When deciding on a new member of the family it is always best to gather as much information on your desired pet as possible and be willing to decide against a pet that you know won’t fit happily into your family unit, for both the animals sake and yours. People who get a pet, solely because it’s “trendy” or because a friend has one is destined to be unhappy.
For the right person ferrets are fabulous. They are crazy active, inquisitive to a fault, loving, affectionate, incredibly smart problem solvers that need to have free run of the house for as much of the time your are home as possible. I had my two ferrets Philia and Hero for eight years and although they brought me great joy and were the light of my life, they could also wear on my patience at times. My love, however, outweighed the wear and tear on my couch due to their sleeping inside it (yes inside it, they broke in from below); their ability to completely disappear right before leaving for work making it impossible to put them in their enclosure, and the need to clean up poo when they were too sleepy or lazy to make it to their box. On the other hand it brought me the greatest joy when they sought me out for a game of hide and seek, gave me kisses for no reason, were waiting at their enclosure door to be let out when I got home from work, would only take their food from me, not to mention their fearlessness and trust in people to love and protect them in general was, and still is amazing to me. Ferrets in my opinion are one of the easiest animals to love unconditionally.
So, after having said all that……..
If you are someone who does not spend much time at home don’t expect a ferret to do well. If you think that ferrets can be kept happy living in a cage, don’t get a ferret. If you do not intend to get more than one ferret, don’t get a ferret. If you can’t handle a bit of damage to furniture and occasionally cleaning up a corner or two from time to time, don’t get a ferret. If you want a pet that’s relaxed, calm and happy to just sit in your lap all evening, don’t get a ferret. If you expect to train a ferret as you would a dog then definitely don’t get a ferret. Ferrets are trainable, most definitely, however it will be on their own terms; you have to find a way to make doing what you want them to do appealing to them. For example; if they know that every time they use their litter box correctly they will get a special treat then they will use the box.
Read on for some interesting bits of information that I hope will help dispel any misconceptions you might have as well as make an informed decision.
A Brief History of Ferrets…
The word Ferret “was derived from the Latin furonem which means thief.” This name fits this animal perfectly knowing that before, they were trained in hunting rabbits and other small animals. They can and will steal anything that they can put their hands on and try to hide it in their enclosure. They are also known for different names such as ferts, fuzzies, carpet sharks, furballs, etc.
Several states banned ownership of ferrets in the early 1900s; ferret ownership became legal again after rabies vaccine became more effective in ferrets.
Ferrets were used on ships to hunt rats to control their population and in the Middle Ages, were used to hunt rabbits. Hunters would muzzle the ferret’s mouth, and send it in the rabbit hole to chase rabbits out another end where they waited with nets to catch them. This method was used in the United States as well until the early 20th Century.
Did You Know……
- An unspayed female ferret is called a jill while a spayed female is a sprite. An intact male is a hob while a neutered male is called a gib. Baby ferrets are called kits.
- Ferrets have been domesticated for thousands of years; in fact, on the walls of some Egyptian tombs there are pictures of ferret-like creatures on leashes.
- Ferrets have no inherent fear of humans.
- A newborn ferret is so small that it can fit into a teaspoon!
- All ferret kits have white fur at birth.
- After kithood (6-8 weeks of age) ferrets make very few sounds.
- The average ferret lives to be 6 or 7 years old.
- Ferrets like to crawl into small dark spaces to sleep.
- Ferrets have relatively poor eyesight but a keen sense of smell and hearing.
- Ferrets are members of the mink family.
- Ferrets can sleep so soundly that they cannot be woken up even when picked up and jostled.
- A small ferret may be able to squeeze through a hole just over an inch in diameter.
- Their colors can vary from rich, dark brown with golden highlights to pure white with red eyes. There are at least 6 kinds of ferrets with their own unique colors which set them apart. These include the Sable, Albino, Cinnamon, Panda, Blaze/Badger and Silver Siamese.
- Because ferrets are so different anatomically than other small pets or cats, it can be difficult for the average person to determine the sex of a ferret. Surprisingly, ferrets are built similarly to dogs when it comes to determining their gender. Of course the breeder will know, but if you want to figure it out yourself, here’s one way to do it: First gently feel for the bottom of the ferret’s rib-cage. About half way between this point and the tail, a male will have what can be mistaken for a “belly button.” A female will have an opening directly below the anal opening. I have never had trouble telling males and females apart. Even as babies males have bigger, wider heads and feet and an overall broader body. Their body language is telling too as the females move with more agility and grace, unlike the baby males who seem more awkward even from the beginning. Hero was constantly getting himself into situations that he couldn’t get out of, up curtains, closet shelves, under sinks. He once came ambling out to the living room with a role of toilet paper stuck to his head, his soft cries muffled from within, but he trusted that Mom would come running when he cried, and I did, I was always there to save Hero. Philia on the other hand knew what she could do and what she couldn’t. She was graceful, agile and sleek as a seal and spent the better part of her time trying to keep Hero out of trouble. As long as they were in the same room together I knew Hero would be ok.
- A ferret sleeps for about 20 hours each day. Because they sleep for so long, sometimes, owners mistakenly think that they are dead. Now, talk about beauty rest!
- Ferrets are currently the third most popular pet after cats and dogs in the US. People now understand that they are not wild animals which are mean and vicious and that they have been “domesticated since the time of Pharaohs in Egypt.”
- Male ferrets are generally larger than females. Hobs “can weigh from 2-4 pounds and jils are half the size of the males.” Domestic ferrets have “an average length of approximately 20 inches (51 cm) including a 5 inch (13 cm) tail, weigh about 2-4 pounds (1 kg).”
