A brief history
Mustela furo, the European ferret is a member of the weasel family (polecats, minks, skunks, ermine, otters, fishers.) Ferrets were domesticated before the cat. Ferrets first came
to the United States over 300 years ago on ships where they were used for rodent control. There are no "wild ferrets" in the United States, except for the Black-footed Ferret (Mustela
Nigra,) which is an endangered species and in a captive breeding program. Domestic ferrets have no hunting instincts left; they will chase and catch rodents but don't know how to
"survive" on them. Ferrets are domestic in the truest sense of the word. They come in a variety of colors, ranging from albino, sable (with the racoon like mask,) chocolate, silver,
cinnamon and dark eyed whites (DEW.) Then there are various color patterns - mitts, panda, badger and siamese. Male ferrets (referred to as hobs if un-neuterd, gibs if neutered,)
average 3-6 pounds in weight, while their female counter parts (jills if not spayed, sprites if they are,) average between 1-3 pounds. Baby ferrets are called kits, and are not
considered adults until 10-12 months old. A group of ferrets is known as a "business" of ferrets.
When handling very young or unfamiliar ferrets, make sure that they are not hungry, and wash your hands if you have recently handled their food so that your fingers are not
mistaken for a tasty morsel! Keep them away from your face until they are used to you - ferrets explore new things with their mouth and teeth - not a good idea for noses and ears!
Ferret kits can be nippy (just like kittens and puppies) and must be trained not to do this. Usually a soft tap on the nose or grabbing the skin under their chin and a loud NO! will
work. Some people push their fingers into the ferrets mouth and other actually bite the ferret back (Like Mom). With a little training and time, they will grow out of the nipping stage.
As when any young child and animal are together, they should be supervised at all times. Children may be too rough and hurt the ferret, and cause it to bite in self defense. Ferrets
are much like 2 year old children - inquisitive with short bursts of high energy.
A good wire cage with carpeting or linoleum on the bottom of the cage to protect their feet is best. You need room for a litter box, hammock, and food/water dishes with enough
space left over for them to move around easily and stretch up on their hind legs. As a general guide, a 24"x24"x24" cage would be a good starting size for a couple ferrets, with a
hammock hanging from the top. For food, a heavy crock type bowl or one that attaches to the side of the cage (they will move their food bowl - do not underestimate their
determination!) is best. A large sized water bottle (one that contains enough for two days) is a good idea in place of a water bowl. You should of course change the water every
day - leaving a two day supply out is just a good idea as that will ensure that your ferret will not run out of water unexpectedly. You may want to attach a small bowl to the side of
the cage underneath the water bottle to catch any drips. In addition to a hammock, you should use old tee shirts or sweats for bedding. Even if you use a hammock, it is a good
idea to give your ferret a choice of sleeping areas. They like to burrow, and will enjoy snuggling under the bedding in their cage. Under no circumstances should an aquarium
be used as housing, as they do not permit sufficient circulation of fresh air. Ideal temperatures for ferrets are between 65 to 76 degrees. They handle the cold much better than
the heat. Heat in excess of 85 degrees can cause heat stroke and death.
A good quality dry ferret food is best. We recommend are EVO ferret, cat or even dog. FerretStore Supreme Choice, Zupreem, 8 & 1 Ultimate (white ziplock bag), Innova and
Path Valley. All these are available throught several on-line stores as well as pet stores.. There should be over 35% ( animal) protein, at least 20% fat, and very little fiber (under
3%.) A high quality kitten food can also be used. Such as Iam's Kitten, ProPlan for Kittens or Science Diet kitten food. Most dog foods are unsuitable for ferrets as their primary
source of nutrition is corn, a vegatable protein. EVO and some of the other good natural foods out there now are suitable. Key that the protein be ANIMAL and there be no corn in
the ingredients. Milk and other dairy products can cause problems such as salmonella and coccidiosis so avoid these. Ferrets love chocolate, but just as in dogs, chocolate is
toxic to ferrets. As a general rule, it is a good idea not to feed "junk food" to your ferret, including things that contain a lot of sugar, and pop. For treats (and remember that treats
are just that, not a main diet,), I give ferrettone, ferretvite and N-bones. Give treats in moderation! Ferret kits should have their chow moistened until they are about 9 weeks old to
help prevent bowel prolapse.
