The Ferret FAQ

For a change of events, today I am answering the billion of questions that I get about ferrets.  I am sick of responding to the same questions over and over again on my youtube videos, so now I will have one handy place to direct everybody :)  I am not a ferret expert, but I have 11 owned ferrets over 13 years.

Aren't ferrets wild?

Nope!  Ferrets are descended from the European Polecat and many believe they have been domesticated longer then the cat.  They cannot survive in the wild.  I am not entirely sure why they were originally domesticated but they were used to hunt rabbits and other rodents down burrows and also trained to run wires through structures.

Don't they smell?
Yes.  They do have a very unique odor that is kind've musky.  Personally I don't think it's that bad, it's definitely a better smell than cat urine!

The main thing that will help in keeping the smell to a minimum is washing their bedding.  Their hammocks and fleece absorb all of that smell, especially since ferrets sleep so much.  The more you rotate and clean their bedding, the less the smell will be.  It will also help to stay on top of their litterbox.  A common misconception is bathing them too often to try and keep the smell down.  Really ferrets should only be bathed when they rolled in something dirty or no more than once a month.  Bathing them too often strips them of their natural oils and they will often smell worse the day or two after a bath.

Chances are your ferret is already descented, but if not there really is no reason to do so.  Descenting only removes the anal glands and eliminates the "poof" that ferrets can make when they are really scared.  Since it only happens when they are scared, there is no reason to put your ferret through this unnecessary procedure.

I heard ferrets were vicious, don't they bite?
Nonsense!  Baby ferrets, called kits, will nip during play just like puppies and kittens.  Once taught that human skin is fragile, ferrets have very good control and will learn how to play appropriately with us.  With a new ferret I simply shriek "ouch" and immediately scruff the ferret for 2-5seconds before putting him back down and resuming play.  The scruff serves as a mini timeout and the ferret will learn that biting ends fun time.  When interacting with a young ferret I try to always have a towel or toy in my hand for the ferret to bite.  Remember that ferrets, just like dogs and cats, play with their mouths so they will need an outlet.

Where can I get a ferret?
While you may see lots of cute ferrets in your local pet store, please consider going to your local humane society or even searching on craigslist or petfinder.com for your new pet.  If your purchase from a pet store you are supporting large commercial breeding facilities, aka ferret mills.  There are plenty of ferrets needing new homes out there as many people do not know the large amount of work involved in owning one. 

Should I get 1 or 2?
I highly recommend getting 2 ferrets to start out with.  Ferrets are extremely sociable creatures and need the companionship that you simply can't offer them 24/7.  Ferrets love to snuggle with each other; all 5 of mine sleep in the same hammock most nights even though I have 4 hammocks plus fleeces in their cage.  You can have just have one, but really ferrets do best with a buddy.
Ferrets need to be out of their cage for an absolute minimum of 2hrs per day but 4+ hrs is much better.  If you only have one ferret then you need to make sure that you INTERACTING with them for most of the time they are out of their cage.

Most people fall in love with a ferret and soon a mysterious phenomenon called "ferret math" occcurs.  Before the owner realizes it, their 1 ferret has turned into 2 and then 3!  This is how I ended up with 5.  And FYI, a group of ferrets is known as a "business!"

How big do ferrets get?
Females are often 1-2lbs and males are usually around 2-3lbs but can be larger.  It is not uncommon for ferrets to gain weight in the winter and lose it in the summer.  If you feel your ferret is getting pudgy do NOT put a ferret on a diet in the typical sense of restricting food as they need to eat several times a day due to their high metabolism.  Try increasing the amount of time they are out of their cage and make sure you are keeping them active during that time with fun games.



