If you’ve seen ferrets at your local pet store, you may be interested in these fuzzy little creatures. While a lot of people believe that any pet that can be kept in a cage may be a low maintenance pet, this is most definitely not true for ferrets. Ferrets need daily playtime with their humans or they can actually get sick. They also have very particular diets and need to have access to new toys all of the time. So what do you need to know to raise a healthy ferret?
Is a Ferret Right For Me?
If you don’t mind putting in about the same effort as raising a dog, ferrets are perfect for you. Even if you aren’t a cat or dog person, ferrets are a wonderful choice for someone who wants a pet that will play with them and cuddle them. Although they are quite a bit different than a dog, they are still very similar in the amount of effort it takes daily to raise one. Ferrets can be a very relaxing pet, providing both playtime and a good place to spend a quiet evening. If you’re someone who wants a more casual pet, you might be better off with a small rat or hamster. If you have never had a ferret before, you might want to take a little bit of time to figure out whether ferrets are right for you.
What Ferrets Need
If you retain any one thing from this article it should be this: ferrets are a lot of work. If you are planning on getting a ferret because you want to watch it play in its cage and pet it sometimes, then do not get a ferret. Ferrets have delicate health (they are one of the only pets that can actually die from depression). They need at least an hour and a half per day of outside of the cage play time with you. Ferrets also have a diet that can be hard to accommodate with the easily accessible bagged food. Based on the quality of pet stores local to you, you may need to get creative or spend more than you would think to feed ferrets the amount of protein they need.
The number one thing you should learn before getting a ferret is: the have very fragile health. Ferrets can get sick from any number of things and every time a ferret gets sick, it is very dangerous. Add in that ferrets get into and will eat anything they can possibly reach, and you can conclude for yourself that it is very important for all ferret parents to know where the exotic pet hospital is.
You should get an annual health check for your ferret. This check will help you keep track of any problems your ferret may have and allow you to get advice from professionals regarding treatment. Your vet may also be able to give you some information about local places to get healthy ferret food, as this can be an issue. Your vet will also be able to tell you about the local exotic animal hospitals. This information can be helpful when your ferret is losing weight or vomiting.
A ferret needs a varied and specific diet. Ferrets need more meat in their diet than dogs and even cats. You can likely buy a bag of “ferret food” from wherever you got your ferret, but most of them are not up to our standards. If you need to feed your ferret food from a bag that is easily accessible in most stored, kitten food actually has the most meat in their food, more than cat or even ferret food. The best thing to feed ferrets is just straight meat. You can purchase dried meat sold as dog food fillers from most pet stores.
The amount of food a ferret eats will vary based on the size of the ferret and the quality of their food. For the most part, ferrets will not overeat but before you get to know your ferret, you should monitor their weight to make sure they are getting enough food. It is important to note that if you are feeding your ferret wet food, you will need to make sure they eat it immediately or bacteria could grow in it and it could make them very sick.
Ferrets should always have access to fresh water, so it’s very important that you keep their water dish clean. Ferrets can drink either from a traditional bowl or a water bottle that clips to the side of the cage. Some ferret parents prefer the water bottle because ferrets tend to make a mess with bowls of water (or really anything they have access to), while other prefer to give the bowl of water because it adds another piece of stimulation to the cage.
Ferrets need daily socialization to avoid depression. Ferrets need at a minimum, one and a half hours outside of their cage to play with their humans. This step of care is essential when your ferret is still a kit, as they are still learning if humans are trustworthy. A ferret kit who does not receive enough attention from their human will turn into a ferret who bites.
Ferrets also love other ferrets! Having someone else to play with in the cage is a major way to increase overall stimulation and reduce the chance of depression. Ferrets form extremely strong bonds with their friends and will miss them terribly if they are away, so take great care to keep bonded ferrets together whenever possible.
Ferrets should be bathed at most once a month. While ferrets can be very stinky, that is just their natural musk. While you can cover it up with shampoo, the smell will just return in a day. Baths remove the oil that a ferret needs on their fur, which over time can lead to itchy skin and a distressed ferret. The best bath schedule is one every 2-3 months.
