Ferret Care: What You Need to Know

When looking outside the scope of the traditional cat, dog, and fish pets, sometimes we wonder what other delightful little furry critters can be our life companions, such as the ferret. 

In this guide, you will find out what these cute friends need in terms of care. This will also help you make an informed decision about whether you genuinely want to commit to owning one! Before diving directly into things, it is worth noting that, on average, most ferrets live for about 5-7 years and are extremely fragile in terms of pets. We will go more in-depth on that and why below.

Are Ferrets Good Pets to Have?

Ferrets can indeed make phenomenal pets, but you should meet a few criteria before taking one on.

For instance, what is the dynamic of your household like? These little guys are incredibly playful by nature, but due to their size and general disposition, they do not exactly make good pets for children due to how delicate they are. Being overly wooled and mishandled can seriously injure them and prevent them from living the carefree and sleepy lifestyle they are most known for.

Household setups aside, ferrets are great pets for their high-energy play (when they are not napping) and cuddly, spontaneous nature; they will be running up and down pant legs or popping up from under the couch for surprise snuggle times! 

Will My Ferret Be High Maintenance?

Keeping up with a ferret is a relatively simple job. In all honesty, ferrets do not have any major hang-ups some of the other more niche pets might have. However, one thing to consider would be their innate ability to get into quite literally anything and everything. 

Ferret proofing your house can prove a daunting task for most, and rightly so, anywhere these little guys can squeeze into, they will absolutely try to. This ranges from getting into the underside of your favorite recliner to climbing directly into your dryer vents. That being said, you will need to get very creative about imagining all the places they will get into and covering them appropriately.

Another thing to consider would be covering up any excess cords and potentially outlets they may want to “explore”; these sources can prove dangerous or worse, deadly if a lousy scenario plays out for our adventurous furry friend.

Breaking things up a bit, let’s briefly talk about involvement and keeping them healthy and active (don’t worry, we will go in-depth about this later). The worst thing you could do to one of these creatures is keeping them in a cage all day. They need supervised playtime with many toys to keep them physically and mentally active, so be sure to cover your bases here. 

A final note about their specific quirks would be the unique odor they have. Ferrets have a somewhat musky smell about them due to the oils secreted through their skin and their anal glands. Unfortunately, because of this, the smell will never go away entirely. 

This is not because they are dirty or anything like that, but it is quite the opposite. Ferrets are relatively clean creatures. As such, you only need to bathe them once or twice a month at best. Anything more may irritate their delicate skin and make them begin to flake. 

What Do Ferrets Eat?

©  librariansarah / Flickr

Ah, the most critical question of their dietary needs, and an excellent place to start with some interesting facts about their somewhat whole pallet. In almost all respects, ferrets share quite a few similarities to your average cat, and the diet is no exception. Hailing from the extensive list of “obligate carnivores,” ferrets cannot get by without having some manner of meat in their diet.

That being said, a vast majority of their calories should come directly from the fat content of this meal, complemented by a copious amount of meat-based proteins to ensure they are getting all of the essential nutrition they need.

While formulating a diet for your ferret, something to bear in mind would be their intolerance of vegetable protein entirely. Eating it can cause severe health issues ranging from GI disease to bladder stones and occasionally skin diseases. It has also been documented that these vegetable diets can even stunt growth, so it is best to avoid these choices for its health.

Moving on from what not to feed them, let us discuss what is good for them! Topping the list are prey-based foods; these include things like rats and mice, almost akin to a snake (they are both lengthy animals anyway, right?)

Now in some cases, though, your pet may have an ironclad stomach. You, as their owner, may not be so resilient to watching such a feast. 

As such, there are a few safe alternatives to keeping them nutritionally balanced without going quite so deep into the wild side of things. You can obtain specifically made ferret foods from a vet clinic, with close alternatives being high-quality kitten foods.

In terms of treats, avoid anything from a store that says it is specially made for ferrets because, more often than not, they are bad for the animal and have high amounts of grains and sweeteners that are dangerous for the ferret’s diet.

In particular, Grains cannot be properly digested and can lead to quite a few medical issues, so avoid them like the plague. Good alternatives here would be high-quality meats like turkey or chicken to keep the protein content high but flavor right in that same threshold. 

Bathing Your Ferret

As we discussed above, ferrets are relatively clean animals, to begin with, but they could make use of a nice bath every so often. Your regular schedule here would be one or twice a month, with the latter pushing it somewhat. The musk they have is natural and comes from special oils from their skin, and throughout the ferret’s life, it will never go away entirely.

When bathing your ferret, make sure you use special pet shampoo and warm water to take care of it properly. Although left to its own devices, a ferret should always have access to a bowl of water to clean its face. You can mitigate the musky odor they have slightly by ensuring your ferret is spayed or neutered, but almost all ferrets are taken care of in this manner before being weaned.

Alternatively, suppose your ferret is not spayed or neutered before getting it. In that case, you want to make sure you get this done as soon as possible, as, without the procedure, the smell increases dramatically while also giving some other issues alongside it. 

Another procedure that is typically taken care of before sale would be removing the anal glands a ferret has. If a ferret feels threatened or just very alarmed, it may secret anal fluids that release highly potent smells. These scents usually dissipate within a few minutes but can be expected if your ferret hasn’t had the procedure done. Touching base on the neutering/spaying aspect briefly, if your female ferret is not spayed, she can also run the risk of life-threatening issues—more on that in the health issues section. 

How Much Exercise Does My Ferret Need?

Ferrets sleep for roughly 20 hours a day by nature. This means that they are typically bursting with energy and dying to be played within their waking hours. Bouncing around with your ferret and providing simple cat/cloth toys, obstacle courses, hammocks, and the like will be just the playroom they need to thrive. For the safety of your little friend, you want to make sure you avoid any latex, foam, and occasionally rubber toys because these can be bitten off and cause intestinal issues.

Type of Habitat to Provide

© Micah Sittig / Flickr

Ensuring that your ferret has a safe household to live in by removing access to wires, outlets, small gaps they can squeeze through (there are tons) is some of the most critical aspects of this to bear in mind. Curiosity most definitely killed the cat, and ferrets are not much of an exception in this case. Checking before turning on washers, dryers, moving heavy objects, and sometimes just stepping, in general, should be done almost as a second nature reflex to ensure your ferret is safe. The general rule of thumb is to know where the ferret is before doing anything. Sounds somewhat silly, but when you consider risks, it all adds up.

Conclusion

Ferrets can make for great pets, assuming all their needs are met and specific aspects of their natures are considered. Like we went over above, they aren’t exactly for prominent families, certainly not for little kids, but you can overcome these obstacles with the right amount of effort made by the entire family.

Their dietary needs are considerable and should be respected, but outside of that, I hope you’ve gleaned a bit of insight on how a ferret can brighten up your home!

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