Fascinating Ferrets

These active pets are both entertaining and adorable.

You might be surprised to learn that one of the most popular pets in North America is the ferret. These small creatures have been kept as pets for thousands of years – it’s reported that even the Romans kept ferrets. Through the Middle Ages and into the Victorian era, ferrets were kept as pets by British aristocracy and royalty – in 1390, a law was passed that only the very wealthy could own ferrets! Fortunately, that law doesn’t apply anymore, and now ferrets are great pets for many people.

Ferrets were first kept by humans as working animals – they were used in rabbit hunts because they could crawl through rabbit burrows. They are still used today for this purpose in Europe and Australia, although it’s illegal to hunt with ferrets in the United States. Ferrets are also helpful in setting up communications systems – a ferret crawls through the wiring tubes with a guide string tied to its harness so that the wiring can be strung through the tubes. But the main job for most ferrets these days is bringing joy to their owners by being fun and adorable pets!

A Ferret in the Family
Ferret enthusiasts believe that ferrets are the best pets, and for many people they are. Ferrets have a lot to offer. They’re smart and love to play and learn tricks, and each ferret will have its own unique personality. Ferrets live an average of 6-8 years. They are generally 13 to 16 inches long, with males being larger than females. Males weigh more as well, up to 4 pounds.  Ferrets have great hearing and a sharp sense of smell, but their eyesight is average at best.

Ferrets can also be trained to use litter boxes, making them easier to care for. Often they won’t take to it as quickly as a cat, but a little patience will pay off. Choose a ferret-specific litter pan with a high corner as ferrets back into a corner to eliminate and they can easily “overshoot” the edges of a regular cat litter box. Ferret pans will attach securely to the edge of the cage.

Watch your ferret and make sure he uses the litter box when he wakes up, as most ferrets will go to the bathroom within 15 minutes of waking. Once he has used the box, you can take him out of his cage to play. Have a litter box outside the cage as well, and place your ferret in the box at least once every half hour. Act immediately if your ferret starts to back into a corner, placing him in his litter box.

When your ferret uses her litter box, give her a treat as a reward. Positive reinforcement will help your training efforts – especially if the reward immediately follows the action.

In addition to litter training, ferrets will require unique preparation that you should consider before adopting. You will need to ferret-proof your home! Ferrets can squeeze through very tiny openings, and their curiosity means they will find every last one of them in your house. Before letting your ferret out, make sure any and all holes are covered up or filled. Some ferrets will enjoy chewing on electrical cords. This is bad for the ferret, and anything the electrical cord might have been powering, so it’s best for everyone to keep ferrets away from cables. This also means plugging any holes or spaces in appliances that a ferret could get into or underneath. Supervise your ferret in the house to make sure he stays out of trouble.

A wire cage is the best home for a ferret. This will make sure he has lots of air, which will help keep his home smelling fresh. His cage will also need a water bottle or bowl, food dish, and litter box. Lastly, your ferret will want a soft, warm, dark place to sleep, like the Super Pet Sleep-e-Tent.

The Ferret Fragrance
One of the myths about ferrets is that they have an uncontrollable unpleasant odor. The truth is that they do have scent glands that produce a mild odor, but as long as your ferret is healthy and kept in a clean environment, the smell is easy to control. Keeping the litter box clean is the first step to controlling odors. Clumping litter is not good for ferrets, as young ferrets may eat it, and most ferrets will play in their clean litter. Clumping litters could clump in the eyes and nose of your ferret if they tunnel in the box. Many absorbent pellet litters made of recycled newsprint or wood are available and will do a good job of controlling the smell.

Because of their scent glands, bedding and other parts of the cage will start to smell. For this reason, it’s best to buy beds, hammocks and other accessories that can be washed. Cages should be made of non-absorbent materials like plastic and metal. Wooden toys and cages will absorb odors and can’t be cleaned well enough to remove them, so avoid these for your ferret. 

The Hunter Diet
Ferrets are natural hunters and are descended from animals that would have only eaten meat. For this reason, meat protein should be the basis of their diet. It’s important to feed a food that’s designed for ferrets that contains enough protein and little or no grains. Some ferrets will enjoy other foods, but treats should be given in moderation to avoid digestive problems. A meat-based treat like Bandits is a good option that your ferret will love.

One risk that ferret owners must be aware of is that ferrets will eat just about anything. Many love to chew on rubbery things like erasers or headphone cables, but ferrets have been reported to chew on or eat almost anything. Numerous household items could be very dangerous for the ferret if swallowed. To avoid a hefty vet bill for x-rays, or even surgery, keep an eye on your ferret when he’s loose to make sure he doesn’t eat anything other than food.

Ferret Instincts
Ferrets have some odd behaviors. They have a reputation as thieves, and do like to collect items and hoard them – favourite items are socks (especially dirty ones!), rubber things, and just about any other small item they can carry. If you’re missing something, check your ferret first, he may have hoarded it!

Hoarding items is an instinctual behavior for ferrets. In the wild, their ancestors would hide prey that they’d killed so they could eat it later. In your home, this instinct guides them to hide whatever they can get their paws on. As for dirty socks, some ferrets like them because they make a nice soft bed that smells like their favorite people.

Ferrets have a reputation as biters. Some ferrets will have issues with biting, but others will have no problem. Sometimes pet ferrets bit simply because they want to play. Ferrets bite each other to communicate or show dominance, so you need to train them not to bite you. Ferrets have a thick skin, so the type of biting they typically do wouldn’t hurt another ferret, but it will hurt a person. If he bites you, tell your ferret “no,” and offer a chew toy instead.

Ferret Facts

  • Queen Victoria bred albino ferrets and gave them as gifts.
  • The name ferret is derived from the Latin word furonem, which means thief.
  • Ferrets are very deep sleepers – so deep that sometimes their owners think they’re dead!
  • Ferrets have a hard time containing their emotions – they do a ‘happy dance’ when excited.

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