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Ferret Care Sheet

NATURAL HISTORY:
Ferrets are carnivorous mammals in the mustelidae family and are closely related to weasels, minks, otters, and badgers.  Most ferrets that are sold in the United States come from a single commercial breeding farm called Marshall Farms.  These ferrets will have two blue dots tattooed on the inner aspect of the right ear, which indicates that they have been neutered and de-scented.  However, male ferrets still retain some of their distinct natural “musk”—a smell that seems to bother some people more so than others.

Ferrets are generally very friendly, playful, and curious animals, making great pets for the right family.  Ferrets tend to get along well with most cats and dogs but any interaction between these animals should be closely supervised.  Children should also be closely supervised when socializing with ferrets, as ferrets do have sharp teeth and may not tolerate rough handling.  Be mindful that ferrets are predator species and should not be allowed to interact with rodents, rabbits, birds, snakes, or lizards (they will try to eat them!).  Ferrets live an average of 6-9 years and males (800-1200 grams) tend to be a little larger than females (500-900 grams)

DIET:
Ferrets are strict carnivores.
Period.
This means that they require a diet that is high in animal protein (30-40%) and fat (15-20%).  Commercial dry ferret food can be found in any retail pet store but it is also acceptable to feed a high quality dry kitten food.  Most ferrets will eat intermittently throughout the day; thus, dry food may be offered free-choice depending on their activity level.

Grilled or baked meat, fish, or poultry can be offered in small amounts as a treat but make sure to remove any bones before feeding.  Fruits and vegetables are generally not very appealing to ferrets and should not be fed in any significant quantity.  Again, ferrets are not vegetarians.  Please note: adult dog and cat food is not an acceptable long-term diet for ferrets, so such should be avoided.

Fresh water is best supplied in heavy ceramic bowls and/or a hanging water bottle.  I recommend placing them on the ground in an area that is easy to mop up.  Ferrets tend to be clumsy and mischievous and often tip water bowls over if they are not sturdy enough.  Clean and replace water daily.

HOUSING:
Ferrets are naturally nocturnal animals but domesticated ferrets will often adjust their sleep schedule depending on their human family’s routine.  Ferrets should be allowed supervised exercise time in a ferret-proofed room for a few hours per day, if possible (see below for more information about ferret-proofing).

When no one is around to supervise, it is recommended to house ferrets in a large metal cage with a lot of vertical space.  Ramps can be used to connect different levels and hammocks can provide a nice place to nap.  Ferrets generally will use the “lowest” level as a place to defecate and urinate, so make sure that the bottom is padded with absorbent material that can be easily cleaned.  Litter boxes can help contain some of their mess.  Remove anything from the cage that your ferret tends to shred or chew on — especially if it is non-digestible.

FERRET PROOFING:
Ferrets can be very inquisitive and downright mischievous at times.  The following is a list of “ferret-proofing” tips to help them stay out trouble around the house, especially when they are allowed to roam freely:

  • It is very important to realize that ferrets will chew on just about anything but ferrets really love plastic, rubber, and foam.  Keep these things out of their reach, as they can (and will) ingest foreign material that can cause intestinal obstructions.
  • Ferrets are surprisingly thin-bodied and can squeeze into any opening that they can get their head through.  Block any holes around cabinets, appliances, and baseboards.
  • Remove recliners and pullout beds.  Many a ferret has met its demise in the heavy metal hardware and springs that lurk within these pieces of furniture.
  • Remove toxic chemicals; such as insecticides, rodenticides, and household cleaners
  • If you allow your ferret to roam through the house, always double-check the washing machine, dryer, dishwasher, and refrigerator before closing the door and turning them on.

VACCINATIONS AND PREVENTATIVE CARE:
Ferrets should be vaccinated for canine distemper and rabies.  Most ferrets purchased from pet stores will have received an initial vaccine series at 6-8 weeks of age, but may require a booster at 10-12 weeks and another at 14-16 weeks of age.  Annual vaccines are given thereafter.

Ferrets are susceptible to fleas and heartworms.  Revolution can be used topically each month to prevent both of these parasites.

COMMON DISEASES:

  • Fleas
  • Intestinal foreign bodies
  • Insulinomas
  • Adrenal disease

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