Ferret Care

While dogs and cats still top the list of predatory animals we feed under the kitchen table, ferrets are quickly rising to the top of the list of fun, furry pets. Ferrets are not only cute, they”re fun to hold because they”re so slinky. Snakes are also slinky, of course, but most people like their pets to have feet and fur.

Keeping Your Ferret Docile

Ferrets were domesticated over 2000 years ago to hunt rabbits and rats. Keeping them as household pets is a fairly modern concept. Ferrets have not been selectively bred for temperament and physical structure, as have dogs and cats. While humans have modified their behavior enough that a domesticated ferret could no longer fend for itself in the wild, their aggressive predatory characteristics remain intact.

Has this fact stopped the sale of ferrets in the pet trade? Of course not. Humans are remarkably inventive problem solvers and the solution to an overly aggressive animal that”s cute enough to cuddle and play with is to neuter or spay it. Does this work? It does! All those aggressive, territorial tendencies are the work of hormones. So, if you want a ferret, get it fixed when young, before any bad habits have had time to form. This does not hurt the animal mentally or physically, and the alternative is a sly little carnivore that sneaks up on you at the most inconvenient moments and sinks one-inch canines into your ankle.

Prevention Is the Best Policy

As relatives of the skunk, ferrets have scent glands that should be removed. The odor may be pleasing to other ferrets, but most people find it objectionable.

Ferrets also require different preventive medical measures from dogs or cats. They are much more susceptible to distemper, which almost always leads to their untimely demise. They need vaccinations early in life, at about three weeks of age. They”re also prone to foot rot, a nasty fungal infection, so their cage must always be kept clean and dry.

Should your ferret need a general anesthetic (and he or she will for neutering and scent gland removal), consult an exotic animal veterinarian. A special type of gaseous anesthesia called isoflurane is recommended for ferrets.

Free Ranging Your Ferret

If you”re wondering about whether to let your ferret have free range of the house, don”t! Ferrets are curious, mischievous little guys who look for trouble. You”ll be amazed at all the damage ferrets can do if you let them roam about the house.

Feeding Your Ferret

Although ferrets are meat-eating mammals, they belong to the mustelidae (weasel) family, not the canine or feline families, and their nutritional requirements are quite different. An exceptionally high metabolism requires them to eat every four hours and the food should contain at least 32 percent protein. Dry food should be made available to them at all times. Too much canned food rots their teeth. Avoid giving a ferret cereal or grain in any form; they can”t digest it and intestinal blockages are the leading cause of death in young ferrets. In the past ferret owners were encouraged to use a high-quality kitten food as the bulk of their ferret”s diet. This used to be the most appropriate food on the market. Today, however, a number of different dry foods are formulated specifically for the ferrets” dietary and digestive needs. Consult your veterinarian for the best food for your ferret.

How Clean is Your Ferret?

On a happier note, ferrets can use a litter box. However, potential owners should be aware that ferrets are not quite as neat about the litter box as cats.

Ferrets do make comical, adorable pets if properly cared for. Just be prepared.

Harboring a Fugitive

Ferrets make great pets, but make sure they”re not illegal to own in your state (sorry, Californians).