What does my ferret need to eat?
Ferrets are pure carnivores.  They have a very short GI tract and do not absorb nutrients very well so need a diet very high in protein and fat.  Many people feed their ferrets a raw diet and a whole prey diet is best.  If you are looking at feeding a dry kibble make sure it is a meat based protein of at LEAST 30% protein and 15% fat.  I feed EVO Ferret which is 50% protein and 21% fat.  Read the label of your chosen food very carefully as most "ferret food" in pet stores are not designed well for ferrets needs.

Stay away from ferret treats as almost all have no meat products in them and are made entirely out of sugars, fruits, and vegetables which can all be very dangerous for ferrets.  Contrary to popular belief, raisins are not a healthy treat for ferrets.  A nice treat that I use is Ferretone, a fatty acid supplement, find it in the health/supplement isle of your local pet store.



What type of toys do I need? 

The best toys are anything you have around the house!  Paper bags, old clothing, cat toys, and anything else they can steal.  Ferrets also love tubes although some old dryer hoses work well for the purpose.  The only time I have ever seen ferrets wag their tail is when they are playing in the tube.  Another favorite is a dig box.  Get a large bin, add some rice (not instant) and you have ferret madness.  If you take your ferret outside (when the weather is pretty cool, not in summer!) make sure you use a harness that is very tight.  Ferrets are experts at escaping their harnesses and I have also found that the Marshall harnesses are too big for small females.  I prefer the 5 in 1 harness from premier. Good luck teaching your ferret to walk with you on leash though!

What about a cage?
Whenever I am not home or able to supervise, my ferrets hang out in their mansion.  A cage should be multiple levels with plenty of room to hang hammocks and I like the ones with full levels (not just a tiny shelf) so I can put fleeces out and don't have to worry about the clumsy guys falling a long ways.  I also love large double doors so cleaning is much easier.  My favorite cage of all time is The Ferret Nation.


How do I introduce a new ferret to my others?
It usually takes awhile for ferrets to adjust to each other.  Anytime I got a new ferret I would house them in a separate cage until I felt comfortable housing them together.  This could take anywhere from 3 days to 3 weeks or longer.  My personal criteria is that I wait until I see them sleeping together outside of their cage, like when I give them play time, until I ever house them together.  Often I will switch their beddings around so that they can get used to each others scent.  Usually you don't have to intervene in the greetings, just make sure that you prevent the new one from being picked on too much.  Before the first meeting it also best to give the new one some time to explore it's surroundings. 

It doesn't really matter what sex you get, although male to male introductions may take a bit longer and female to male the easiest.  In the end almost everyone gets along!


How do I introduce my ferret to my dog and cat?
Most dogs get along with ferrets just fine.  Dogs I would be more concerned about are those with really high prey drives such as terriers and hounds.  Ferrets will usually hold their ground and bite at a dog rather then flee and usually this works in their advantage by not exciting the dog's prey drive like a running squirrel or rabbit.

 But please be on the safe side and introduce slowly!  Start with your ferret in a carrier and bring your dog into the room on leash.  If your dog seems to be giving friendly signs, you can proceed by letting the ferrets out of the carrier while still keeping your dog on leash.  Make sure the ferrets have plenty of spaces to hide and let them approach the dog on their own time.  Ferrets are naturally very curious so this shouldn't take that long :)  Be very cautious and if at anytime your dog starts to get too excited remove him from the room and try again later.  If your dog has some training in ignoring distractions and giving you eye contact, this is also a good time to bring out the treats and reward your dog for being calm around the ferrets.  If your dog is giving actual aggressive signs, it is best to always keep the two completely separated and not take any chances.

Most cats and ferrets also get along ok and will likely learn to ignore each other unless you have a young and playful kitten in which case they might end up wrestling together..  Remember to ALWAYS supervise your pets, even if things go smoothly.

Help!  My ferret poops everywhere!
Well ferrets are not like cats. They will never be 100% "litter" trained, but you can make it so you don't have poop all over your house. It's going to be a combination of training and management.

