Ferrets are generally quite healthy animals as long as they are cared for correctly.
But they will need a fair bit of attention during the week, from grooming to cleaning their cage, and it can be surprising as to just how much care they need if you are a newcomer to keeping them.
But if you care for them correctly, they will give you so much love and fun in return. They’re animals with big personalities, so are rewarding to keep.
- Lifespan: 6-10 Years
- Average Size: 45-61cm
- Average Weight: 450g-1.81kg
- Popular Breeds: Albino, Fitch, Silver, Sandy, Dew
- Diet: Carnivorous
- Origin: Europe
IMPORTANT THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW
- They reach their adult size at the age of four months
- They’re predators by nature, so care should be taken if they are given freedom around other animals. Don’t mix with hamsters, rabbits or reptiles
- Ensure your chosen vet will happily take members of the Mustelidae family, such as ferrets. You may need an exotic vet
- They need to eat solely meat, which can get quite expensive to buy. They will also need plenty of toys, bedding and a suitable home which can add up
- They are sociable animals so should ideally be kept with other ferrets
- Ferrets can be kept indoors or outdoors. They need plenty of space, and as they sleep for 18-20 hours per day, need somewhere comfortable to sleep
- It is a good idea to get them neutered for several reasons, including that they will lose their musty smell
- Regular worming and flea applications are also necessary, as is weekly grooming
- They can be handled but you need to be gentle
WHERE TO BUY A FERRET
Wherever you get your ferret from, it should be at least eight weeks old if young. Ask the breeder plenty of questions, from the parentage to their experience with breeding, and about health checks so far.
You should ensure they check out as a reputable breeder, know what they are talking about and can also give you recommendations such as vets. The ferrets should have plenty of space, and look happy where they are and when approached.
Ferrets can commonly be found to rehome at charities or adoption centres, even if you have to travel a while. It can be very rewarding to adopt an animal and give it a new life, especially if you are looking for one to live by itself or in a small group, or to pair with an existing friendly ferret.
It is common to find ferrets in pairs in rescue centres, which is already a good start when it comes to their social needs
Pet stores can also sell them, but it isn’t common. Be aware that those at the store may not be massively clued up on what you need or how to look after them.
CHOOSING YOUR FERRET
A healthy ferret should be bright and alert overall. There should be no signs of discharge from the eyes, ears, mouth and nose, and ears should be upright with bright eyes.
They should have a glossy coat with no bald patches and not have sores on the skin. Their anal area should be clean, and they should have a healthy appetite. Movements should be smooth and supple, and their ears, gums and pads should be nice and pink.
As mentioned, a kit will need to be at least eight weeks old in order to be able to leave its mother. The most common age range is between 8 and 16 weeks.
Unfortunately, they can commonly be sold from 5 or 6 weeks – this poses questions and risks of the breeder
At least 12 weeks is usually seen as the ideal. Do be aware that a kit will need more time and patience for training, though. This can make adopting an adult more appealing for some.
Jills (female ferrets) and hobs (male ferrets) each have their advantages. We would say it is best not to aim to breed them, so they will need to be spayed or neutered. You can read why this is best in the Health section.
The big concern here is compatibility. It is best not having too many males living together, especially if they are unneutered. But overall, both males and females make great pets and there is no real massive difference between the two.
They are sociable animals so you may have to find the right balance in gender if you have multiple
If handled correctly from a young age, they can form a very strong bond with humans. They’re quite demanding for children, and young children can be quite rough with them which could cause some nips or a very nervous ferret.
They do respond to fear, pain, or to certain noises or actions by biting, so they should be taught boundaries as soon as possible. Most captive-bred ferrets will largely be okay with handling and being around humans.
It is in their nature to enjoy games which simulate hunting so always be prepared for nips and bites
When handling, do this calmly and slowly and keep noise or panic to a minimum. Start by offering treats from your hand. Place one hand across their back, then slide the hand up to circle the neck with your thumbs under the mouth. The other hand will need to support the weight of the body. With daily handling, you will adapt to how this is best.
Ferrets, just like rabbits, need plenty of space to run and exercise. This should be split over several levels, with separate areas for sleeping and playing. Sleeping boxes should be provided, one for each ferret. Huge, dedicated cages are available.
