A Ferret Parent’s Guide to Taking Care of These Cute Critters

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pet ferret chewing on a red ball

Nicknamed the “Stinky Weasel thief,” the ferret has undoubtedly become one of the more popular pets in the United States. Although they may be small in size, this feisty little critter can have a big personality! To learn more about keeping a ferret as a pet, read on.

Ferrets as Pets: The Furry Friends we All Love!

A ferret is actually a member of the Mustelidae family. This means that they are related to other carnivorous mammals such as the mink, wolverine, badger, otter, and weasel.

Now, these adorable little Mustelas can be found all over the world! They are endemic to parts of North America, Europe, and Asia. Like other mammals such as the rabbit or hamster, ferrets are considered burrowers!

In the wild, these slender fur babies can be found burrowing through tunnels that may have once belonged to groundhogs or prairie dogs. So, if you’ve already got a one, then you’ll notice they love to snuggle up and “burrow into” pillows and blankets.

Are Ferrets Rodents?

Big beady eyes, a cute pink nose, tiny ears, and small hands that steal snacks. With a description like this, you might be wondering, could a ferret be related to a rat?

Well, a lot of people believe that ferrets are rodents. However, this is far from the truth.  Rodents include animals such as hamsters, rats, prairie dogs, and chipmunks.

Rodents are animals that will have incisors that constantly grow. They can be both herbivores and omnivores and a few tend to be borrowers too.

On the other hand, ferrets are members of the Mustelidae family. They are obligate carnivores, who are more closely related to the polecat as opposed to any rodent.

Weasel Vs Ferret: How is a Baby Weasel Different from a Baby Ferret

Now, you’ve probably always wondered—are ferrets and weasels the same thing?

These two furbabies look alike! So, there is no doubt that people may confuse your ferret with a weasel. However, in reality, these two little animals are entirely different.

A weasel is often quite small in size when compared to a ferret. However, their tail is a lot longer than that of a ferret.

The ferret was domesticated over 2000 years ago! So, it comes with no surprise that they are incredibly friendly and social by nature. Weasels are not meant to be kept as pets, this is because they have not been domesticated! These little guys, although cute, can be incredibly antisocial and aggressive.

From Sable to Albino: The Awesome Ferret Colors 

Ferrets can come in all different types of coat colors and patterns. Some widely recognized coat colors include:

  • Albino
  • Black
  • Black Mitt
  • A Black Sable Mix
  • Champagne
  • Chocolate
  • Cinnamon
  • Dark-Eyed White

Now, have you ever heard about how all white cats with blue eyes turn out deaf? Deafness is also very common in ferrets, and just like the white cat, blue eyes example, deafness is linked to their coat color.

Ferrets that inherit white markings on their face, often referred to as Blaze, will develop a genetic defect known as the  Waardenburg syndrome. This disorder results in the underdevelopment of a component within their inner ear. And, so it is estimated that 75% ferrets, with the blazed markings, are likely to turn out deaf.

5 Ferret Facts for First Time Owners!

  1. Ferrets that are less than a year old are called kits! Females are called jills and males are called hobs.
  2. In the wild, when threatened, these little creatures do a dance! This dance is allegedly supposed to put their prey into a deep trance. Now, if your pet does this little dance, then this actually means they’re being playful.
  3. Got a pussy cat? Yes, if raised together, ferrets can get along quite well with your pet cat. However, they may not do so well with dogs.
  4. You should never place your pet ferret with other small animals. Remember, these little munchkins are carnivores! So, although they look cute and friendly, they can hunt and kill pet rabbits, rats, hamsters, gerbils, and, snakes.
  5. Just like dogs, these little guys need exercise too! Playing with your ferret daily and taking them for walks is a great way to ensure your little munchkin stays fit.

young child with three pet ferrets

Are Ferrets Good Pets? What You Need to Know About their Behavior

Ferrets are mischevious animals! They can be both playful and naughty when they want to. Most people often think of them as little dogs, as they do love to cuddle with their owners, play with toys, and play-bite occasionally.

Every ferret will have their own unique personality! Some may be more naughty than others, and some may be more feisty than others.

These little furbabies are generally easy to handle. They are also incredibly smart, and so you can train them to do all sorts of tricks. However, keep in mind that these little furbabies have a short attention span, so training may not always be successful.

Now, these small carnivores do like to bite and nip! This is just how they usually play with each other. However, excessive nipping on owners can gradually result in more painful bites.

And on occasion, biting can be a sign of dominance. So, it is essential to avoid encouraging your ferret to bite you especially if you have young kids.

They Need Toys too!

All pet ferrets love toys! But, choosing the right toy for them can be a bit tricky. So, to make things a whole lot easier for you, we’ve created a checklist on what you should look for when picking the perfect toy.

  • Choose a toy that is made from durable material.
  • Avoid toys made from latex rubber, foam, and plastic.
  • Offer soft toys to your ferret as well! However, make sure that there are no buttons, beads, or eyes that can be easily torn off.
  • Offer toys that cater to their natural behavior. For example, tunnels, tubes, cardboard boxes all engage your ferrets’ innate response to burrow.

Even these Small Animals Get Sick!