In 2006, I started feeding 1 day old chicks and mice from Rodent Pro to my fur kids. I highly recommend those as snacks. Even my 4 week old kits love the mice.
Spaying and Neutering
If you bought your ferret from a pet store, it has more than likely already been spayed or neutered. If not, upon reaching maturity (6-8 months) all pet ferrets should be spayed or
neutered to maintain optimum health. A jill must be spayed before she comes into her first season - usually the first Spring after her birth. Jills in season will die from
Aplastic Anemia if not spayed or bred. This is not something to disregard - breeding should not be taken lightly, and is best left to an experienced breeder. Ferret kits are a lot of
work, and you can't guarantee being able to find good homes for them. You put your Jill at risk of mastitis and vaginitis, and some jills will eat their kits or just let them die. Hobs
have a strong musky smell until neutered. Descenting will not remove this smell. It is caused by their hormones and secreted through the oils in their skin. Descenting is not
necessary, and not recommended unless for medical reasons
Health and Maintenance
Ferrets have nails like a dog which need to be trimmed regularly. The easiest way to do this is by putting your ferret in your lap in a sitting position. Put a few drops of
Ferrettone/Linatone (available at petstores) on his tummy. While he's busy licking it off you can trim both the front and back nails. Use cat nail trimmers or regular people nail
trimmers. Be sure you don't cut into the pink area of the nail. If you do, use flour, cornstarch or baby powder to stop the bleeding.
Ears should be cleaned regularly - at least once a month. A Q-Tip moistened with water or mineral oil is good. Be sure to get all the little pockets and avoidsticking the Q-Tip
down the ear cannal.
If you feel the need to bathe your ferret, a tearless baby shampoo works well, or there are products available designed specifically for a ferrets coat. Do not bathe more than
every 2-3 weeks. If you do, he will produce more skin oils, which will make his odor increase. Bathing too often is also very drying on your ferrets skin.
For periodic teeth cleaning, a cat toothbrush and toothpaste is available at most petstores. The back teeth can accumulate tartar, and should be cleaned by your vet or
A special note about fleas. If your ferret gets fleas, use only a flea product that is safe for cats and kittens. We recommend Frontline or Advantage which you can get from your
vet. Scratching does not always mean your ferret has fleas. Dry skin in the Winter or coat change in the Spring can cause skin irritation, leading to scratching. A few drops of
ferrettone every couple of days may help. Also, to avoid hairballs during coat changes, the use of a cat hairball remedy or a ferret specific one may be useful.
If your kit's mother used a litter box, chances are she has taught her kit to use one too. If your ferret hasn't had any litter training, it is best to start in a small area. Place a litter
box in the corner of the cage. (You may have to drill holes in the box so you can secure it to the care bars - a ferret WILL try and move the box!) For litter, you can use a dust free,
non-clumping cat litter or recycled newspaper pellets. An excellent and inexpensive litter is Wood Fuel pellets. They are bio-degradable, and can be used for mulching after
the ferret has finished with them. Do not use clumping litters or wood cedar chips. Clumping litter can be ingested causing a blockage, and wood cedar chips can cause
Your ferret may well decide to play in the litter at first. Don't worry! Don't put too much litter in the pan, and add a previous "deposit" to let your pet know what the box is for. To
help prevent accidents, put lots of bedding (soft tee-shirts, towels) in any problem spots. Ferrets do not like to dirty their bedding - so if you use enough bedding materials, it
almost forces your pet to use just the box.
