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Care and Feeding Pet Ferrets


Ferrets can be fun, inquisitive household pets.  The tame ferret and the wild ferrets are not the same animal.  The pet ferret (Mustelo putorius furo) has been domesticated for centuries.  The European polecat is a distant cousin of the ferret.   Sable (fitch) is the natural wild color; albino, Siamese and other colors are commonly seen.  Males are called hobs, females are called jills.

            We advise that ferrets are kept in a cage or kennel when not supervised or when you are gone.  Ferrets and other burrowing pets, such as rabbits, can get into trouble by chewing electrical cords, digging into furniture to hide into and other problems.  It is natural for them to want to explore and they can get into areas less than 2″ in diameter.  A play area with tubes and hiding boxes can be built within a play or kennel area.  We advise that you have a nesting box or sleeping platform that is at least 12″ x 24″ x 18″ high in size.  We do not recommend cedar, redwood or any other aromatic type of shavings to be used with any pets; these type of shavings have been associated with some forms of pneumonia.  Ferrets do not need shavings at all within their cage; use pine shavings if you feel you need to.  Ferrets like to curl up within a cotton or wool blanket.  Nylon-type materials are not recommended, especially if your ferret likes to chew on blankets, etc.  Ferrets can be trained to eliminate in a litter box inside the house; a sand or clay filled box should also be within their cage.  We do not recommend that ferrets be allowed to sleep in your bed, or especially with children under 8 years of age.  Because the ferret’s sweat glands do not work very well, housing outdoors in the sun and in areas over 85 degrees is not recommended.

            Ferrets should be fed a high quality ferret food, or a commercial mink or cat food is also adequate.  The protein in the food should be 35%.  If you feed a lot of vegetables, urinary stones can develop.  The average ferret weights less than 6#, and should live 10 years if properly cared for.  Most ferrets will weigh from 1 to 3#.  A summer shedding and a winter coat are normal occurrences.  Ferrets also may have a seasonal hair loss or alopecia, yet typically a loss of hair and increase in water consumption indicates a veterinary exam and blood tests.  If a ferret appears weak this also indicates a call to the clinic for advice.  Daily look to ensure there are new stool samples and that water is being consumed, especially if using a water bottle.  If you are concerned about the ferrate adrenal disease (FAD, hyperadrenocorticism, AAE) there are implants that can be given every 1.5 to 2+ years to help prevent this fairly common problem; we have more information upon request.

            Vaccinations for canine distemper and rabies are advised.  Many years ago we believed that feline distemper affected ferrets, but studies show this vaccine is not required.  A periodic fecal test of the stool for parasites is also indicated.  A ferret may give off an odor during the breeding season; removal of the anal glands and neutering helps reduce this problem.  We have a mild shampoo that also can be used on ferrets.

Most ferrets are purchased already castrated or spayed.  The anal glands are also usually removed.  We advise neutering all pet ferrets.  The natural breeding season is in the late spring and early summer, after being exposed to 16 hour daylight periods.  A female can start breeding as early as 7 months of age.  The pregnancy period is 42 days, and a pseudopregnancy period of the same length can occur.  The pregnant jill should be housed separately after being diagnosed as pregnant, or at least 2 weeks before giving birth.  Pregnant jills should be supplemented with meat and some liver, besides a kitten food or other commercial diet.  If the jill has more than 8 babies, we recommend that you supplement feed these kits with a feline milk replacer.  Weaning of the kits is usually after 6 weeks of age, with their first series of vaccinations near this time period also.  Most jills will go back into estrus a couple of weeks after the kits are weaned.

            Female ferrets that are not spayed can develop a serious anemia.  When a female goes into heat (estrus) she will stay in heat until she is bred.  Ferrets are induced ovulaters.  If she is not bred the continuous production of estrogen will cause her to become anemic.   Blood transfusions and an emergency ovariohysterectomy surgery will be required if an unspayed female is kept as a non-breeding pet.  Call us if you have an unspayed ferret.  If you allow your ferret to roam free, and you have a newborn child, please call us for advice.  If you have one ferret, and are considering adopting another, we recommend that the 2nd ferret be of the opposite sex (and neutered).

Ferrets are very playful pets.  Expect that you will have trouble keeping up with them, which is why they should be kenneled when you are not able to observe them.  They love to explore paper and plastic tubes, towels, sleep in hammocks, play with ice cubes in the water, explore plastic flower pots with holes, explore/tear up woven baskets, dig in a tub of dry long grain rice and other fun events.  As with any toy item for a pet consider “it this safe if they eat it”.  When feeding a soft food, use a bowl with an inner lip to help keep food inside the bowl.  If you need to brush them or trim their toenails, place an ointment such as a cat laxative or Nutrical on their abdomen to distract them.  We do not declaw ferrets; their feet are similar to a dog and not a cat.