Everything you ever wanted to know about owning ferrets

Updated Oct 12 2015
Guest post by Andrell

I have ferrets. Lots of them.

I originally bought my first ferret while in college. I walked into the pet store after having researched the crap out of them, just to take a look — a pre-buying browse if you will. There was only one ferret left — having just come out of quarantine after being returned as the original purchaser found out she was pregnant. I took one look at her, and overdrew my bank account for her. I was in love!

About a month later, I discovered that ferrets can get lonely. Not that she gave any signs, I just stumbled across the information on someone’s blog. This was circa 2004… I didn't have the Google-fu I have now. So I went to a shelter to adopt another ferret. They immediately took to each other and it was happily ever after! Until a few months later when my partner at the time saw a boy ferret at the store. And then again a few months later I got another one. Neither of these last two did my first ferret like. She was very aggressive with them. That was when we learned that it was a distinct possibility to have a ferret that wants to be alone, or only “bonded” — as in one friend/mate.

Yet somehow we ended up becoming an emergency rescue home, and also a place various ferriends (friends you make from ferret play groups) could drop off their ferrets for adoption. Thankfully, all of these eventually found other homes. We just couldn't say no to such small, defenseless animals! Okay, maybe it was more me that couldn't say no.

By: roymaloon – CC BY 2.0
By: roymaloonCC BY 2.0

Ferrets are amazingly fun pets

They love to play — all the time. They sleep a lot, so you can leave them alone while at work and not worry. They are very curious. They are loving but not usually cuddly. At less than two pounds, it is pretty hard for them to jump painfully on you in the middle of the night, or really demand attention or petting. However, they can lay down at your feet in "flat ferret" position, and demand attention that way. Don’t step on them! They are resilient and flexible, but not squish proof.

Ferrets are a lot of work

They can be trained, but only to some extent. Even litter pan trained, they will still have accidents. Or they will look at you, make sure that you are watching, and poop right next to the litter pan. They need to have their nails cut, or be given a good soil box with wood to dig in, to keep their claws down. They have to have their ears cleaned and teeth brushed. They can be distracted for some of these things with a delicious treat known as Ferravite, or, by its street name, "ferret crack."

taking the ferrets for a walk
By: acheonCC BY 2.0

Bonus fun with ferrets happens when you take them out walking

They can be leash walked. This means you will get stopped by a lot of curious people. They love it, mostly, because they love new places and exploring. They have short legs, and don’t go fast (except when they want to escape, they can somehow go faster than you), and get tired quickly. Also, be aware that a few people will call them disgusting rodents, scream in fear, and generally avoid them.

You have to ferret-proof your home

Say goodbye to recliners! Block off that tiny space under your heater and similar gaps. Baby proof/lock your cabinets, so they do not get into your chemicals. Although, sometimes clever ferrets can still get past your ferret-proofing. Seriously, it really is like they just try to get killed and you are fighting an uphill battle. I mentioned curious and smart? Yeah… when a pet can open buttons, snaps, zippers, and velcro, you are pretty much screwed on keeping them out of anything.

Their cage is a very important piece

You need to have enough private space for each ferret to be alone, and a large space for all of them to create a multi-ferret fur pile. Aside from that, they need stuff to occupy them. I recommend a tube system to get up and down, instead of the ramps the cage comes with — it is so much more entertaining for them.

Finally: play, play, play

Chase them. Toss their toys and watch them chase them down. Turn them over on their backs and tickle their sides. Take a small blanket or t-shirt and cover them, then lift it up in an endless peek-a-boo. Make them a slide. Make them an enclosed playground by getting a tote, cutting holes high into the sides and putting tubes up to those holes. Fill the tote with various things from soil, to grass, to sand, to balls, to packing peanuts. Watch them go nuts! Gut-busting laughter will ensue. Try something new every week.

Most of all, love the ferrets while they are here. They only live about an average of five years.

