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Fun Facts, Features, and Figures of Ferrets! by Megan Armor, DVM
April 1, 2013

What is a ferret?

A ferret is a type of carnivore related to the weasel, otter, and badger. They were initially domesticated to hunt rats and mice in people's homes, farms, and ships. They are very efficient predators and, unlike cats, can fit into very small spaces where rats and mice like to hide. Domestic ferrets have also been bred to help hunt rabbits for food and for their pelts. Today, the majority of ferrets are used as companion animals.

What makes a ferret a good pet?

Ferrets are small, clean, and truly seem to like human interaction. They have very engaging and endearing personalities, plus they're cute! They also can get along well in groups with each other, cats, and dogs. They are very playful animals. If you would like an active, soft, cute critter that will have hours of fun exploring your house and getting attention from you, a ferret might be a good choice.

What might make a ferret a bad pet?

Ferrets can bite, and they have sharp teeth. They also may be less than patient with the grasps and attentions of a small child, so they're not ideal pets for families with little children. They can also be very naughty. Their small size and elongated bodies are perfect for slipping into tight spots that you may have trouble getting them out of! They like especially shiny objects and can steal your jewelry, keys, or other small objects and hide them away from you. Sometimes they even swallow objects they shouldn't and get blocked. Ferrets are illegal to own in certain areas, including California. It is legal, however, to take your ferret to the vet for care and for your veterinarian to treat ferrets.

What does a ferret eat?

Ferrets are true carnivores, which means they are designed to eat whole prey animals and a commercial diet should reflect that. They have a very short digestive tract and cannot handle lots of carbohydrates and fiber. Their diet should be high in fat and good-quality protein, either a ferret-specific kibble or a freeze-dried carnivore diet made for ferrets. They should NOT eat cat or kitten food. Sweets and fruits, while appetizing and readily eaten, may cause obesity and diarrhea and should be minimized. 

How do I house my ferret?

A ferret should be kept in a well-ventilated cage when you cannot monitor them with a place to burrow, nest and sleep, plus a litter box and toys. A non-clumping litter - like pellets, is best.  However, ferrets are playful, curious animals and they should NOT be confined to their cages continuously but rather given space in the house to roam and play. A well ferret-proofed play area is free of foam-containing furniture, such as couches and chairs, and other soft toys that a ferret might eat. You should also avoid rubber bands, ear plugs, shoes and any rubber or foam material that is the most likely to be ingested and block a ferrets' intestines. At least two hours of play time is needed per day. If you cannot give your ferret at least two hours a day to run around and play, you should not keep a ferret.

What kind of sicknesses does a ferret get?

The short answer is a lot. Ferrets have a short life expectancy, about four to six years, and the majority of ferrets will end up being affected by one or more types of cancer as they age. Common types of ferret cancer include lymphoma, pancreatic insulinomas, and adrenal gland tumors. Ferrets also can suffer from heart disease, dental disease, gastroenteritis (diarrhea), diabetes, kidney disease, and bladder or prostate problems. Ferrets can also contract the human flu virus!

Does my ferret need vaccines?

Yes. Ferrets should be vaccinated for both distemper and rabies viruses annually.

How often should my ferret see the vet?

Because of a ferrets' short life-span and high incidence of disease and neoplasia (cancer) that ferrets can get, it is recommended that your ferret have a preventive care exam every six months, or twice yearly. Additionally for ferrets older than four years of age we recommend annual blood tests. Glucose monitoring is important for any lethargic older ferret. Endocrine (hormone) testing is also available for ferrets with hair loss on the tail or other signs suggestive of adrenal gland disease.

Where can I go for more information on ferrets?

For more information, check out the Northern California Ferret Alliance's website: they are a great source for information and adoptions. We also recommend the Golden Gate Ferret Society:

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