How to Take Care of a Ferret

If you are considering getting a ferret for a pet, you have probably wondered about what sort of care these curious critters need. The good news is that ferrets can do well in just about any size of home, although if you have a large home, it is easier for your ferret to wander around and get lost! They do have some specific health requirements, such as being an obligate carnivore. Read on to learn all about how to take care of a ferret.

What to Know About Ferrets

In order to know how to take care of a ferret, it is good to learn more about this species of small mammal. Ferrets have been domesticated for thousands of years, but they are outlawed in some areas. The domesticated ferret is often confused for the black-footed ferret, which is a cousin. They're also related to wolverines.

Within the U.S., most ferrets are sold already spayed and neutered, as well as de-scented. If you are buying or adopting a ferret, you will want to make sure that these things have already been done or you should make plans with your local veterinarian to perform the procedure. Keep in mind that ferrets have a distinct odor, especially if they have not been de-scented. This is particularly an issue with unneutered males.

Ferrets are crepuscular, which means they are most active during the hours of dawn and dusk, and they will sleep the most during the day. Many will adapt themselves to your schedule. When you set up your ferret's home environment, keep in mind that they have poor eyesight, but their sense of smell and hearing usually makes up for it.

Housing for Your Ferret

A great place for your ferret to stay during the day and late at night is a cage, although they should have access to larger areas of the house regularly. Experts recommend at least four hours per day of run time. Because of this and the trouble these little guys can get into, you will need to ferret-proof your home. Ferrets are curious and like to investigate their environment, and they can fit into small spaces, so you will want to be prepared for that.

Your ferret's enclosure should have soft bedding and have plenty of space. Multi-level enclosures are a great way to maximize your space while giving plenty of room for your ferret. This is especially true because many will want to have separate areas to eat, sleep and go to the bathroom. The cage should be away from drafty areas, so your ferret does not get cold.

You should have plenty of things in the cage for your ferret to play with and make sure they cannot reach any cords or items that could be damaged by their sharp teeth. You'll also want a secure latch on your ferret's cage door so they cannot get out on their own; take note, some ferrets can figure out how to work a lock.

Feeding Your Ferret

Ferrets are obligate carnivores, like cats, which means that they are meat eaters. They cannot process much of the nutrients from plant-based sources, so you will want to provide plenty of animal protein. While some people advocate for a raw diet, you should be aware that this can pose a risk of pathogenic bacterial infections for both you and your ferret.

Some potential food sources for your ferret are eggs and coldwater fish. You'll want to avoid foods that are high in sugar or fiber, as a ferret's body is not designed to consume those in high quantities. Ferrets also need to be fed every few hours; most will not overeat if they have access to food throughout the day, but if your ferret begins to gain weight, you will want to adjust feeding appropriately.

Ferrets should always have access to clean, fresh water. You might want to experiment with a bottle waterer, or a crock or dish, to see which your ferret prefers to drink from.

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Grooming Your Ferret

Ferrets need minimal grooming, which makes them less maintenance than most dogs that need to be brushed every day. Monthly baths in cool water can help keep your ferret's coat clean. Bathing them too frequently can actually dry out their skin, causing their skin glands to secrete more, which can also make more odor.

Your Ferret’s Health

Ferrets are prone to several health issues. One is fractured teeth, so make sure to limit hard things, such as bones, that your ferret may chew on. This helps minimize the risk of tooth fractures. Dental care is important to keep their teeth healthy, as they are also at risk for issues such as cavities.

Unfortunately, adrenal gland disease is very common in ferrets as well. There are several potential reasons for this, including poor diet and spaying them early, which is important to help prevent another health condition known as aplastic anemia, which can be fatal. Signs of adrenal disease can include hair loss and irritability.

One of the most common cancers affecting ferrets is lymphoma. There is not a prevention for this disease and it is often fatal in ferrets.

Ferrets are also prone to a cardiac condition known as dilated cardiomyopathy, which leads to an enlarged heart. Your ferret may develop breathing problems as a result of this and it is generally fatal. Although, there are some treatment options if it is caught in time to help slow progression of the heart condition.

Ferrets commonly develop digestive issues too, which includes a foreign body obstruction. Ferrets rarely vomit, even when having an upset stomach, so get your ferret to a vet immediately if you notice they have vomited, to make sure they have not eaten something they are not supposed to. These critters get GI upset because they like to experience the world by tasting lots of things. This is another reason why ferret-proofing your house is so important.

In Summary

Ferrets make great pets, but when you need to prepare your household for them, ferret-proofing is very important, and you should work closely with your veterinarian to keep your ferret healthy.