Ferrets are feisty, inquisitive, lively and playful animals that can make great pets for the right owners. However, before adopting a ferret, you need to have done your research, as ferrets, despite being the third most popular pets in America after dogs and cats, have special needs you should be aware of.
Ferrets are members of the Mustelid family and are related to mink, weasels, skunks, otters and badgers. Ferrets are the only domestic members of this group. Most hunting instincts have been bred out of ferrets, so they cannot survive out in the wild on their own for long. Any forays outdoors should be closely supervised, preferably with your ferret on a leash or harness. Ferrets live 8 to 10 years on average. Adult females weigh about 2 pounds, adult males-about twice that much. Ferrets should be neutered and de-scented. These procedures can be done in one session at the vet’s, and will make a ferret much easier to live with, and more importantly, will prolong his or her lifespan. A female ferret will develop aplastic anemia if not allowed to mate and not neutered. Ferrets are not advisable pets for families with very young children, due to the raised levels of enthusiasm on both sides. They prefer to live in pairs or small groups. As well, ferrets need vaccinations for canine distemper.
What to feed a ferret
Ferrets are carnivores, meaning they mostly eat meat. Your ferret should eat food containing a high content of animal protein, like meat and eggs. You must never give a ferret chocolate, raisins, or nuts. Fiber, while good for humans, is very bad for ferrets and will make them sick. Basically, the best diet for ferrets is one that is high in meat and fat, and very low in fiber or carbohydrates.
Training a ferret
Baby ferrets, just like kittens and puppies like to nip when they play. This is probably one of the things people hold against them. However, obedience training a ferret, which includes training him or her not to nip, is completely doable, as long as you have enough patience and tolerance. The basic principle is positive reinforcement. If the ferret is too enthusiastic, you must withdraw attention or stop playtime as punishment. Never yell or lose your temper. If your ferret does something well, give praise and treats. This will encourage good behavior, instead of just discouraging bad behavior. Experts recommend ‘scruffing’. This involves pulling or tugging gently while holding the loose skin on the back of the neck, like a mother ferret would do. If nipped, you should demonstrate that it is undesirable behavior by withdrawing attention. Raising the pitch of your voice is not advisable as your ferret might get even more excited and enthusiastic.
Litter training a ferret is a gradual process. Ferrets are not as fastidious as cats, so you can leave them a scent to mark the litter tray. Your tray should have a lowered edge, so your ferret can access it, but the other edges should be raised, as ferrets tend to back into the corner and may overshoot out of the tray with disastrous results if the edges are all low.
Ferrets cannot be caged for very long periods. They react badly and will claw and bite at the cage if left inside too long. However, for those occasions where you simply cannot supervise them and need some time to yourself, a ferret cage is the ideal solution. The cage should be spacious enough for the ferret to move freely. It should include a toilet area, a cushioned sleeping area, a hammock if possible, as ferrets sleep 12 to 14 hours daily, an eating area, and a playing area. Cat toys are ideal for ferrets. Cages with different levels and staircases are a good fit for your ferret, but you must ensure that anything with hard edges, like a wire floor, is padded or wrapped with cloth, as ferrets have very delicate feet.
All in all, ferrets are wonderfully, curious, gregarious, enthusiastic and interesting pets. If you can handle the special demands ferret care will make on you, then a ferret could prove to be the perfect pet for you!