Pet ferrets (Mustela furo) might not be as popular as pups or kittens, but the fact is that they have been kept as domesticated animals for over 2000 years, and they make great pets!
Ferrets are small, furry animals with elongated body that is pearl-shaped. In addition, they have cone-shaped noses, long tails and claws with short legs. Being related to wolverines, weasels, and minks of the genus Mustela; they are popular but also often debatable pets.
They are very high-spirited and playful but are quiet for most parts of the day. They are a lot of responsibility, but if you love being on your toes and tending to your pet babies makes you happy, you might be the right parent for them. Get ready for all the mischief, though!
Domestic ferrets are the descendants of the European polecat and are a member of the weasel family. Historically, they used to hunt and chase rabbits and rodents- small animals that live in dug burrows underground.
As ferrets love to explore a narrow burrow or a hole, they were an excellent choice to stop expanding rats and mice.
All ferrets belong to a single breed, but they are classified into more than 20 types based on color, pattern, and size.
Based on Color
The easiest way to differentiate between Ferrets is on the basis of their coat colors. Although not much different personality-wise, some types come with additional health concerns.
Ferret types based on different colored coats include Sable, Albino, Chocolate, Cinnamon, Black Ferret, Champagne, and Dark-eyed White.
All these Ferrets usually have a coat color implied in their names. Cinnamon being a rare colored Ferret comes at a higher price as compared to other Ferrets. Albino and Dark-eyed White Ferrets are generally prone to being deaf.
Based on Pattern
According to American Ferret Association, apart from colors, Ferrets also come in a range of different patterns.
Based on patterns, Ferret types include Blaze, Dalmatian, Heavy Silver, Mitts, Panda, Siamese, Black-Footed Ferret, and Roan. The Blaze Ferret has a white strip running from its head to its tail, while the Dalmatian, like the Dalmatian dogs, has black spots on white fur.
Heavy Silver Ferret has a shimmery appearance due to silver hair mixed with black. Mitts pattern includes white feet and a white bib just below the neck.
Resembling the adorable Panda bears, Panda Ferrets come with colored circles around their eyes and any color with white found on the chest, head, belly, bib, and tail tip.
Roans consist of any color other than white, while Siamese looking like a Siamese cat, has points of dark brown color on different body parts.
Black-Footed Ferrets of the order Carnivora also known as American Polecats or Prairie dog hunters, have long slender bodies, yellowish-brown fur with a blackish splash on the back, and a black mask on their faces. Native to North America, these distinct species have become endangered.
Out of these, Blaze and Panda Ferrets have a high risk of Waardenburg Syndrome, making them deaf.
Based on Size
Depending upon size, Ferrets are of two types, Whippet and Bulldog Ferrets.
Whippet Ferrets, also known as Gazelle, resemble the Whippet dog breed’s neck and long body. Being the standard type, these Ferrets have heads that are triangular and long instead of wide and have elongated bodies.
More commonly found in Europe than in the U.S. Bulldog Ferrets live up to their name and have thick chests, giant round heads, and stubby legs.
Ferret Fact File
People might mistake Ferrets for being closely related to rodents, but in fact, they are more like cats as they are carnivores. Although they are small creatures, they have big personalities and are incredibly smart.
Size and Appearance
Ferrets resemble other mustelids like Minks and Badgers. They have long, slender pear-shaped bodies. The average length from the head to the tip of the tail is about 50 cm, approximately 20 inches. They weigh about 0.7 to 2 kg and vary in color from black, brown, white, or a mixture of these.
Male Ferrets are bigger in size than female Ferrets. They have an average life span of 5-7 years, but the most recorded age is 14.
Pet Ferrets are a source of constant entertainment for their owners. They are playful and mischievous. They are incredibly active when they are not sleeping – which, by the way, they can do for up to 20 hours a day. They love playing with toys, running around, and getting into things.
They are also very sociable. They do better with the company. If you are considering buying them as a pet, having them in pairs would be a great idea.
They are generally good with animals like cats and dogs, but you should keep them away from birds, rabbits, rats, or hamsters. They have the natural instincts to hunt rodents, so it is not recommended.
Also, children and Ferrets might not be a good idea for each other. Ferrets are small and are prone to injury if they are dropped from hands. Young Ferrets also sometimes do nip, so kids should be kept away.
Ferrets are brilliantly smart creatures and have an inquisitive nature. They learn things very quickly and in a few attempts. It might be a good idea to start at an early age as young (kit) Ferrets get tamed faster. They are good at problem-solving and love toys that allow them to do so.
They can easily be litter trained. Although there might be a few accidents, Ferret owners should train them to litter in and out of their cages. It would be helpful to get it done on walks too.
Ferrets are really small and can get into nooks and corners. You might lose them inside the house as well. Make sure you train them to come to a sound of squeak or whistle to avoid this.
The usual diet ferrets love is meat. If it is legal in your country to feed them, you will find ferret food in most pet stores. You can also feed pre-killed or live prey, such as mice or rabbits, to your pet ferret.
Ferret, like cats, is an obligate carnivore, so it loves meaty treats. You can also give them cat treats but moderately. They have a fast metabolism, so they eat frequently. Their natural diet includes raw meat and bones.
In the wild, Ferrets may eat small prey like rabbits, prairie dogs, and other mammals, birds, reptiles, or amphibians.
Bubonic plague may reduce the number of prairie dogs, a major diet source for Black Footed Ferrets, leading to its food shortage. However, the plague’s effect on the Black-footed Ferret is not yet known.