Ferrets also need their nails trimmed or it can be very uncomfortable for them to walk. Most ferrets don’t enjoy getting their nails trimmed so the best thing to do is hold them on their backs with your palm on their stomach, and smear some delicious food for them to lick off the back of your hand while you clip with the other hand. Ferrets tend to be food motivated and forget about everything else in the world while they are having a snack.
Ferrets will also need their cage cleaned daily to avoid getting sick (and stinky). Luckily, ferrets naturally go to the bathroom in corners, so a corner litter box is ideal for ferrets. The litter boxes have easy clips so they can be removed and cleaned with ease.
Ferrets need toys to remain stimulated but it is important for those toys to be inspected daily to make sure they haven’t been worn down to the point of posing as a health issue. You should assume that your ferret will attempt to eat any toy you give them. Ferrets are basically just even more energetic puppies. Ferrets cannot have soft toys as they will easily tear into them. Any rubber toys should also be a hard rubber. Ferrets will tear off chunks of soft rubber and eat them, potentially choking or causing a blockage.
When letting your ferret out of the cage, you will discover that ferrets are delighted to make literally anything their toys. A fun game you can play with your ferret is simply with a towel or t-shirt. Cover the ferret with the material and they will enjoy getting out from under it. Let them walk on it and then pull it out from under them and they will playfully attack the material.
A ferret’s favorite toys are those that can be played with friends. For solo toys, ferrets enjoy tunnels and “digging pools”, which are kiddie pools filled with plastic balls, similar to a ball pit.
The main concern new ferret parents have is if their furry friend is sleeping too much. Fear not – ferrets sleep roughly 16 hours per day. Ferrets are diurnal, so they are only awake for a few hours at sunrise and sunset. Some ferrets are cuddly and will enjoy sleeping while curled up in your lap while some like to be left alone while they sleep.
People also become concerned that their ferret will bite. While some ferrets are prone to be more “nippy” than others, any hard biting habits can be unlearned while your ferret is still a kit. While your ferret is a kit, after they bite, just grip them by the scruff. This doesn’t hurt them but it lets them know that biting is not acceptable.
Aside from when they are sleeping, your ferret should be very energetic and excited to eat and play. If your ferret does not get excited about food or play time, that is a very telling sign that something is wrong and it’s time to visit a vet.
The Ferret Shopping List
Before you bring your new furry friend home, you will need a few things.
- A nice size cage – Some people think ferrets can fit in a large guinea pig cage. They cannot and should have a much bigger cage, about the size of a wardrobe.
- A litter box – Corner litter boxes that clip to the cage are best, because ferrets naturally want to go in the corner of their cage and if the box doesn’t clip in, the ferret will push it around the cage and spill litter everywhere
- Ferret litter – It should be noted that cat litter should not be used in a ferret litter box, because they will attempt to eat the little rocks and they will inhale the powder from the litter, which is harmful to their lungs.
- A water bottle or clip on bowl – Ferrets can drink water either from the same water bottle that a guinea pig or hamster would drink from, or they can drink from a bowl. A bowl that can be clipped onto the cage will prevent water from spilling when they attempt to push it across the cage. The same bowl can be used for ferret food.
- A hammock – Ferrets love hiding holes and soft places to sleep. A hammock that hangs from the bars of the cage will be a greatly appreciated necessity.
- Nail clippers – Unless you plan on taking your ferret to the vet every month, you will need ferret nail clippers.
- Ferret safe toys – So they aren’t bored while in their cage, ferrets should be provided at minimum a hard chew toy.
- Ferretone – Ferretone is a healthy treat for ferrets. While it shouldn’t be given in excess, it makes nail trimming a breeze.
Hopefully this article has provided you with a rough estimate of the amount of care it takes to raise a healthy ferret. Too often, ferrets are bought on a whim because people believe they can be kept in a cage all day like some other pets. Ferrets require daily socialization, thorough grooming, and have a diet that is hard to meet the requirements of with basic bagged food. But if you love and care for your ferret, they can make the best of pets.