Ferret: The Complete Guide To Caring For Ferret

A ferret is a carnivorous animal that belongs to the biological family of Mustelidae. The ferret animal is often considered to be somehow related to a species that belongs to the same genus as ferrets, known as the European Polecat.

Not only is it pretty similar to the European Polecat in terms of appearance, but it also has been observed to share some behavioral traits. Today, only a few breeds of ferrets can be found in the wild due to this species’ widespread domestication.

Ecologists go as far as to say that most ferrets today would not survive for long in the wild since wild ferrets today can only be found as runaway pets and not authentically wild ferrets.

History of ferrets in New Zealand

Specifically in New Zealand, ferrets have had a checkered existence due to their unfavourability in New Zealand’s ecology. Even though wild ferrets were introduced to the wilderness of New Zealand over a century ago, ferrets continue to wreak havoc on the indigenous ecology of this country.

Ferrets, along with stoats and weasels, were introduced to New Zealand from Europe in the 1880s to manage rabbits breeding out of control.

Scientists and historians believe that ferrets were well established in the wild by the early 20th century, and, since then, the ferret animal has undoubtedly been one of the leading causes of native bird species like the weka, blue duck, kakapo, and kiwis, becoming endangered or extinct species.

Unfortunately, today, the Kakapo species only survive on a few islands devoid of ferrets and similar wild animals from the Mustelid family.

Ferret

Farmers in New Zealand urged the introduction of ferrets into the country in 1877 to manage the rabbit population, which had been imported by humans as well.

In 1879, five ferrets were imported, and further, many more shipments of ferrets from London were received in New Zealand. The ferrets were mated with the European polecat on the cruise, resulting in numerous hybrids that could survive in the wild.

Ultimately, roughly 4,000 ferrets and hybrid species of ferrets and European polecats, over three thousand weasels, and 137 stoats were released in New Zealand’s wild areas.

To further worsen the situation, in the late 20th century, a market collapse forced ferret farms to abandon their operations and let the ferrets free into the wild.

The issue that arose as a result of this was that ferrets began occupying one of the very few existing kiwi territories, thus, pushing the kiwi species to the brink of endangerment.

Because ferrets are predatorial carnivores, birds that are restricted to the lands fall prey to them. Therefore, New Zealand considers ferrets to be a pest species in their territory.

What is the History of the Domestication of Ferrets?

About two and a half millennia ago, the Egyptians began domesticating the European Polecat’s North African descendant, the ferret animal.

Historians and scientists believe that among some uncertain reasons, one of the reasons for the domestication of ferrets may have been for hunting purposes. In fact, some evidence from Rome also tells us that ferrets could have been used by humankind as hunting companions.

Ferret on a lead in grass stock photo

Traditionally, ferrets have been employed to hunt rabbits and vermin. Ferret animals are absolute naturals at diving into and exploring holes to chase burrowing animals like rabbits and other types of rodents, thanks to their lithe bodies and inquisitive nature. This is where the phrase “ferret out” comes from.

In fact, because of this quality of ferrets, they were also of immense utility in the United States of America in preserving grain storage areas from rodents between the late 19th century and World War II.

In the late 1900s, people in the United States of America began adopting and buying ferrets to keep them as home pets. 

What is Ferreting?

In areas where the rabbit species is seen as a pest creature, ferreting is the method used to control their population. Typically, ferreting involves using a domesticated ferret to capture or kill these rabbits using nets or other tools.

The ferreter lays purse nets over rabbit holes and ties the net’s draw chord to a peg. The pet or domesticated ferret is then placed in these holes, the net is reset, and the ferreter patiently waits and listens as their inquisitive little assistant works the tunnels and burrows.

Once the ferret enters the hole, rabbits try and run away or exit the hole. In doing so, they are inevitably caught in the nets that the ferreted has laid out over the exits.

Interestingly, the only substantial difference between the way ferreters operated in ancient times and today is the fact that the majority of ferreters today use electronic finding devices in conjunction with ferret locator collars.

These work by simply making a noise when the devices get closer to the ferret’s collar. This allows the handler to track his ferret underground and find them if they decide to “laid up” or just kill and feast on a rabbit in the burrow itself or take a nap in it. Click here to know if pet ferrets can live alone

Different Types of Ferrets

If you are considering bringing home a pet ferret but want to explore your options a bit, here is a list of the different types of ferrets that you can choose from!