Ferret parents! What else would you add to this post?

  1. YES, FERRET LOVE! 😀

    We had two ferrets, Lyra and Pantalaimon, but then Pan died, and Lyra's been bereft ever since (it's been about a year or more). She sleeps ALL the time. We got her another playmate, and she took to him immediately, but he wouldn't take to the litter box so we had to return him. He was also a bit aggressive (was a baby, she's about 3 years old now). We're hoping to adopt an older ferret as soon as our local ferret shelter has moar!

    Our cat and Lyra get along ookaaay, but sometimes the cat is a bit too aggressive with poor Lyra. We hardcore played with Lyra the other day, and were like "YOU WILL PLAY WITH US AND BE YOUR OLD SELF AGAIN" and kept tossing bags at her until she started wardancing around. :3

    We're also not traditional in that we treat our ferret like a cat. We have boxes set out in strategic places, and she only has accidents when they get too dirty or she's mad about something (it's usually my husband who tends to her needs, so it'll be his computer chair with shit under it, never mine). We also don't use a cage at all and just let her roam the house. We have to keep a towel stuffed under the bathroom door (she can fit under it), and had to tape up some cardboard under the cabinets, but other than that our house is fairly ferret-proof. I would *NOT* recommend letting your ferrets roam if you have carpeted floors. When we lived in an apartment we also let our ferrets roam and Lyra (such a digger) made tunnels under the doors at the expense of our carpet and security deposit. But she can't conquer hard wood floors ;D

    Oh, and they steal everything. I mean everything. Keys have to stay aloft, if you leave the ferret crack unattended it WILL go missing, some of them are obsessed with socks but mine never gave a fuck, and for the love of all that's good make sure your guests keep their purses in non-reachable spots (like on top of a fridge. Lyra can scale chairs and tables like nobody's business). It doesn't matter if the purse is closed, ferrets will unzip those goddamn zippers and get the goodies inside. Once we had to look all over our apartment for a friend's purse contents. Most of it ended up under our dresser, which was Lyra's hidey hoard. Ferrets are kinda like furry dragons, they stockpile treasures in one place.

    I'M SORRY I COULD TALK ABOUT FERRETS FOREVER THEY'RE LITERALLY THE BEST PETS EVER.

    Here's some pictures of my babies: http://smg.photobucket.com/user/Chocoboeh/library/Furbabies

      • Pantalaimon is seriously the best ever name for a ferret 😛 I miss him 🙁 He had the "mask" on his face, so his name devolved into "Panda Bears," and then further down to "Panburs" by the end. My husband and I really get into baby-talking them!

  2. I love ferrets. My husband and I have had ferrets since around 2003, when we moved in together and took his roommate's ferrets with us (roommate couldn't take them to his new place). Since then we've adopted many more. Right now we have four – three of our own, and one "foster" (who is basically a permanent foster). They are the best – so fun and funny and each has his/her own personality. Some are cuddly, some are more playful/fresh, some are escape artists, but each is different. We have a dedicated room to ours – we call it the "office" because there's a desk in there for our laptops – but really it's all theirs. I even have a ferret tattoo 🙂

    The one thing that wasn't talked about here, and that I try to make people aware of, is that ferrets are really expensive pets to own, at least in the US. Most of the ferrets that come from pet stores or shelters are from one of the large ferret mills in this country. This means that they end up having a lot of health problems. If you're a ferret owner for any length of time, you become very familiarized with these. They are especially prone to different cancers, most notably adrenal disease and insulinoma, both of which are fairly easy to manage over the long term and aren't a death sentence (we've never had a ferret pass away from either, it's always been another cancer that's gotten them). They're also usually still considered an exotic animal, which ups the cost of the vet visits, and there are a lot of vets out there who treat ferrets, but don't actually know a ton about them. We're lucky because we have an incredible vet, but let's just say that we are on a first-name basis with her at this point. Ferrets also don't necessarily show that they're sick until they're really sick, at which point you're suddenly rushing the ferret to the emergency vet. We have spent so much money on ferret care over the years, and have also learned how to administer drugs to them every day, how to give them IV fluids, how to express a bladder, and a bunch of other things. To us it's worth it, because they're our babies, but it's something to be aware of. As my husband always tells people, "Do you love money? Then don't get a ferret!"

