Ferrets

Ferrets are intelligent, playful and easily tamed. They are entertaining to watch with their clown like antics.However, taking on a ferret is a big commitment as they have specific requirements to maintain good health and well-being.

Ferrets have a distinctive strong, musky smell that can take some getting used to. Note that this smell and the oil that produces it will more or less disappear if you have your ferrets neutered, this will also make their coat silkier. Ferrets need to be kept with their own kind and it is unfair to keep a single ferret. Males or female ferrets from the same litter can live happily together, but will need to be separated if mixed groups if they have not been neutered, to avoid unwanted pregnancies and fighting between the males (hobs). As with cats and dogs it is a good idea to get your ferret microchipped so that it can be returned to you if it is lost.

Ferret life span

A healthy ferret can expect to live between eight and twelve years.

Housing your Ferret

Ferrets need plenty of space. They need to be kept in a very large, secure cage, which is raised from the ground. Ferrets are notorious escape artists, so the cage needs to be very secure. The cage should be positioned away from direct sunlight and draughts. There should be a separate indoor area that should provide warmth and security. Place a deep layer of clean wood shavings on the floor or layers of old clothing for bedding. It is important if using wood shavings to make sure its dust free as dust can affect ferret breathing, also ferrets have a knack in getting claws, heads and even their man hoods caught in some fabrics or stitching, hence a lot of pet ferret owners now tend to use fleece as bedding rather than old clothes, which is a lot quicker to wash and makes a nice warm nest, Ferrets are meticulous about their toilet habits. They will use the same area for urinating and defecating.

Ferrets love to play! Provide your ferrets with toys such as cardboard tubes and wooden cotton reels.

Ferret health

Ferrets need to be vaccinated against canine distemper as the condition is potentially fatal to ferrets. Ferrets can suffer from parasites if their bedding is not kept clean too. They are also prone to mange. Mange can cause a ferret to scratch and can result in bald patches of fur. Ferrets can suffer from mites. Check ears and coat on a regular basis. Ferrets can catch the ‘flu virus from humans. Stay away from your ferrets if you have the influenza virus. An infected ferret should be kept away from other ferrets. Many owners chose not to insure their Ferrets, so keeping vet bills down by spotting and tackling problems quickly is essential. See also neutering female ferrets below.

There are not many insurance companies available for medical cover.

Feeding your ferret

Being obligate carnivores a diet of complete dried ferret food (very high in protein and fat) should be offered along with raw or cooked meat, though do not feed cooked bones. Raw meat alone will not provide adequate nutritional requirements. A constant supply of clean, fresh water in a drip feed bottle with a metal spout and heavy water bowls should always be available to your Ferret.

Handling your ferret

Ferrets need to be picked up gently and firmly using both hands, one around its hindquarters and the other around its shoulders. Handling your ferret too roughly could result in it biting. Ferrets can inflict severe bites. Regular handling of your Ferret will help keep it tame.

Grooming ferrets

Ferrets are very clean animals, although they have a distinctive musky odour if they have not been neutered. They spend many hours grooming themselves.

Ferret reproduction

Female ferrets (jills) come into season from early spring until September. Female ferrets become sexually mature at approximately eight months. Pregnancy lasts between 40 to 44 days. Litters average between 6 to 8 young (but may have up to 15), and females can have up to two litters a year.

The importance of neutering your female ferret

If you are not intending to breed your ferrets, (there are lots of ferret rescues around the country with lots of unwanted ferrets, including kits, seeking homes already), then do consider getting your ferret neutered (jills spayed and hobs castrated, or implanted) once they have reached maturity.

Neutering will make ferrets generally less smelly and it will make the hob ferret less aggressive and easier to handle. But it is for the jill that neutering is crucial.

If your jill does not breed, her ovaries will keep producing oestrogen. Over a few months this flood of the hormone will become toxic to the ferret’s bone marrow and lead to an anaemia which is fatal. Many female ferrets die this way.