Looking After Ferrets


October 10th, 2016

Are you over 16 years of age? 

Ferrets are not suitable pets for young children. Older Children should have adult supervision to ensure correct day to day care.

Ferrets can live up to 10 years and require proper care throughout.

Do you have the time and commitment to allow a Ferret the daily free run and activities they require?

Are you aware that Ferrets are social and need to live in pairs, trios or small groups?

Can you afford a ferret? You will need to pay for neutering, vet fees, food, bedding etc.

Who will care for your Ferrets to the same standard should you go on Holiday?

Have you done your research? Owning a Ferret is a big responsibility. Take time to research this Amazing little Carnivore!

 

Ferrets and Polecats are the third domestic Carnivore after dogs and cats and can be amazing and attentive pets. All Ferrets are originally descended from Polecats who were caught from the wild and kept to hunt rabbits. However, over the hundreds of years in captivity, they have changed from the masked little bandits to a variety of colour types. Although genetically the same, ferrets differ slightly from true pure bred Polecats in shape and colour. If given the correct time and care they can become a favourite member of the family. Like dogs and cats, Ferrets seek affection from their owners and will snuggle on a lap or over the shoulder. They are more demanding than smaller mammal species though and need a lot of commitment. 

Ferrets will sleep for 18 hours or more a day and are most active during the early evening. This is the ideal time to allow them a run about the house in a contained room with plenty of activities such as tunnels and toys to play with. Generally a social species, ferrets like to live in pairs or groups which are known as a Business of Ferrets.

 

Do's and Don'ts

Do allow your ferret to settle into his/her new home for a day or two before trying to handle them. To handle sit on the floor with the ferret held in your lap. The ferret will sniff and maybe lick you, and then excitedly dance about in front of you. This is called a War Dance and is the ferrets’ way of inviting play. However, do not make any sudden movements to him or he will dance away and hide. Let him come back to you on his own terms. He will clamber over you and explore you, in and out between your legs and arms. If he is content he will let you stroke him. If not he may give you a gentle nip. Don’t worry as this is something that with time he will grow out of. 

Do check your ferret’s food and water twice a day. Water should be changed daily. Food should be replaced twice a day. 

Do clean the safe twice a week with a pet-safe disinfectant. Replace the litter in his tray weekly, but remove his poops every day with a litter scoop.

 

Don’t keep his cage in a noisy room or beside a radiator. A quiet back room or utility is ideal for indoor ferrets. Outdoor ferrets should be kept in a sheltered place out of the wind and rain. Never in a garage with cars and fumes.

Don’t give him/her fruit, breakfast cereals, ice cream or candy or anything else people like to eat. Ferrets have a special diet which needs to be stuck to, to keep them healthy and happy.

Don’t fill the cage with lots of toys, as ferrets dance about and need freedom to move.

Don’t use wood shavings, hay or straw for indoor cages. Most of it will end up outside the bars within minutes. Provide a warm, cat type bed with fleece or a fleece-lined hammock and a litter tray with litter.

Potential Health Problems

Ferrets are generally a happy, and healthy little species but they do occasionally become unwell, or may appear to be so. Here are some helpful facts.

Ferrets are very hormonal. Both males and females have a season. Males known as Hobs become fertile between spring and autumn and turn sterile during the winter time. Females known as Gills Have two seasons a year between March and October but will remain on season until they mate, or until they get an injection called a Gill jab. Neutering both the Hobs and Gills will make life a lot easier for both them and their owners, however, this is safer and best done when both have reached maturity.

Ferrets are very susceptible to common human illnesses. They can catch the common cold and flu from their human owners. They do not have very powerful immunity however and should see a vet the moment they start to sneeze or snuffle as the flu virus can sometimes kill a ferret. The safest thing a ferret owner with the flu or cold can do is keep well away from their little friend until they are feeling better. Someone else will need to feed and play with them until then.

During autumn all ferrets living either inside or out have a bodily change ready for winter. This is natural and will happen anyway. They gain an additional third overall body weight and their coats double in length ready to cope with the cold. Well fed house ferrets are just as likely to do this as working, outdoor ferrets. Do not reduce their food intake and allow them to eat as much as they like. They will also increase their sleep pattern to between 20 and 22 hours a day.

