Tips for Keeping Ferrets as Pets

Ferrets are more popular than ever these days, but they're not new pets -- they've been domesticated for over 2000 years. And although they may not be quite as familiar as dogs and cats when it comes to household pets, their long ringed tails, playful nature and ability to bond with their owners set them apart from other small mammals.

It's true that ferrets come from the weasel family, which also includes vicious badgers and smelly skunks, but they are quite different than their infamous cousins in most respects. Find out other important facts about keeping ferrets as pets, including how best to care for them, before deciding whether this playful pet is a good fit for your home and lifestyle.

Caring for Your Ferret

Cleaning: One criticism is that ferrets smell terrible, but that's an exaggerated statement. Although ferrets give off a faint musky odor, they don't smell nearly as pungent as their skunk cousins, and the acrid oils that ferrets secrete are mild and will wash away easily. Most ferrets for sale have been descented, which should decrease the odor considerably, but they will probably still give off a faint scent. Occasional baths are fine, but be wary of over-bathing your pet: cleaning their fur and skin too often can result in more scent secretions, which will leave you with even smellier results!

Behavior: But a ferret's consideration for their owner will surely make up for any physical drawbacks. Did you know that, although they are often most active at dawn and dusk, ferrets can adapt their sleeping patterns to your sleeping patterns? Don't expect them to be up all day and asleep all night, but you will likely notice that your cycles line up more evenly as time goes on. In fact, they tend to bond very closely with their owners, but because of their energy and excitable nature, it's not a good idea to introduce a ferret into a home with very young children, who may not be able to handle them very well.

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Health Concerns: Remember that ferrets have energy to spend and prefer to be around other ferrets and people than to be cooped up and left alone. However, that high energy also means they are more prone to accidents, so be sure to keep any hazards out of reach and it's a good idea to have a good exotic pets vet and enough money for emergency treatment, should your ferret get hurt or sick. Aleutian Disease Virus, or ADV, is one of the most serious diseases ferrets can contract, but they are also prone to flu and parasites, especially if their diet is less than ideal.

What to Look for in Ferret Cages

Using Cages: Unlike most pet rodents and other small mammals, ferrets don't need to live in a cage; in fact, it's best if you only cage them when it's absolutely necessary. It's much healthier for them to run around a large space as much as they need to, since they are so naturally energetic. On the other hand, ferrets will want to retreat to their own space at times, and baby ferrets are immobile for several weeks, so you will need a cage of some sort.

Cage Design: Whether you choose to buy a brand new cage or make your own, be sure that it is easy to clean. Metal cages are often the best in this respect, but sealed wood can be good alternatives. Look for removable shelves and floor panel, and be sure it's easy to reach into every corner of the cage.

As for size, bigger is always better, and levels are a wonderful way to maximize a ferret's space without diminishing your own. Multi-level cages have ramps, steps or tunnels between floors and you can add fun accessories to each level for more interest. Include hammocks, bedding and a few toys to keep your ferrets occupied, and don't forget the litter box!