Black-footed ferret

The fact is that the black-footed ferret is probably the only different breed of ferret in this entire list. The black-footed ferret is the wild descendant of the European Polecat. The other breeds are the domesticated varieties of the same breed.

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This ferret breed is also known to be one of the North American region’s rarest mammals to exist in the wild! Gradually, the black-footed ferret is being reintroduced to the wild due to consistent efforts by conservationists.

Black sable colored ferret

A black sable-colored ferret differs from an ordinary sable ferret. It has darker guard hairs and a cream or white undercoat.

The distinction between the blackish-brown guard hairs and the lighter undercoat is more noticeable. Apart from this, both types of ferrets are more or less similar.

Sable colored ferret

The most commonly found ferrets in the world, as pet ferrets, belong to the sable ferret type. The sable ferret sports a dark brown guard layer of fur that is underpinned by lighter hues of white and cream.

Finding the sable ferret is easy since nearly every American pet store will be able to offer them to you!

Champagne color ferret

Champagne ferrets have lighter guard hairs and whitish or cream-colored undercoats and are often characterized as a diluted chocolate hue.

Their eyes are normally pale in color, although they can also be a darker reddish hue.

Chocolate colored ferret

True to its name, the guard hairs of the chocolate ferret have a milk chocolate color that is underpinned by a white undercoat. The chocolate-colored ferret has black eyes, with a contrasting color on its nose, usually pink.

Cinnamon colored ferret

Cinnamon ferrets sport a light brown to reddish hue and are not very frequent. Now, something to remember with respect to cinnamon-colored ferrets is that the American Ferret Association does not recognize them as a different color.

Cinnamon-colored ferrets have a white to golden undercoat, and the color of their nose can range from beige to pink to brick red.

Black ferrets

True black ferrets have black guard hairs and a white undercoat, making them darker than black sable ferrets. These ferrets also have black eyes and a black nose, though the nose may be visible on occasion.

Albino ferrets

A true albino ferret has red or pink eyes and a pink nose and is white to cream color. A way to differentiate between albino ferrets and regular white or cream ferrets is if they have a pink nose and eyes. Those ferrets aren’t truly albino ferrets if they don’t.

Characteristic Features of Ferrets

Ferrets are physically similar to cats in terms of their characteristic physical features. A male ferret, known as a hob, can weigh up to 4 pounds (2 kg). A female ferret is known as a jill, and it can weigh up to 2.5 pounds (1.2 kg).

Ferrets are generally available in a variety of colors, including white with pink eyes, sable, cinnamon, and chocolate, to name a few. It is, however, common to see white patches on the throat or toes.

Fascinatingly, ferrets have the ability to change the color of their fur coat in terms of their density and shades of colors based on the weather and season. It darkens and thickens in the winter, then lightens and sheds in the summer.

Ferrets achieve full maturity between the ages of 5 and 6 months and are considered adults generally after a year. Another characteristic feature of the ferret species is that male ferrets and female ferrets will often vary in terms of their physical appearance. This is because the species is sexually dimorphic.

Behavioral Tendencies of Ferrets

Ferrets are intelligent creatures that will also display their affection and loyalty to their caregivers. Moreover, they can also make for great pets because of how entertaining they are as animals.

Here are some of the most typical behavioral tendencies that you will find in pet ferrets.

Rampant curiosity

Close-Up Shot of an Albino Ferret Looking at Camera

Ferrets will want to explore every nook, corner, and cranny in their surroundings, along with everything that is new or foreign to them. Ferrets are extremely curious by nature, and you will have to take special care to keep items that are toxic away from them.

Teething and chewing

Ferrets love teething on soft materials like foam, rubber, and plastic. Give ferrets chewable toys, remove personal objects from their space, and cover any gaps/holes in the walls to keep them from gnawing on wires, personal goods, or any other things that could harm them.

Digging and burrowing

White Rodent on Brown Dried Leaves

Albeit not well, ferrets do like dark enclosed spaces such as burrows. Therefore, every now and then, they will dig their way into a self-created burrow in their blankets or amidst their cushions.

