not more than once a month).
Ferrets do require vaccinations just like a cat or dog. Before taking your ferret home, make sure that your ferret has been given the necessary vaccinations. They require a series of distemper vaccinations when they are young and then they get an annual booster. They also require rabies vaccinations at 12 weeks of age and then annually.
Just like dogs and cats, ferrets can be infected by this parasite. Heartworms can cause heart failure and death, so it is best to prevent them. Heartworms are transmitted by mosquitoes. Talk to your veterinarian about how often you need to give the medication. Depending on where you live, you may need to give it all year long.
If you are not planning on breeding your ferrets, you should spay/neuter them, even if you only have one ferret. For females, this is especially important.
When female ferrets go into heat, they stay in heat until they are bred. Due to the constant hormones from being in heat all the time, they can develop aplastic anemia which in most cases is fatal.
When male ferrets go into rut, they are not very fun to be around. They get territorial, aggressive, smell really bad, and mark their territory everywhere with their foul-smelling ferret cologne.
What time of day are ferrets active?
Ferrets are crepuscular, which means they are the most active around dusk and dawn. Ferrets like to sleep a lot, 16-18 hours a day.
Ferrets are gregarious and enjoy the company of their own kind. If possible, you should keep more than one ferret. They will keep each other company and play together. It is okay to keep a single ferret by itself, but then you need to make sure to spend extra time with it every day.
Ferret fur and shedding
Ferrets have two coats of fur. They have an undercoat of soft, dense fur for insulation and a top coat of longer, thicker hair that helps repel dirt and liquid. Ferrets shed their coats twice a year with the change of seasons in spring and fall for their summer and winter coats.
You can help your ferret along during shedding season by brushing once a day using a ferret brush or a cat brush. You can also bathe your ferret to help with shedding, but don’t bathe more often than once a month.
It’s a good idea to brush your ferret once or twice a week in between shedding season to get rid of any loose hairs.
Ferrets can get hairballs just like cats, but unlike cats they are not able to cough them up. Instead, the hairball can form in the stomach and may require surgery to remove it. For this reason, it is a good idea to prevent hairballs by providing a supplement to prevent hairballs.
Bathing and nail trimming
Occasionally, you may need to bathe your ferret. If you keep their cage and bedding clean, you won’t need to do it too often. Do not bathe your ferret more than once a month as it will dry out their skin and hair too much and can actually make them smell worse. You can use a gentle shampoo made specifically for ferrets, kitten shampoo, or tear-free baby shampoo.
Your ferret’s nails will also need to be trimmed regularly. You can use cat or small animal nail clippers. These are the clippers I use for my small animals and they have worked well for me. It is a good idea to keep some styptic powder available just in case you cut too short so you can stop the bleeding quickly.
Ferrets do not tolerate heat at all. Ferrets cannot tolerate temperatures above 85 degrees Fahrenheit (29.4 Celsius) and it can even be fatal! They can tolerate cold better than hot. The ideal temperature range is 68 to 76 degrees Fahrenheit (20 to 24 degrees Celsius).
Ferret cage size
The minimum size cage for one or two ferrets is 3 feet long x 2 feet wide x 2 feet tall. Get the biggest size cage you can. Ferrets are very active and need lots of room to play. Multi-level cages are a great way to add more space for your ferrets. You can build your own cage or buy one.
Ferret Nation cages are very popular.
There are several options you can use to line the floor of your ferret cage. You want something that you can easily wash and that your ferret’s nails will not snag on. My favorite to use is fleece fabric which is very affordable, you can cut it to the size you need, and you can get it all different patterns and colors. Other options are carpet, sheets, blankets, or towels.
It is best to stay away from wood shavings as they can cause respiratory problems.
Food and water bowls
For food bowls, you can use heavy ceramic bowls that cannot be tipped over. For water, you can use a bowl that clamps on the side of the cage, a stoppered water bottle, or a heavy bowl that cannot tip over. You might need to try different things and see what works best for you and your ferret. Some ferrets like to make a big mess with their food and water.
