A New Owner Guide: Ferrets

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Filed in Small Animals, Ferret

Ferrets are part clown, part magician, and they will easily work their way into your heart. Ferrets make terrific pets; they are playful, funny, affectionate, and are by some accounts one of the most popular pets, after cats and dogs.

The decision of whether to get a pet ferret should be considered thoroughly. Although most new ferret purchases are positive experiences, impulse purchases may lead to unhappy pets and owners.

Keep in mind that there are still some localities where Ferrets are illegal to own as pets (including California). Be sure to check with the local fish and game authorities in your area before purchasing your new friend.

A healthy ferret will live six to nine years. They get along with most household pets, but be sure not to let them roam with birds or mice which may become their natural meals! Ferrets are high-maintenance pets, needing food several times a day, cleaning, attention, and veterinary care if necessary. It's important that you spend time with your new pet, and that he stays with you throughout his life.

History

Ferrets have been pampered pets from antiquity to the present, have been used by man to hunt rats, rabbits, and mice, and have even been employed to string wire where no human could crawl. Ferrets are distant cousins of the skunk, mink, otters, and badgers, and are meat eaters. They are intelligent animals and love being a part of the family.

General Ferret Care

Ferrets should be descented and neutered/spayed unless you are going to breed them. Special kibble is available from your pet store to ensure they get the proper mix of vitamins, minerals and nutrients. Their digestive systems are such that they require frequent feedings; if they are left without any food for more than a few hours, they become irritable. Fresh water must always be available. Ferrets require a high calorie/high protein diet, which is low in fat. Specially formulated ferret food is available. Ferrets require a meat-based food containing around 35% protein; vegetable protein-based foods are inadequate for their health.

Table food should be limited to small amounts of cooked meat, fish, or poultry. Do not feed milk or foods rich in sugars or carbohydrates (rice, cereals, bread, pasta) as ferrets have a hard time digesting these foods.

Odor

Ferrets have been accused of being smelly and dirty. This is far from the truth. They can be de-scented and their anal glands removed to prevent any objectionable smells. This can be done easily when neutering or spaying. Spaying and neutering are beneficial to the pet's temperament as well. It is usually done at 6-8 months of age.

Roaming

Your ferret will constantly look for challenges and if left out in a room he will crawl into impossibly tight corners, vents, and spaces. Owning a ferret is like having a circus performer living with you. They are engaging, fun animals to have around. A ferret is not a `leave at home' pet like a mouse or a cat. Ferrets thrive on human attention and will return it with unbounded affection.

Ferrets will seek out the most unlikely hiding spots if left unattended. They make dens of heating vents and shoes, of empty mayonnaise jars and the pockets of jackets and shirts. They seem to be full of mischief all the time. A well cared for ferret can be a perfect pet! They are affectionate, smart, friendly, fun-to-watch pets who will share your house.

Selecting a Ferret & Healthcare

When selecting a ferret, make sure you are getting a curious animal. Like choosing dog from a breeder or shelter, a ferret should be alert and active to stimuli, such as a jangling set of keys. Seek out a veterinarian who specializes in ferrets, and take your new pet in for a `well ferret' examination as soon as possible.

Since it can take up to a year for your ferret to bond to you and your family, it takes a certain commitment to take care of a ferret, just like a dog or cat. Your ferret will get bored and sleep most of the time when it is caged. It is essential to play with the ferret outside the cage for one to three hours a day if it does not get to roam about the house. BUT be careful! They are thieves! You will find they may have confiscated small articles from around your house and taken them back to their nesting area. This is a form of play and not intended to be larcenous. Be sure that they have not taken anything that they can swallow or can hurt them.

Owning a ferret can be a fun, rewarding experience. Be sure you and your family have the time and make the commitment to take care of your new friend throughout his life.

Irving Street Veterinary Hospital (San Francisco, CA | (415) 664-0191) materials were used as an information source for this article.

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