I'll start with management. Ferrets naturally go in corners. If a ferret feels the urge to go, they basically look around and think hmm is there a litter box nearby?  If there is a litterbox fairly close they should go to it.  But if not, then they go to the nearest corner.  This basically means that you will need litter boxes (or newspaper) in multiple corners of your house.  You will get to know their favorite corners. If you don't like that corner you can try putting blankets over there, but it's really really hard to have a ferret not go in some corner that they just love.  So resign yourself to having a litterbox behind the tv, next to the lamp, etc.

Now training. Most of this training comes rather easy since they naturally like corners.  If you put a box or newspaper in that corner they're going to go to it.  But you can also do some training by first limiting your ferret to a small room (like the bathroom) and having a litterbox in one corner. Whenever you see your ferret start to go, put him in the box and then reward him with a treat if he goes.  Very quickly your ferret will learn to poop in that corner only. Slowly expand the amount of room you give your ferret.  But if you expand you will also need to put down another litterbox because of what I mentioned earlier of ferrets not wanting to travel long distances to poop.  Of course since ferrets are smart he will start to trick you by pretending to go and see if that still gets him a treat!

Since I have 5 ferrets I prefer newspaper around the house since it's just easier to pick up and throw away. In the cage I have a litterbox.

Do I need to spay or neuter my ferret?
Well since most ferrets are purchased from a pet store they come already spayed/neutered from the ferret mill done at a very early age.  Even though you are more thoughtful and are checking out your local humane society, there is a very good chance that ferret was still purchased at a pet store originally and thus is already spayed/neutered.  If you do have an intact female you MUST get her spayed immediately.  When a female goes into heat she has to bred, or think she has been bred, or she WILL die.

What is that crazy dance they do?
Ahh, the weasel war dance!  When ferrets are very happy they bounce around the house with their backs arched.  They often bump into things which only serves to make them even more excited!

Do ferrets make any noises?
Ferrets are very quiet animals.  When they are really happy they may make a sound known as a "dook."  It is a fairly quiet chuckling sound and is basically ferret laughter.  My ferrets dook the most when playing in their tube, digging in their rice box, or running into walls!  If a ferret is very scared they might also scream or may do a higher pitch more rapid version of their dook. 


How do I clip their nails?
Easy, get some ferretone and a willing friend!  With the ferret on his back and held by your friend, pour a little bit of that yummy ferretone onto his stomach.  Your ferret will happily lick away at his belly and allow you to clip away!  It may take a few sessions for your ferret to get this new game, but I've never seen it fail and usually you don't even need a helper.  If you need to, you can also scruff the ferret.

Can ferrets learn tricks?
Any animal can be trained including ferrets!  Clicker training works very well as it gives you the ability to mark the exact instant the ferret does what you want.  Considering the intense activity of a ferret this timing is greatly appreciated!  The harder part of training your ferret lies in motivation and distractability.  We all know that ferrets have zero attention span as their brain jumps from "ooh a pen!" to "ahh, I bumped into a wall let's spaz!"  Motivation issues occur since ferrets are very picky about new foods.  Ferrets can be very distrusting on any new food you are presenting them and it may be difficult to keep their attention with their regular kibble.  If you have a young ferret, make sure to introduce a variety of foods early on so that training is easier.

One easy trick you can teach your ferrets is to come when called.  Since ferrets are so inquisitive they will naturally be curious about a squeaky toy.  So get some treats ready, squeak the toy, and immediately give your ferret a treat.  If you repeat the squeak-treat sequence your ferret will soon learn to run across the room whenever you squeak the toy!

I haven't spent too much time in teaching my ferrets tricks and so far only 2 of mine will stick around long enough to work for me.  Loki and Opie both have a rollover and sit up.  They have also been introduced to spin and a target stick.

Why shouldn't I get a ferret?
Ok, people don't ask me this one but they should.  Ferrets are not the pet for everybody.  They smell, steal everything, dig, and need litterboxes everywhere.  Of course they also need a ton of SUPERVISED playtime every single day, yearly vet visits, regular nail trims, and tons of cleaning up afterwards.  Oh, and they are highly prone to cancer and there is a very good chance that you WILL be paying for expensive surgery sometime in their life.