Playfulness

Ferrets will enjoy their daily playtime either with you or a companion ferret or even interesting toys.

Vocalizations

Ferrets emit hissing or gentle squeaking sounds when they are terrified, furious, or threatened. Ferrets may also hiss when they are playing. Therefore you must ascertain the situation due to which your ferret is hissing before you react to it.

Can You Train Ferrets?

Yes, you can train ferrets. While you can’t make them do elaborate actions and follow difficult commands, you can train your pet ferret to live in your home in a way that is beneficial for both you and it.

Training your ferret is something that you must be able to devote some of your time to. The reason is that not only is it a great bonding activity for you and your pet ferret, but also, dedicated training sessions will also help your ferret channel its energy and intelligence toward a specific goal.

You will have to train your ferret primarily about three things. The first is the habit of biting, nipping, or chewing on things or people. The second is climbing and digging, and ultimately, you will also have to litter train your ferret if you want to share your living space with it.

The fundamental principle behind training your ferret for all of these three things is the same. You must use the word ‘no’ firmly and follow that up by placing your ferret in the ideal position it should be in.

Therefore, to train your pet ferret to stop biting people or chewing on things it shouldn’t be chewing on, you must firmly say ‘no’ and follow that up by picking them up by the scruff and placing them away from the person or object they were biting or chewing.

Similarly, to train it to stay on the ground and not above or below it, every time your pet ferret begins to climb or dig, say no and follow it up by either putting it back onto the ground (if it was attempting to climb) or by placing it back above the ground (if it was attempting to dig).

Even when it comes to litter training ferrets, you must utter the word ‘no’ firmly if you see signs of your ferret wanting to relieve itself and pick it up by the scruff and place it in the litter.

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The one thing you must remember while training your pet ferret is that it requires consistency and patience. Your ferret is likely to relieve itself in the wrong place or out of the litter from time to time while you are still training it.

However, bear in mind that it’s all part of the process. You should also be rewarding desirable behavior with treats and affection because positive reinforcement techniques have proved to be extremely effective in training not just ferrets but nearly all animals.

What Does a Ferret Eat?

A ferret is a pure carnivore. Therefore, meat and animal sources of protein are absolutely essential in a ferret’s diet, whether it is wild or domesticated.

It would, therefore, definitely help if you were feeding your pet ferret a diet that is as close to a wild ferret’s food to ensure that your ferret secures the requisite amount of nutrition and stays healthy.

Some ferret food that you can consider is whole eggs, commercially available food for kittens, commercial ferret food, or any other sources of rich protein.

Ferrets have a short intestinal tract and absorb nutrients inefficiently, which is one of the reasons they require a high-protein, high-fat diet. These are quickly digested by their bodies and provide bursts of energy to them.

Further, it would be best if you gave your ferret as little fruit or veggies as possible. These are high in fiber and include complex carbs that ferrets can’t digest well.

A high-carbohydrate diet, as well as the vegetarian protein present in fruits and vegetables, can even be the cause of illness in ferrets. 

You can feed your pet ferret meats such as chicken, lamb, chicken wings, animal carcasses, mice, rats, rabbits, pigeons, beef, and animal bones, as part of their daily diet.

What animals are prey for wild ferrets?

Prey animals like rodents, chicks, chickens, pigeons, rabbits, and so on are some of the animals that wild ferrets prey on.

In the wild, ferrets are known to consume every part of their prey, including their bones. The reason is that the bones are great sources of calcium for ferrets.

Should you adopt a wholly natural and raw diet for your pet ferret?

Yes, you should adopt a wholly natural and raw meat-based diet for your pet ferret.

We understand that the idea of feeding your pet raw meat may seem uncivilized and unhealthy, but you must remember that the closer your pet ferret’s diet is to her wild counterparts, your ferret is likely to be healthier in the long term.

This is because ferrets have evolved to require a specific nutritional profile from their diet, and this is best sourced through natural and raw meats. Therefore, make sure you purchase high-quality meat and rats from trusted sources.

Moreover, you should be mindful of your ferret while feeding it raw meat. Ferrets often try to set aside and hide food so that they can enjoy it later, but doing so can lead to the meat rotting.