    But seriously, ferrets are incredible animals, and to me, totally worth the sacrifice. They are the BEST, most fun, silliest animals.

    • I think that was the problem with Pan 🙁 Lyra had some health issues when she was a kit, too, but it happened within our first 30 days having her so Petco was forced to foot the vet bill on that one.

      With Pan, we didn't really know anything was terribly wrong until, well, I don't wanna talk about it. But yes, a big drawback to ferret ownership is a lot of vets don't specialize in them! We've been bad and haven't taken Lyra anywhere since we moved because all the ferret vets are 30 minutes plus away.

      • I'm so sorry for the loss of your fuzzbutt. I've had similar things happen to a couple of ours, very suddenly got sick, and it's awful 🙁

  3. My husband had three ferrets when we met. Andrell is totally right about ferrets having different interests in company or not. My husband worried about our boy, Kai, being lonely after our other ferrets passed away but we have since discovered that Kai is just happy to have the cage to himself and not worry about crazy girl ferrets. One ferret we tried to rehabilitate after she was traumatized irritated him enough that he went from being a formerly submissive and chill ferret (perhaps due to moving in with a quite aggressive and dominant female when he first joined the family) to an aggressive dominant who would scruff this new gal within minutes. They got to have separate halves of the cage for everyone's safety. We tried introducing him to a new gal later who was in need of a new home but, again, he made it quite clear that he wanted nothing to do with her. So he gets love, attention, and a calm cage. He's super curious about our new kitten and they make friends through the safety of the bars but we accepted he doesn't want a ferret friend.

    I just wanted to add that ferrets also take a lot of cleaning attention. Not just from "accidents" or intentional "see where I'm pooping?" moments. Even de-scented, these little guys have oily fur that has a distinct scent (and food with fish in it can make that worse). So it's important to clean their cage and any fabric stuff that they sleep and play on regularly. Bathing is usually recommended sparingly from what I've read and learned. But cleaning up the cage helps a ton. There are also lots of options for dealing with odour so a bit of research can help tons. Fur conditioner is great but just cleaning the cage thoroughly, regularly, and managing the odour really helps. I'm not a fan of the smell and we rent our house so this was something we learned the hard way.

  4. getting a ferret basically saved my life. My partner at the time got me one durring a very bad bought of depression, and knowing I had this furry little bundle of love there for me really helped. You can't play with a ferret and not feel happy. I have found it is very much like having a very small two year old. They will get into everything and steal the strangest things (mine is obsessed with stealing and hording tampons), and if you can't hear them they're probably getting into something. But I'd never give him up, he's one of my fur children.

  5. Hi, y'all! I have been looking into getting a pet as a companion and I think a ferret would be a nice fit for me. I am a full-time university student. However, when I'm not at school, I spend the rest of my time at home so I can give lots of attention to the ferret. I was just wondering, though, upon researching and reading up on ferrets if it is suggested to adopt from a breeder. Are pet store ferrets (like ones from PetCo or Pet Smart) healthy? Is there a stigma w/ pet store-bought ferrets?

    Thanks, all!

    Megan

  6. i have only heard weird things about ferrets, probably because they are illegal here in NYC. i'm sure I could google the politics, but why can't you own ferrets some places?

    • Because people mistakenly think that ferrets are only recently domesticated, rabies carriers, or are going to kill a large percentage of the wildlife around the area if they escape. In reality, ferrets have been domesticated for hundreds of years, they are less likely to get rabies than dogs are (because most ferrets are only indoor animals), and the wildlife will kill a domesticated ferret that's gotten outside long before a ferret can wreck havoc on anything.