Where can I find all your ferret videos?
Click here!

 

Dawn  – ( May 26, 2010 at 6:53 AM )  

Laura, they are so darn cute. Love the thieving, made me smile this morning. Thank you for sharing

Anonymous  –   – ( May 26, 2010 at 8:12 AM )  

Thank you for this post! I've never had a ferret but I've always wondered about them. Your ferrets are super cute!

Do you need to spay/neuter ferrets? I would assume that if you have multiple ferrets of different sexes it might be necessary.

Kathie R  – ( May 26, 2010 at 8:40 AM )  

WOW! These guys are a riot! Didn't know ferrets could be so much fun to watch :)

Ninso  – ( May 26, 2010 at 11:20 AM )  

I'm pretty sure I will never have a ferret, but I love watching your videos! My favorite is when they arch their backs and hop! Cracks me up every time!!

Mango  – ( May 26, 2010 at 4:51 PM )  

Great post! We met you through your ferret movies. I love watching them and now that I have read all about them I know we will NEVER have one. Sob.

Slobbers,
Mango

Laura, Lance, and Vito  – ( May 26, 2010 at 6:37 PM )  

"anonymous"- I updated the FAQ with more questions I've got, including yours!

Mango- ferrets are so much work. I've had them for 13yrs and am pretty sure that when this current gang is gone we won't be getting anymore. I may switch to rats though :)

Training my Mammoth  – ( May 26, 2010 at 7:44 PM )  

I'm so glad you posted this. I've been wanting a ferret for EVER but my boyfriend is convinced of a lot of the misconceptions people have, particularly that they smell worse than skunks. Maybe eventually I can change his mind.

Honey the Great Dane  – ( May 27, 2010 at 8:53 PM )  

What a fascinating post and I think it's a wonderful, responsible thing to have done too because I can see lots of people falling in love with ferrets (especially through your videos!) and now realising how much work & commitment they actually are. In fact, I was thinking I'd love one - until I read this post! And I live with a giant slobbery dog that drools on EVERYTHING and tracks mud everywhere and when she smells, there is a LOT of her that smells...but I don't think I'd be able to cope with the litter boxes mainly. I hated even having the one when Lemon was a kitten and was so pleased when she taught herself to go outside and we didn't need it anymore.

It doesn't mean I don't like ferrets anymore though - I still love them - they are just the cutest, mischievous little things - like little pixies! :-) But I think I will have to enjoy them vicariously through you! :-)

We found you first through one of your ferret videos too - just love them!!

By the way, you didn't answer one question which I'm curious about: can you train ferrets? I don't mean the toileting - I mean like tricks or giving behaviours on cue...have you tried clicker training them?

Hsin-Yi

Muttsandaklutz  – ( May 28, 2010 at 6:15 PM )  

What an informative post, well written -- and that video is frigging hilarious!!

Laura, Lance, and Vito  – ( May 29, 2010 at 11:38 AM )  

Hsin-Yi: question answered! And yes, most people do not want ferrets once they learn about them. The litter boxes is my biggest peeve and I really don't know if I will own any more once this gang is gone since it is just so much work and so annoying. But we'll see!

Ferret Nation  – ( June 3, 2010 at 12:46 PM )  

This is a great and comprehensive FAQ page about ferrets..From now on, when asked another ferret question, I'll send people to this page on your blog! :-)

Anonymous  –   – ( June 3, 2010 at 2:39 PM )  

finally a fellow ferret owner that knows what they are talking about! :-)) great videos and a great site! ive been keeping ferrets for around 20 years and ive forgotten how many times ive talked people (that clearly have no clue how to look after ferrets) out of keeping them. so well done to you on passing on "proper" information :-) keep up the good work!