Reasons Why Ferrets Make Excellent Pets

Sable ferret posing stock photo
Sable ferret posing on wood background. Fluffy ferret pet posing in a studio setting

Ferrets enjoy playing

The fact is that ferrets are playful creatures and will thoroughly enjoy some quality playtime with you or with a companion ferret and toys. Ferrets do need exercise, but since they are playful, it is pretty easy to make sure they get that amount of exercise in a day.

Ferrets are adorable

This one’s a no-brainer, but ferrets are extremely adorable creatures. Yes, they do have a vicious side when it comes to prey, but not with you, its caregiver. They will adore you with their heart while also giving you much-needed cuddles.

Ferrets are intelligent and trainable.

You may not be able to train a ferret to the extent that you can train a dog, but you can still train your ferret to live in your home the way you expect it to. Using clickers to train ferrets along with positive reinforcement techniques has proven to be very effective.

Ferrets will love you as much as you love them.

Having more than one pet ferret is often suggested because they are quite sociable animals.

Having two or more ferrets increases the enjoyment factor for both the owner and the ferrets since they will interact and play together, sometimes recklessly, much to your entertainment.

However, regardless of whether they have other ferrets to engage with, they will still seek attention from their owners because they crave the emotional connection with their caregivers too.

Ferrets don’t need much space.

Being small creatures, you don’t really need to arrange for a lot of space for your ferrets in general. You will have to ensure that your ferret gets enough space to exercise and play, but beyond that, you don’t need extravagantly large cages to house them.

Every ferret will be unique.

Much like cats, even ferrets have distinctive, unique personalities that they will display through their behavior. You are likely to appreciate their personalities more if you have more than one pet ferret.

Ferret food is easily available.

The ideal ferret food is clean raw meat along with commercially available ferret food pellets or kibble. Both these options are readily available regardless of where you live.

Litter training a ferret is easy.

We already mentioned that ferrets are easy to train because of how intelligent they are. Just to add to the fact that ferrets are extremely easy to live with, you should also remember that ferrets can be litter trained to keep your house free of poop and piss!

How Should You Go About Selecting Your Pet Ferret?

Selecting your pet ferret before you actually bring it home is crucial since choosing an unhealthy ferret might mean years of emotional and financial stress. A ferret with a dull, rough coat, as well as one that is overly skinny, potbellied, or sluggish, could be unwell.

Check for moisture below the tail; if it’s there, it could mean you have diarrhea. Examine the skin for parasites such as fleas. Check to see if the location where your possible pet will be held is clean and well-kept.

Food and water should be ample and fresh. Inquire if the ferret has had regular human interaction, and avoid ferrets that bite hard or repeatedly when being handled.

Therefore, in selecting a pet ferret, you must look for a ferret that is happy, energetic, and alert. Its fur coat should be lustrous and luscious, and it should be robust and well-fed. These are some of the prime indicators of good health in ferrets.

If one or more ferrets in a group appear sick, drop the idea of adopting any ferret from that litter. The reason is that even though a ferret may look healthy at that moment, the chances of it developing illnesses and diseases at a later stage in life are substantially higher.

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You can also choose what color you are looking for since ferrets are available in a variety of colors and hues!

Do ferrets bite?

Yes, ferrets do bite when they are young. However, with consistent training, you can train your pet ferret to respond to commands that stop them from biting human beings. Bear in mind that biting is not always an aggressive act.

Rather, ferrets often bite as a form of play. However, they can still cause injuries, cuts, and wounds in humans. Therefore, training your pet ferret to avoid biting humans and also chewing on items and objects that could be toxic to it is absolutely essential.

How to House your Pet Ferret?

Creating a safe resting area for your pet ferret goes a long way in ensuring that your ferret does not eat or do something that could be potentially harmful to it.

The general idea behind creating a separate enclosure for your pet ferret is to simply not leave it unsupervised in a space that it will want to explore.

Ferrets, by nature, are extremely curious animals with a habit of chewing on inappropriate and sometimes deadly objects in trying to explore or investigate the space and the items in that space.

Having said that, swallowing certain items often leads to intestinal issues if they get stuck in your pet ferret’s digestive tract. Needless to say, such a situation can prove to be dangerous, and you will need veterinary intervention to prevent your ferret from being in pain. 