- Ferrets are “obligate carnivores,” meaning meat eaters. They would not be able to survive without meat because it is a part of their natural diet. You can purchase a good quality ferret food in pellet form at your pet store that you can rely on for their staple diet. For variety, however, I also let them try foods that I ate as well or I should say they helped themselves regularly to what was on my plate and ate everything from spaghetti to yogurt. One great treat that you can hide around the house for them to find is Cheerios. My ferrets knew that the first thing I would do before letting them out when I got home was to hide treats all over the house. Cheerios are great, because they are low in sugar, dry, just a mouthful and won’t stain furniture or mold under your sofa.
- Because of their ever curious nature, ferrets travel very well. I took mine on vacation to a cabin in Maine every year and they loved every minute of it. For two whole weeks they had a brand new house to explore, new smells, new people, different treats and from time to time a neighbor dog to torture. LOL You must make sure however, that wherever you’re going is ferret friendly and that you have an enclosure suitable to take with you and that the house, apartment or hotel room is pre-ferret proofed, but other than that they take it all in stride.
Do Ferrets Bite?
Ferrets apparently are known for aggressive biting and although they play rough they rarely if ever hurt each other. Whether or not your ferret bites is greatly determined by you and how you raise them. You shouldn’t use your hands to play rough with a baby ferret, hands should should be seen as a comfort only. Always use toys and play with them in a positive manner, don’t tease, don’t wake them out of a sound sleep, don’t deliberately startle them, don’t manhandle them, but treat them with the respect they deserve as a sensitive creature with feelings. In other words don’t model bad behavior. In my experience the only ferrets that bite to hurt are ones that have been kept in a cage that’s too small, alone, with no attention paid other that to feed and water them. These ferrets bite out of unhappiness and frustration and usually either die of neglect or end up in a shelter. Put yourself in that situation and I think you might be prone to biting too.
What about the Odor?
Ferrets have an undeserved reputation of being smelly. It is true that they have a distinctly musky odor about them, but it is neither offensive nor overpowering. This musky odor comes from their skin glands and is present whether the ferret is descented or not. While occasional baths are recommended, frequent bathing will not reduce the scent, and will likely make it worse as the skin will get too dry and the skin glands will produce more oils in an effort to combat the dryness.
As mentioned above ferrets are usually descented in North America, which involved removal of the scent glands. They do have scent glands similar to skunk scent glands, and they will release (not spray) the contents if threatened. However, ferret scent gland secretions are milder than that of skunks and the smell dissipates quickly and washes away easily. The routine removal of scent glands, which is most commonly done in North America, is now being questioned since the musky odor of ferrets is not due to the scent glands and discharge of their scent glands is not a big problem. You will probably never have to make the decision to descent or not as most breeders both fix and descent babies before allowing them adopted as was the case with mine.
Are Ferrets Domestic Animals?
There are often misconceptions and debate about whether ferrets are domesticated animals, and the short answer is yes, they are domesticated. They have been domesticated for probably 2000 years or more, and were brought to America as pets as long as 300 years ago. Nevertheless, in many places they are still not recognized as a domestic animal for the purposes of laws pertaining to animals kept in captivity. The domestic ferret is sometimes also confused with its wild cousin, the black footed ferret. It is necessary to check to make sure that ferrets are legal to keep in your state.
Do Ferrets Love and Need Each Other?
My ferrets Philia and Hero were a year apart in age. Philia was an adult when I brought Hero home as a baby and she immediately took him as her own, grooming him, snuggling with him, showing him around the house and of course as ferrets will do dragging him around as well. It would startle visiting friends to watch them together, because were so aggressive with each other it was sometimes hard to tell if they were playing or tearing each other apart. They are rough and tumble and that’s part of their charm. They were inseparable, sometimes literally as when you saw them in a sleeping heap it wasn’t always easy to tell which hand or foot belonged to which ferret.
As I said before I had them for eight wonderful crazy years which is old for ferrets. Philia was the first to pass away quietly in her sleep and I made sure that Hero saw her and was able to be with her to help him understand what had happened. I gave him a lot of extra attention after that making sure that he was never alone. About two weeks later I arrived home and was greeted by the sound of Hero calling softly. I immediately went to him, scooped him up and sat with him on the kitchen floor. He seemed happy I was holding him and I sensed he really needed me so there I sat…stroking him, talking to him until he fell asleep. After about an hour I thought I would put him to bed and realized that he had passed away in my lap. I hadn’t expected him to go so soon, I thought I had another year, but I think that he saw no reason to stay……..Philia was gone so he was ready to go too. He just had one last thing to do and that was to say goodbye to me. I believe he waited for me to come home, wanted one more cuddle in his favorite spot in the kitchen on my lap before going. Philia and Hero belonged together. I had them both cremated and sprinkled their ashes on Rangeley Lake in Maine where they had spent such happy Summer’s. Do they love and need each other? Yes they certainly do.
I would have to say that my ferrets added a richness to my life unique only to them that I would not have missed for the world. Would I recommend them to you, yes, but you must also answer that question for yourself. If you think ferrets are right for you then go for it, but if you have any hesitations or reservations regarding any of the points I have bought up then don’t. Never get a ferret or any pet for that matter on a whim, get a pet only when you feel confident that you are willing and able to devote the time and energy it takes to make your pets happy for their lives and for the enrichment of yours.
If you have any questions for me regarding the care and feeding of ferrets, don’t hesitate to contact me. I am here for you.
Your Friend Kat, Critter Nook, LLC