Ferrets love to burrow and have a comfy place to sleep. There are many options such as hammocks, sleep sacks, soft comfy tunnels, and even small dog and cat beds. Giving them your old t-shirts to burrow in is another great idea and may even end up being their favorite!
Ferrets can be litter trained! You will need a litter box that has one high side and one low side like this one. For the litter material, you want to use recycled paper or wood pellets. Do not use clay litter as it is not safe for ferrets.
Ferrets love to play and need mental stimulation. There are many, many options you can use for ferret toys.
Ferrets love to run through tunnels. You can purchase tunnels or you can create your own tunnels using PVC pipe or corrugated drain pipes from the hardware store.
This octopus toy can be used to sleep in or play in.
They also love hard plastic balls, ping pong balls, hard plastic toys for babies such as rattles and teething rings, playhouses and tents, some dog and cat toys.
You can make them a ball pit using a cardboard or plastic box and filling it with balls!
You want to avoid toys that have parts that can break off and your ferret might accidentally swallow.
This site has some great homemade toy ideas: Homemade Ferret Toys.
This is an excellent video on how to set up your ferret cage with some really good tips!
Ferrets are carnivores and require a diet rich in animal protein and fat and low in carbohydrates. They are unable to digest plant fibers. In the wild, they would eat an entire animal carcass.
An ideal diet would be a raw meat diet that is human grade quality. Chicken, beef, and lamb are good choices. You can also buy frozen mice from pet stores to feed them.
For dry food, there are packaged ferret diets available. You should look for ones that have 32-40% animal protein and 20% fat on a caloric basis and avoid any that have corn or grain fillers. Ferrets can also eat high quality kitten food.
Ferrets like to eat several times a day, so it is a good idea to have some dry food available all the time. Feed raw meat daily, but only leave it out for about an hour at a time as it will go bad if left too long.
For treats, you can give raw or cooked egg and chicken pieces. You can also give them high quality cat treats.
Handling and time out of cage
Ferrets require time out of their cage every day so they can explore and get the exercise they need. Ferrets are very curious and can get into all kinds of places, so they should not be left unsupervised. It’s a good idea to put baby locks on cupboards and places you don’t want your ferret to get into.
You can also have your ferret wear a collar or harness with a bell attached so you can keep track of it while out of its cage.
Many people also use a playpen to provide a safe area to play outside of the cage.
Ferret death sleep
This could freak you out the first time you witness it. Sometimes ferrets can sleep so deeply you can’t wake them up. It’s like they are dead! You can pick them up and they will be completely limp and will not wake up for several minutes. This is normal! Some ferrets do it more often than others.
To check that your ferret is still alive, you can feel in its armpit for a pulse, make sure it is warm, check for breathing (it might be very shallow and hard to see). It should wake up on its own after a little while, but you can try putting some of its favorite food in front of its nose.
Enclosure cleaning and maintenance
Keeping your ferret’s cage, bedding, and litter box clean will help prevent musky odors from building up and help keep your ferret from becoming stinky too. You should change and wash the bedding once a week.
Here is a list of supplies you can look into. You do not need all of this to get started with a pet ferret.
- Ferret Cage – Ferret Nation
- Food bowl – Heavy ceramic bowl
- Water bowl – Clamp on, stoppered water bottle, or heavy ceramic bowl
- Several sleeping areas – Hammock, sleep sack, or tunnel
- Toys – Tunnels, hard balls, ping pong balls, playhouses, tents, hard baby toys, etc.
- Litter box – Marshall Ferret Litter Pan
- Litter – Yesterday’s News or Feline Pine
- Harness or collar
- Bell for harness/collar
- Ferret shampoo
- Nail clippers
- Styptic powder
- Ferret brush or cat brush
- Ferret food
- Vitamins – 8 in 1 FerretVite Vitamin Supplement
- Hairball prevention