Ferrets Are Illegal in Some Places
Before buying your pet, you must be aware that they are classified as wild animals and considered banned or illegal in some parts of the world. In the US, they are completely banned in California, Hawaii, Washington DC, and New York City.
They are also banned in countries like Australia, Puerto Rico, South Africa, and Portugal. There are many reasons, but the most prominent is that they are considered a pest in these areas, and keeping them as domestic pets is not allowed.
Things You Should Know Before Getting a Ferret
Here are a few things you should keep in mind before getting a pet Ferret.
Ferrets Need Lots of Exercises
Ferrets are inquisitive and excitable. They have a fast metabolism and hence are high on energy. They need to play and run around the place to keep them sane. You can easily put them on a leash and take them outside for walks.
Ferrets Get Into Everything
Ferrets love exploring and would nibble on almost everything out of curiosity. If they swallow foreign objects, it might be harmful to them. They are also very tiny and squeeze easily through spaces.
For this reason, they should be kept in a secure cage. It would be a good idea to put them in a collar with a bell so that you know about their whereabouts.
However, they should not be caged 24 hours a day. It is a good idea to make a playing area inside the house and make it ferret-proof. They can pass through very tiny spaces, so block the bottoms of the doors, the openings and windows, and spaces behind machines and fridges, etc.
It is important to do so to keep them out of harm; if they manage to escape the house, they will not be able to survive in the wild for long.
Ferrets Are Prone to Serious Diseases
Ferrets are prone to health problems and should be taken to the vet regularly. Take them immediately after you buy them for checkups. Ask for the vaccines from your vet, especially for the rabies virus. They are prone to getting fleas and might need monthly preventives.
A pet Ferret should have yearly veterinarian visits until it is five years old and then 6-monthly checkups after that. It is important to neuter them, especially a female Ferret, as unspayed females can stay in heat until mated. This causes distress and fatal anemia. Luckily, most Ferrets in the USA are already neutered when sold.
The most common high-risk conditions for sick Ferrets include physical injury, adrenal disease, heart disease, and cancers of the pancreas, anal glands, and skin tumors.
They are sensitive to temperature and should be kept outside of direct sunlight. Their hammocks and cages should be in cool dark places.
Grooming and Care
Like every other pet, Ferrets need constant preening, and it’s your responsibility to take care of their needs.
Ferrets have a natural musky scent, and it may bother some, tempting them to bathe their pets often. But, it is recommended not to bathe Ferrets more than twice a month as it can aggravate the scent glands and increase the smell even more.
Trimming the Ferret’s nails is a tricky task. It is safe to cut 1/4th of the tip of the nail and not go deep where the nerve endings and blood vessels lie, as it may lead to bleeding and hurting your pet.
Ferret coats need regular brushing, especially during shedding season, to reduce the quantity of ingested hair resulting in hairballs. To avoid the risk, you may give your Ferret a hairball preventative.
As they tend to have waxy ears, cleaning them using a gentle ear-cleaning solution to prevent infections is better. Dental problems like gingivitis are also common in Ferrets, so brushing their teeth once a week is recommended.
List of Things Ferrets Need
Before you dive in to get these lively, fun-loving creatures as pets, you should prepare yourselves and your house for them. Given below is a list of things you should consider buying.
- Proper bedding and blankets
- Large space to exercise
- Bowls made of stainless steel for food
- Carry cases
- Plenty of toys
- Water bottles
- Fresh water supply to keep them hydrated
Ferret as a Pet
Domesticated Ferrets make very good pets. They are adorable little bundles of joy and energy. If you wish to form strong bonds with them, they need to be trained from an early age.
If you are a first-time owner, especially with kids, you should look for a Ferret that is at least a year old and is friendly, as kit Ferrets tend to bite if they feel threatened.
As Ferrets are very energetic animals, they want a lot of playtime. Fun exercises that involve tunnels or climbing are always an excellent way to go.
While picking them up, wait for your pet to come to you and use both your hands to make them feel safe. If they are being fussy, you can hold them close to your body or swing them from side to side to soothe them.
Pros & Cons of Keeping a Ferret as a Pet
Let’s look at both sides of the picture before deciding to get them as your pet:
- Ferrets are very friendly and fun-loving.
- They bring absolute joy to the houses of their owners.
- Their inquisitive and fun personalities will keep you on your feet.
- Ferrets can be destructive as they chew on everything.
- They can escape easily.
- They are not good with small children and rodent pets.
- Their skin glands produce oils that have a musky odor.
What to Do If Your Ferrets Don’t Get Along?
Ferrets are usually very friendly and get along well with other Ferrets, but sometimes they may get into a fight. You can tell this if a Ferret looks frightened, screams at the other Ferret, keeps a distance, or has wounds around the neck.
Separating fighting Ferrets can be pretty challenging, so it’s better to stop them from the beginning.
When you introduce two Ferrets to each other, keep an eye on them and wear suitable clothing to protect yourself from getting bitten. If they start fighting, intervene and stop them using a towel. You can also put them in suitable carriers or consult a vet.
Where Can You Buy Them?
Before getting a pet Ferret, you should do thorough research. Ferrets usually cost around $100-$500.
You can buy a domestic Ferret from a local pet store or retail store. There are rescue organizations like RSPCA or local animal shelters you can visit if you want to adopt a Ferret. You may also look for responsible breeders in case you don’t want to get a stray pet.
Once you get to know Ferrets, you will fall in love with their personalities. They are notorious for being hyperactive, but if you love your pets for the attention they seek from you, you can use this to your benefit.
Although, you should know that they require a lot of care to keep them safe and healthy. Just look after their dietary, medical, and social needs and have your house filled with joy at all times!