Even your pet ferret will need to see their veterinarian every year. Like our dogs and cats, ferrets too can succumb to an array of diseases. Some common conditions seen in pet ferrets can include:

  • Diarrhea: A poor diet, secondary illnesses, and warm weather can cause enteric infections in these little creatures.
  • Parasites: Your furry friend can also encounter parasitic problems! For example, these little guys are prone to ear mite infestations, fleas, mites, and mange.
  • Canine Distemper: Unfortunately, ferrets are quite susceptible to the canine distemper virus. This viral disease—most common in dogs—can cause appetite loss and discharge in ferrets. If left untreated, death is often inevitable. When you get your first pet ferret, it is always important to ask for their health records.
  • Feline Panleukopenia: Caused by the feline parvovirus, this viral disease is quite common in domestic cats. Veterinarians have suggested that this viral infection can cause disease in ferrets. In particular, baby ferrets infected with this virus may develop cerebellar hypoplasia. So, depending on your region and household, some vets may advise you to vaccinate your ferret against this infection.
  • Human Influenza: Have you got the flu? Did you know that your pet ferret can catch the flu from you? Yes, it is true! Ferrets can indeed get the flu from their human owners, but fortunately, this can self-resolve.

How Long do Ferrets Live for?

How long your ferret will live for will depend a lot on their genetics, diet, and lifestyle. Ferrets that are from a healthy bloodline can live up to 12 years. In general, the average pet ferret can live anywhere between 5 to 10 years.

Caring for your Baby Ferrets: Nutritional Needs

Now, these little furry babies are obligate carnivores. Which means they mainly require an all meat diet. When they were first domesticated, people fed them mink mix food.

A mink mix food generally has a pungent fishy flavor. This is something ferrets hate! Most pet ferrets actually prefer the taste and smell of chicken.

tiny adorable ferret drinking from a bottle

What Do Ferrets Eat?

The diet of a ferret in the wild will consist of mice, rats, insects, small birds, and small reptiles. So as you can see, their diet can be quite diverse.

Feeding your little carnivore appropriate and balanced diets can be a little hard to understand. Nevertheless, we’ve broken down all you need to know about feeding your pet ferret.

Firstly, pet owners should always consider providing their ferret whole prey options. Whole prey comes in freeze-dried forms, and you can often find entire prey meals at your local reptilian pet store. Whole prey options include freeze-dried mice and rats.

Many owners also choose to feed their ferret friends cat food. Cat food is quite a common component in a ferrets diet as its high in protein! However, as cat food is designed for cats, you’ll find that feeding it to ferrets on a long-term basis will result in nutritional deficiencies.

To ensure your little furbaby is well fed, we highly recommend a species-specific diet. So, here is our list on the best premium ferret foods available on the market.

Mazuri Complete Nutrition: This delicious kibble is designed especially for ferrets! It contains 15% less starch than most commercial diets, which makes it ideal for your little carnivore.

Marshall Premium Ferret Diet: This yummy ferret food is perfect for your furry carnivore. It consists of a high protein diet which is enriched with omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. We guarantee that your little carnivore will go nuts for this meal.

young ferret yawning

Pet Ferret Housing Requirements

Housing your little Mustela is not as complicated as it may seem. Unlike rabbits and other exotic pets, these guys don’t need an outdoor enclosure.

Instead, providing your ferret with a multilayer cage is all they will ever need. When choosing a pen for your little friend, the recommended sizing for one to two ferrets is  24 x 24 x 18 in (60 x 60 x 45 cm).

You should choose cages designed explicitly for ferrets as they are sturdier and are better able to withstand a ferrets’digging nature.

If you’re not sure about which pen to purchase, then we highly recommend the MidWest Homes for Pet Ferret Nation. This is a double unit cage which consists of ramps and shelves, which is perfect for your ferret.

Ferrets can be trained to use a litter pan! You’ll have to teach them how to use one when they’re young!

When selecting a litter pan for your little fur baby, go with a low-sided pan. There’s no need to get a full cover pan as it may deter them away from their designated toilet area.

When choosing litter, we recommend going with recycled newspaper or any other natural based litter. This is because, ferrets, in particular kits, tend to burrow and play in their litter. To prevent your little carnivore from getting a respiratory infection, we recommend owners stay away from clay and crystal based litter.

ferret sleeping in hammock

The 5 Tips on Ferret Care 

  1. If you get a female ferret, we highly recommend that you get her spayed. This is because if a female ferret goes into heat and does not mate, then she can suffer from severe anemia. This can result in her death.
  2. Don’t forget to fix your male ferret too! Males, in particular, can become incredibly aggressive during mating season. This is one common feature that often deters people away from them! During mating season, a male will bite, chase, and attack members of the family. It is best to avoid such a situation by neutering your male ferret.
  3. Avoid feeding your little carnivore fibrous food! Rice, oats, bread, and hay are food sources they are unable to digest.
  4. These little guys sleep a lot! So, don’t expect to play with them as much as a dog.
  5. Make sure you provide plenty of blankets, soft toys, and pillows for your ferret. As they love to play, snuggle, and dig.

Common Questions

How much exercise does a ferret need?

Do ferrets have personalities?

Where do pet ferrets come from?

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