Therefore, to create the perfect home for your pet ferret, you should set up a cage or enclosure that is as big as feasible.

Further, it would be ideal if you ensured that your ferret’s cage is well-ventilated and large enough for him to stretch his limbs every few hours, walk around, and turn around without having to worry about knocking the cage over with its movement.

Ferrets enjoy exploring, so replacing their cage furniture from time to time by alternating tunnel setups, boxes, pillows, blankets, and so on will keep them entertained.

In addition, they require a small, comfortable sleeping area in their cage. Ferrets are susceptible to heat stress, so make sure the environment they’re in isn’t too hot.

As we have mentioned, ferrets can be easily trained to use a litter box for their excretory business. Now, because they frequently prefer to do so in corners, you can place litter boxes in the corners of cages as well as in each room where they play.

Shredded paper or recycled paper cat litter are two types of litter that work well in addition to commercially available litter.

Ultimately, you must also try and create a living environment for your pet ferret — these creatures like being attended to by their caregivers and enjoy reciprocating affection to them.

Therefore, you must ensure that its emotional needs are met along with its physical space requirements.

Diseases Associated with Ferrets

Ferrets have become popular home pets in the United States, and their curious and amiable temperament makes them the ideal pet for many people.

Ferret owners should be informed that, while ferrets make excellent pets, they can occasionally transmit germs that can make people sick. Ferrets are also not suggested for households with children under the age of five due to the greater danger of bite injuries.

Given that ferrets do suffer from some diseases, here are some of the common diseases that are associated with ferrets. Consulting your veterinarian about how you can avoid or treat them is a must when you bring home a pet ferret.

  1. Diarrhea
  2. Parasitic infestation
  3. Different types of cancer
  4. Heart diseases
  5. Digestive issues due to the ingestion of unwanted objects

How Can You Groom Your Pet Ferret?

The first thing you need to remember when it comes to grooming your ferret is that you should never bathe it more than once a month. The reason is that ferrets experience dry skin as a result of the water and shampoo stripping its fur coat of essential oils.

Therefore, its body reacts by creating a surplus of these which, in turn, results in a stronger body odor from them.

When you do bathe your pet ferret, you must be mindful of using an extremely mild shampoo like a no-tears baby shampoo or shampoos that are formulated specifically for kittens.

You can also opt for ferret shampoos that you can find in pet shops. The next step is to introduce your pet ferret to water. Now, even though ferrets share a decent equation with water, you must be cautious in introducing it to the experience of bathing.

If your ferret gets off on the wrong foot with the experience, then it will be difficult for you to bathe it in the coming years. You should stick to using tepid water only.

Going too hot or too cold with the temperature of the water can make it an uncomfortable experience for your pet ferret.

Once you’ve bathed your ferret, you should dry it using towels. Avoid using blow dryers or heaters since, once again, this will dry out your ferret’s fur coat and skin, leading to a stronger body odor.

Since ferrets are usually short-haired, they generally don’t need anything beyond a dry space and a good towel rub to dry their fur out. Trimming your ferret’s nails and cleaning the wax out of its ears are sensitive procedures that can cause issues if not done properly.

Therefore, if you are unsure about doing it well, your pet ferret would be better off with your vet performing nail trimmings and ear cleanings.

You can brush your pet ferret’s teeth about once a week using brushes that are specifically created for ferrets or cats. Beyond this, you need not worry much about grooming your pet ferret excessively.

Why do you need to groom your pet ferret?

The main reason you need to groom your pet ferret is that ferrets release strong odors from their fur coats and also use specific scents to mark their territory. Slacking in the grooming department can make your living space smell bad.

FAQs

How much does a ferret cost?

It can cost up to $250 to buy a ferret at a pet store, depending on what kind of a ferret it is and what its pedigree is.

What family is a ferret in?

The ferret animal belongs to the biological family of Mustelidae.

What is the lifespan of a ferret?

Ferrets have an average lifespan of about eight years of age.

Should you neuter or desex your pet ferret?

Yes, you should neuter or desex your pet ferret to prevent them from giving birth to unplanned litters of baby ferrets!

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Gulshan
Hi, I am Gulshan, a pet blogger, and author. I've been working with the local pet groups for the past five years. I have been fascinated by our pets and am here to share that wonder with you.