 Ferrets are naturally little thieves and will take and hide anything they can carry. Beware they can carry up to three times their body weight and will stash their prizes in a pile somewhere within the room they live or frequent. This means sometimes they may steal or stash something dangerous such as medication or blister pill strips, washing tablets or old batteries, or even nails and screws. The safest thing is to keep such items away from a ferret or supervise their play time at all times. A stash should be checked every so often but never removed, as the ferret is likely to find a new stash in a new, better-hidden place.

Ferrets are naturally itchy little creatures due to the coat having a high oil content. They enjoy a good scratch and can sometimes go through periods of itchiness where they almost writhe on the floor, trying to scratch, however, this is due usually to shedding fur during the annual moult or in summer when the coat oils vaporise in the heat.

They can however catch fleas and mites just like dogs and cats can and require treatment. Using a good flea repellent shampoo in a bath is the safest method or a small animal flea treatment in extreme cases. Flea treatments used on dogs or cats should be avoided as ferrets are a lot more delicate and the Pyrethrums used as the active ingredient can be toxic to them.

Outdoor ferrets are more likely to pick up fleas, or ferrets that go for walks outside. Indoor ferrets will mostly remain flea free unless they share with a dog or cat in the home.

Worms are rarely a problem in pet ferrets unless they come into contact with dogs or cats who already have them. Again a small animal wormer or syrup should be used.

Ferrets will always poop in the corner. Imagine how many corners are in a room then think again. There are more than four corners in a room with furniture however ferrets have latrine areas and will favour a certain one. A litter tray with fresh litter is far more preferable to a ferret and so much easier to clean up. Ferrets poop is long, squishy and usually a strong dark brown or black colour. If it is green, grainy or bubbly then there is something wrong with the ferret’s tummy. Sometimes the food is to blame, otherwise it may be parasites. Either way, if the problem lasts more than a day or two, then vets advice should be sought.

Insulinoma is a common problem of ferrets fed on a long term diet high in cereal content. The condition is caused by complex carbohydrates building up the blood sugar levels leading to Cancerous tumours developing on the Pancreas. There is no cure although medications can treat the condition and slow its effects which can eventually cause adrenal failure. A ferret with acute Insulinoma loses its fur, becomes lethargic, goes off its food, and will initially become thin, its nose will dry up, crack and weep discharge. The ferret will lay stretched out, not curled up and will sweat profusely. The kindest thing in this circumstance is to put them to sleep before they reach this stage.

 

A daily check for your ferret should include,

Is the tail fur clean or missing any fur on the tail?

Do they have all their toes and nails intact?

Do the ferrets move easily and dance about on strong legs?

Are all four canine teeth present in the front of the mouth?

Is the nose clean, slightly moist and free of discharge?

Are the eyes bright, clean and full of mischief?

Are the inside of the ears clean and smooth?

Is the fur clean and glossy, with no bald patches or signs of parasites?

(During the annual spring moult the ferrets loose all their fur in a few days then grow it back over the next week or two)

Feel the body. Are the ribs noticeable below the fur with a slightly tubby belly?

Listen to the breathing. Is it steady with no breaking or bubbling?

What they will need

Cage

Indoor ferrets require a large, spacious multi-level cage of at least 3ft by 3ft. Additional ferrets will require two square feet per animal. So a pair would ideally be housed in either a 64inch deep by 3ft wide cage or a rectangular indoor rabbit cage of 4-5ft by 2ft by 2ft. A third ferret will require a 6ft minimum cage size.

Outdoor ferret can live in hutches or similar dimensions but must have a securely sheltered sleeping area. Some ferret owners prefer to build an aviary type enclosure with lots of toys and furniture for the ferrets to play and sleep amongst.

 

Bedding

Ferrets will require a cosy, fleece-lined bed or hammock to sleep in. Hanging hammocks are best as they conform to the ferret’s shape when they curl up in it. Better still is a hammock with a pouch where the ferret can sleep, curled up inside. Alternatively, a nest box filled with fleece blanket can be used or a simple cat bed. Either way, the ferret needs to be able to get inside or under the bed to sleep. Groups of ferrets will snuggle up together, curled round each other in impossible positions to sleep and share each other’s warmth. In winter they even sweat from their shared heat.

 

Substrate 

Indoor ferrets need a sheet of linoleum or newspaper in the bottom of their cage but loose type substrates such as wood shavings are pointless as the ferret will gather it up and push it out the cage. They may also roll in it, and dance about with it on their fur outside of the cage. They will use their litter tray to poop and pee in so don’t worry about the base of the cage.