Anonymous  –   – ( June 20, 2010 at 4:09 PM )  

hello i am a ferret owner in greece and unfortunately there are no ferret experts in my country!!!so please can you tell my why my ferret is hissing at me and why he keeps biting at me????i would really appricyate your help!!!this is my e-mail alexandros_m1990@windowslive.com!!!thank you for your time and a big sorry for my english!!!!

Anonymous  –   – ( July 13, 2010 at 10:42 PM )  

I wish every ferret owner were as aware of their needs as you are and thank you for spreading the truth. But you are letting people see how adorable they are or everyone will want one and as you have pointed out, they are not or everyone. That's another praise I have for you; pointing out the bad things..."if I have told you all the bad things and you still want one, a ferret may be fo you." is what I say to people. Your blog is fantastic, thanks for sharing your knowledge and your ferret family.

Kinix  –   – ( July 16, 2010 at 3:23 PM )  

I was searching YouTube and came across your videos... you have a full house! I've always wanted a ferret [or two] for the longest time, but never really knew how to take care of them... until I came across your blog! You answered all the questions I had! I'm still going to do more research on them before I actually get some, but I'm determined one day I will have some ferrets! They're just so adorable!!

Anonymous  –   – ( September 9, 2010 at 2:57 AM )  

That was the most adorable video I've ever seen!!! I'm in love with those guys! They are so cute.

Jay  –   – ( September 27, 2010 at 8:27 PM )  

Hmm, i never used a cage other than for the overnight part when introducing a new ferret to my bunch.
I went the route of ferret proofing the kitchen and then had them confined in there when i weren't at home (that said tho, i didn't have any other pets at the time), amazing pe(s)ts though, and im told they are fairly allergy friendly aswell.

Anonymous  –   – ( December 2, 2011 at 8:06 PM )  

Hi can you suggest music or aromatherapy for my sick ferret?

Laura, Lance, and Vito  – ( December 2, 2011 at 10:50 PM )  

If your ferret is sick I suggest you see a vet. I don't know anything about aromatherapy. If your ferret is sick and not eating, a good plan is to mix up some "duck soup." Google it and you'll find several variations and it's a fantastic way to put weight on a ferret, either forced fed through a syringe or most ferrets eat it right up.

Brian  – ( December 29, 2012 at 3:28 PM )  

Hello,
Firstly, I must say, your ferrets are adorable! :D I love watching your videos whenever I want one! Haha.
Currently I do not have any pets in the house.
I reallyy want to get one (I absolutely love animals, hehe.)
I was at first turned away by the amount of playtime 1 would need (since I would only be able to buy one for starters), but I got over that. Unfortunately, I would be going to college in a about a year and a half, nobody in my family would be willing to watch it for a year while I'm gone, and I'm almost positive I wouldn't be allowed to dorm with my ferret for my freshman year. =/

But, my main question is, are the vet bills high for one ferret? (in your opinion)
Besides that and going to college soon, I most likely would get one/convince my parents to let me get one haha. =/

Laura, Lance, and Vito  – ( December 29, 2012 at 4:34 PM )  

Brian-
Ferrets will need to have a vet visit to get their distemper and rabies shots. In most areas, the going rate for just an office visit for any type of pet is between $50-75 and add on shots and you're looking around $100 for that first visit. Then while there hasn't been any research using ferrets, most studies are showing the distemper vaccine lasts a lifetime in dogs so I no longer re-vaccinate my ferrets. Rabies will need to be done according to your state laws between every 1-3yrs.

After that, ferrets are highly susceptible to #1) blockages. If you leave pieces of rubber lying around a ferret will chew on it and can be at risk for a blockage.
#2)insulinoma and adrenal gland tumors. Ferrets are HIGHLY prone to tumors. After the age of 3-4, I would say greater than 1/3 of all ferrets get one of the two diseases. with surgery it's usually treatable but as you can guess, expensive.

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