They can be kept inside or outdoors, as long as it is dry, draught-free, escape-proof and out of direct sunlight. They can be sensitive to the sun and get sunstroke. If kept inside, a large outdoor run like a multi-level aviary is a good idea.
Cages should ideally be cleaned around once per week. Pet-friendly disinfectant needs to be used, and bedding or shavings should be replaced completely.
Ferrets will normally use the same area every day as a toilet, which makes this simple to dispose of daily. They can even be trained to use a litter tray!
Ferrets react badly to extreme temperatures, so are best kept at 15-21°C. Don’t leave their cages near radiators or windows, especially if windy or bright sunlight.
They will need something on the base of their housing. A layer of wood shavings or cat litter is suitable floor coverings.
Other Products Needed
Some do enjoy paddling or can be litter trained, so they can be given a shallow tray of water or cat litter if so. Non-toxic wood branches, shelves, pipes and hammocks can give them a variety of play areas and levels.
Keep their cage filled with toys and enriching activities, and they will also need a gravity-feed bottle for their water supply.
Ferrets are obligate carnivores and need a diet high in protein and fats. They must eat meat, and can be fed raw meat including whole prey. This can be chicken, rabbit, game birds or pigeons, as well as turkey necks, lambs heart and offal. Whole prey includes rats, mice and chicks.
Buy this from reputable shops, to ensure they aren’t full of parasites. Kitten food with high meat content can also be given but only as an emergency ideally, and you can get dry ferret kibble which is high in meat protein. It can be good to switch this in with the meat.
Issues With Diet
Ferrets can actually hide some food for later, but this is bad as it can obviously go off and cause illness if it’s then consumed.
Due to their short intestinal tract and high metabolic rate, ferrets must eat little and often. In the wild, they would eat the whole animal including bones, which gives them the full nutritional value and also exercises their jaw. This is why a mix of raw meat and bones, as well as full prey, should be given.
Foods To Avoid
Ferrets have a short intestinal tract and absorb nutrients inefficiently, which is one of the reasons their diet needs to be high in meat-based protein and fat. Giving them fruit or vegetables means they are ingesting fibre and veg protein, which can cause disease.
They also can’t ingest fibre as they have no cecum.
Tips For Feeding
Treats, such as eggs, can be given but only rarely. They are prone to gaining weight so even a daily treat can have a negative consequence. Baby ferrets can also be given meat, but a mixture with low lactose milk. Kits tend to bond with their food, so they should be given a range of it as soon as possible to make it easier to feed them.
Check them over weekly for any signs of illness. This can be if they aren’t as alert, or their fur is starting to look dull. Discharge from eyes and ears can be a visual sign that something is wrong. Monthly, you should look for dry red skin, pale gums and for bad breath.
Keep a monthly record of their weight, as this is often the biggest sign of illness in ferrets. Seasonal weight changes and fur changes can make this difficult at certain times of the year but you should look for drastic changes.
Your ferret will need to be protected against distemper, which is a serious viral disease. It is rare in the UK now, but only thanks to the vaccination. Your ferret should get this – your vet can recommend when is best.
A regular checkup is a great idea, around every six months. When your ferret becomes an ‘elder’ at 3-4 years old, this is even more essential to detect issues early and could include blood and urine checks.
The vet can ensure everything is okay and spot things you may not have been able to. This includes dental issues – ferrets can easily break their canine teeth as they are very inquisitive and explore using their mouth.
When you first get a kit, you should take them for a full examination including listening to heart and lungs, and they can give any tips.
An unspayed, unmated jill will remain in ‘heat’ for six months out of each year, which will alter her behaviour, and the increase in hormones can mean a greater risk of diseases such as leukaemia or stress. Unneutered male ferrets can become very territorial if they live with other males.
The above is a big reason why we always recommend neutering, spaying and keeping ferrets unmated
Ferrets can actually catch the common human cold, and also pass it on to humans. If you have symptoms, you should ideally keep contact minimal. There is no vaccination against human influenza for ferrets.
Older ferrets can suffer from dry, cracked paw pads, as well as swollen genitalia and shortness of breath and gasping. Dental problems can also be an issue, causing bad breath and swollen gums. You may see them pawing at their mouth or struggling to eat.