By Cait Isaacs
You’ve seen them in movies and on TV shows, and the local pet store usually has some for sale. They seem to be intelligent and cuddly. But what do you really know about owning a ferret?
Ferrets live an average of 6-8 years, although some can be as old as 10. They tend to sleep a lot (about 18 hours a day!), but when they are awake they are very playful and fun to watch.
The domestic ferret is not to be confused with their wild cousins, the Black Footed Ferret, which is an endangered species. Never take a ferret from the wild to keep as a house pet.
Many people have the misconception that ferrets stink! Although they do have a slightly musky odor, it is not an offensive scent, and occasional bathing helps with this. Most ferrets sold in North America for pets have also been descented and neutered before sale, and this aids in cutting any odor they might otherwise have.
The name ferret is derived from the latin furonem, which means “thief.” If you’ve ever owned a ferret, as I have, you know the name is well deserved. They will steal and hide anything that appeals to them, especially if it is shiny and easy to carry off.
There are many good quality commercial ferret foods on the market. It used to be a common misconception that you could feed ferrets a quality cat food, but research has shown that a quality ferret food is recommended. Ferrets require a diet high in protein (34 -36%) and one that contains about 20% fat. The source of the protein should be animal protein…vegetable protein is not adequate for a ferret’s metabolism, as it is indigestible to them.. Be sure to read the labels at your pet food supply store to ensure adequate nutrition. You can give your ferret treats such as apples, raisins and bananas or there are commercial treats available at your pet food supply store. Treats should be given sparingly, and are a great incentive for training purposes.
A ferret should have a cage that is large enough for them to move around in. They are very active animals when awake, and it is likely you will want to confine them to a cage when you are not home.
Ferrets can be trained to use a litter box. Here are a few suggestions: 1. Initially, keep the litter box in the ferret’s cage. Generally a ferret will use the box, and can be rewarded with a small treat when they do so. 2. After the ferret is used to using the litter box in the cage, you can gradually move the litter box further from the cage if you wish. 3. When you ferret is out of the cage, take them to the litter box frequently and reward them when they use the box with lots of praise and perhaps a small treat. 4. Ferrets back up to defecate or urinate, so if you notice your ferret backing into a corner when out of the cage, take them to the litter box.
Ferrets love to play! They will play with almost anything, so it’s very important that the toys they have available to them are safe. Things that are sharp or have small parts that can be swallowed should be avoided. Soft rubber toys are not a good choice as ferrets have sharp teeth and will destroy them quickly. Most of what a ferret plays with ends up in it’s mouth, so it’s much like “babyproofing” your house. Suggestions for ferret toys:
1. hard plastic balls
2. hard rubber balls
3. things they can crawl into…commercial ferret “tubes”, or a section of PVC pipe at least 3” in diameter
4. paper bags and cardboard boxes
5. rattles, teething rings, etc (toys made safe for human babies)
6. small stuffed animals
Remember…they will steal anything, so make sure you “ferret proof” your house. Oh…I forgot….When I bought my first ferret, I was told they do not climb. They are very good climbers, as I found out.
After reading all this, if you have decided you still want to own a ferret, Good For You! They are delightful, entertaining pets. I will never regret having a ferret as a FurrKid at one point in my life.
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