Most ferrets won't return to the cage to use the box during playtime. You will need to use a couple of boxes in the room where your ferret plays, placing them in there every 15
minutes or so to see if they "need to go." Always reward use of the box with a little treat, but NEVER punish your ferret for accidents - simply pick him up and place him in the
box. If your ferret has an accident which you didn't notice, clean the area thoroughly to remove any smell. A vinegar and water solution works well. Remember, just becasue
you can't smell the accident - it doesn't mean your ferret can't! If it smells like a bathroom, then it is a bathroom as far as he is concerned. If your pet always chooses to go in
one particular place, simply move the litter box to that place. At times, it is easier to let them choose their own bathroom areas! And always remember the golden rule - be
consistant. The more you work with your ferret, the better litter trained he will become.
Playtime and Toys
Ferrets are very social animals and love to play. It is important for their well being that they get out of the cage every day for play time. If they don't, they will lose muscle tone
and can become depressed. When frequently handled with lots of TLC, they are less prone to nip and become the loving pet you wanted! As for toys, many things a ferret likes
to play with can actually be dangerous for him. Avoid rubber, plastic, ribbons or any item that can be swallowed and cause an intestinal blockage. This can be fatal - and at the
very least, require expensive surgery to remove the obstruction. Safe, inexpensive toys include ping-pong balls, plastic practise golf balls or small balls with bells in them, milk
jugs with holes cut in them, boxes, stuffed animals (nothing loose) and dryer vent tubing.
Ferrets require two types of vaccinations. One for canine distemper - Merial's Purvax or Galaxy D are the ONLY ones to use - and another for rabies. In this case, only the IMRAB
3 vaccine is approved for ferret use. Please note that in order for your pet to be legal in Franklin County, he must be registered with a vet, and have a current rabies vaccination
certificate on file. If the pet store says that your ferret has been vaccinated, please be aware that he will need two further distemper shots three weeks apart once you take him
home. He will aslo need his rabies shot at 12 weeks of age. Do not give the distemper vaccine and the rabies vaccine on the same day. If your ferret should have a reaction to
the vaccines used, it may be impossible to tell which vaccine he is reacting to. Yearly boosters are also required for both canine distemper and rabies, along with a yearly vet
exam to make sure that everything is fine with your pets health.
Ferret proofing your home is a must for your pets safety, and your own peace of mind. Females are smaller than males, and can get through much smaller gaps than you
would think! Get down on your knees and look at your house from the point of view of an inquisitive 2 year old child. Are there any obvious holes? What about behind
refrigeratirs or under stoves? Any holes around the pipes? Any in the kitchen cabinets? What about cleaners in those cabinets - could your ferret ingest any dangerous
chemicals? Check, check and check again - then supervise your pet for the first few paly times. He will soon let you know if you've missed a spot! Be aware of the dangers of
bathrooms - an inquisitive ferret could easily drown in a toilet where the seat has been left up...
Don't forget to check the dryer, washing machine a dish washer before you switch them on - you never know where these little critters will be sleeping. Always be aware that
you live with a ferret - they are very ingenious and can get into the most obscure place you could imagine!
Collars and ID tags
A harnesswith a bell and ID tag is recommended around the house. The bell comes in very handy for locating your pet, and the ID could save him if he got outside. For walks,
an H shaped harness and ID tag works better than a collar - a ferret can slip a collar (good if they get caught by it - bad if they're out walking with you!)
Common Diseases and Illnesses
Ferrets are highly susceptible to many viruses and several strains of human influenza. Signs of illness mimic similar human symptoms. Do not let any of these symptoms
persist for more than 24 hours without contacting your vet. Green diarrhea, or better known as Green Slime or ECE is very serious and should be treated immediately - a trip to
the vet is definitly in order with this one. Like many other pets, ferrets also have their own specific diseases. Lymphoma, Adrenal Cancer, cataracts, Insulinoma and more
recently known Aleutian's Disease Virus(ADV). Check out the links page for more detailed medical information.