Outdoor ferrets can live on a substrate of wood shavings, recycled cardboard litter or wood pellets. Straw or hay is also useful as bedding but ferrets will not eat it. Fleece blanket or vet bed in their sleeping area will be cosier than straw or hay.

 

Litter Tray

Ferrets need a litter tray in their cage and also a second one in the room they play in would be useful. A good litter such as Felipure or Nulodour is essential as ferret poop has a strong scent. Ferrets will learn to use a tray very quickly but have a specific way of pooping. They back into a corner, reverse in, lift the tail and poop up against the corner of the litter tray then move back out, turn round, give the poop a good, long sniff and then move away from it. They do not bury their poop like cats do. Poop is best removed as soon as possible. It is advisable to slope the litter up against the back of the tray. Also always allow the ferrets a good ten minutes after waking or eating before they are let out of the cage as this reduces the likelihood of accidents in young, learning ferrets. Ferrets never poop or pee where they eat or sleep so the tray should be at one end or corner of the cage and the food and bed at the other.

 

Diet

Ferrets are an obligate carnivore which means that they can only eat meat. Their diet should consist of either fresh, raw, red and white meat, or a good quality kibble specifically developed for ferrets. Being an obligate carnivore means they are unable to digest much complex or simple carbohydrate which results in large, smelly, sloppy or grainy poop which is green or orange when fed on a diet made with cereals and vegetable derivatives and only minimal meat derivatives.

A good diet therefore is either Select Ferret or even More Cat Chicken 1-7 years which has a higher meat ingredient level and suits their digestion and health requirements better.

 A diet based on 80% kibble and twice a week feeding of raw chicken wings, beef mince, frozen defrosted mice and chicks with an occasional raw egg is ideal and keeps the diet entertaining. Ferrets are highly intelligent and a single diet item becomes boring in the long term. A raw chicken or red meat bone provides necessary chewing which keeps their teeth clean once a week.

Do not be tempted to feed your ferret on a diet which might include, wet or tinned cat food, dog foods of any kinds, fruit, fish or anything based on cereals of grains such as pop corn, small mammal treats, breakfast cereals, candy, or chocolate, even if they find it themselves and try it. Remove it from them.

Treats used for ferrets can include Beaphar Malt treats which aid in digestion, or any meat based cat treats. Any treat advised for small animals including ferrets, should be avoided.

Ferrets are biologically Celiac and consuming complex carbohydrates, fruit or sweets can lead to a surge in blood sugar levels which causes a disease called Insulinoma, or Cancer of the Pancreas.

Fresh water should be available at all times.

In winter Ferrets will eat considerably more food and will gain an additional third body weight along with a double thickness coat. This is a natural defence against the cold of Winter and a diet should not be imposed. The weight will naturally drop off again in Spring.

 

Toys and Entertainment

Ferrets are hunters of small mammals and birds, so any toys they are likely to enjoy are mainly cat toys. Mice and balls, or fish or birds on strings initiate the natural hunting response and can provide hours of entertainment. Toys should be alternated from time to time otherwise the ferrets get bored of them, or may decide to stash them when you are not paying attention.

 A selection of tunnels and tubes, a minimum of 6-inch diameter and any length will provide great fun and joy for ferrets who would naturally go down rodent or rabbit tunnels in search of food. Do not give ferrets toilet roll tube to play with. They can and probably will get stuck inside them leading to a vet visit to remove them. Play time with more than one ferret leads to ferrets interacting with each other and sometimes co-operative play and working together to figure out simple problems. Ferrets also love cushion type beds or cat igloos to play and rest inside during play times.

If your ferret is a Hob, he may appear more energetic during certain times of the year than the gills do. If this is the case then lead training is a good way to entertain him and burn off excess energy. Special ferret harnesses are available through Pets Corner’s small animal section in small, medium and large. A vest type harness fits more securely, but some large Polecats may require a strap harness. 

The harness should be fitted a few times during playtime in the house, but once happy enough to run on the harness and lead, the ferret can be taken outside and walked up and down the pavement. Remember a ferret outside will have hundreds of distractions to contend with, including sights, noise and especially scents which will fascinate him. It is important to be patient with him at this point and not drag or pull him along. Once he is happy with the situation he will run along beside you quite happily. Never allow a ferret free run off the lead outside and when walking never allow him to explore under, between or into cracks, holes and fence posts as they can easily escape and be lost.