Looking after Ferrets
Are you looking for a cheeky, intelligent and engaging pet? If so, then a ferret could be the perfect choice. But like all animals, ferrets have specific needs so here’s everything you need to know about looking after ferrets.
What is a Ferret?
Ferrets are small mammals which are domesticated relatives of the European polecat. Their Latin name is Mustela putorius furo which rather brilliantly means stinking raging thief. Ferrets can indeed be a little smelly!
Ferrets are proficient hunters which rely on their senses of smell, taste and hearing because they have poor eyesight. They are curious creatures which enjoy exploring their surroundings and they are often highly sociable. They are playful and intelligent and so require a great deal of mental stimulation and exercise. But they also like sleeping and may nap for up to 20 hours each day.
The ferret’s physique enables it to move well in confined spaces. Their elongated bodies and large vertebrae mean that they are extremely flexible and can turn around in narrow tunnels.
Caring for Your ferret
Ferrets are often kept outdoors because of their smell but they can live as indoor pets. They are often happier in pairs or groups and you should invest in the largest enclosure than you can accommodate so that they have room to exercise and play. They love to dig and can squeeze through very small holes so you must ensure that their enclosure is escape proof. If you don’t have the floor space for a sizeable run, then a tall cage with platforms which provide multiple levels is a good option. The cage or enclosure should include an insulated sleeping area.
Good quality hay or shredded paper can be used for bedding and the floor of the cage should be lined with newspaper and wood shavings.
Ferrets love tunnelling and climbing so add pipes and shelves to the enclosure to keep ferrets happy. They also love to sleep in hammocks so consider featuring these in the cage too.
Ferrets can be litter trained, although they may still have miss-haps. The litter tray should be filled with wood shavings or unscented cat litter. Position the tray where the ferrets like to go to the toilet rather than where you would like it to be, otherwise they may not use it. The tray should be cleaned out daily and the enclosure must be cleaned weekly. Ferrets have a tendency to hide food and this must be removed regularly to prevent it from going mouldy.
It is important that you play regularly with your ferret to prevent boredom from setting in. Lonely or bored ferrets are likely to develop behavioural issues. Your ferret may become friends with cats and dogs but their time together must be supervised.
Young ferrets are often prone to biting and must be handled often in order to acclimatise them to people. As their eyesight is poor they do like to use their mouths to explore things, though, and so may occasionally bite as a reflex reaction if they are surprised. They are not ideal pets for young children.
Ferrets are carnivores and so their diet must include meat. Commercial ferret foods are the best choice and these will contain all the nutrients they need. You can also feed your ferret raw meat including skin and offal but do not give them processed meat. Ferret treats add variety and you should ensure that your pet always has access to fresh water.
Entertaining your Ferret
Regular play is important but you can also create an interactive environment for your pet in their enclosure. Hide treats around the enclosure to encourage them to forage or invest in feeding toys. Give them tunnels and boxes to explore and make sure that they can exercise in a large run or around the house every day. You can even walk your ferret with a harness and lead!