      • Please, please, please try a shelter first 🙂 Just google for Ferret shelters in your state, I know there is one in Washington :https://www.facebook.com/washingtonferret

        I picked up mine from a shelter, which had to leave behind when I moved countries 🙁 I still miss them everyday. Cheeky little buggers.

        • Hi! I think you meant to post this on the post above this one (I was totally confused by your comment for a sec!). FWIW I completely 100% agree with you and will always tell people to go through "my" ferret shelter (Fortunate Ferrets in MA, for those who would like to know). So many people end up surrendering their pet store ferrets to a shelter after finding out how much work they really are, or just because they think of them as a "disposable pet." My shelter always has more than they can really handle, which is why we foster.

  7. I covet my cousins ferrets they are amazing little creatures! I will never get over him sitting in the yard with two little ferrets in his lap all sharing a homemade iceblock. He broke two bits off that they held between their claws and licked away at, just like him. It's gets really hot here so iceblocks were their favourite treats!

  8. I love ferrets. I don't think I will ever own one, but I have a friend who has owned several.
    My favourite was Nibbler. She was albino, deaf and a runt (fully grown, she was half the size of the other ferrets, and loved surprise dive-bombing the others). Her favourite thing to do was to sneak under the stove so she could crawl into the drawer underneath and bang the baking sheets around. We think she liked the vibrations.

  9. I don't know that I'll ever be able to have a ferret at this point in my life, but I like to think that somewhere, in an alternate universe, there's a version of me who is a "crazy ferret lady," happily living by herself with a whole busyness of ferrets. Because that has been a lifelong dream of mine, to own a ferret or two, but my husband thinks they make crappy pets and there's just no convincing him otherwise.
    Maybe I'll get our son to team up on dad with me one of these days, when the boy is a bit older and he can legitimately say HE wants them, and I'll have my house full of little woozles after all.

  10. I love ferrets! I used to have two – we got one from a pet shop and adopted another one as a friend for it. They are the most playful creatures ever, and taking them out for walks was the best! They were serious thieves though – they would stockpile things behind the washing machine and inside the couch. One time I looked in the stash and found a bag of raisins, 3 bread rolls, a packet of bacon and a bunch of toothbrushes. I don't even know how. Another time I caught one stealing a wallet (!) out of somebody's pocket when they were sleeping on our couch. They would also go through guests handbags if given half a chance, and pick out anything shiny or rubbery. They'd wait just behind doors and leap out to attack your feet when you walked past. They were utterly adorable and crazy, there's nothing funnier than a surprised or happy ferret! But OH MY GOD they were destructive little beasts, and as the author said, it was almost like they had some sort of death wish – I was constantly rescuing them from peril. Totally ADHD and over-confident in the extreme.

  11. Oh I miss my ferrets, they were so smart.

    FYI they are banned in California, Hawaii and all five boroughs of NYC. The logic behind the bans in Cali is totally questionable and the NYC is relatively new. If you are interested in the work to get the Cali ban overturned check out: http://legalizeferrets.org/

  12. They do get into everything — everything!! We had a ferret when I was a kid and he could get underneath doors that had high clearance (he was smaller than most ferrets), loved hiding in the pull-out sofa and recliner, and once, memorably, was found hanging out in the clothes dryer – luckily, before anyone tried to turn it on! He also chewed holes in any and all squishy cloth things he could get his little fangs on. For years after he died, we had gloves with chewed off fingertips and socks with holes in the heels from him. A lot of work, not unlike a toddler, but he was a great pet to grow up with!

  13. They can swim! To reiterate a point made earlier (it's an important one!), you don't want to bathe them very often, but they can learn how to swim and it makes those bath times very fun.

    Also, I've had a lot of recommendations from vets to make sure they have plenty of time in darkness, as their melatonin levels being off is thought to be one contributing issue to adrenal disease.

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