Ferrets

How To Keep Ferrets as Pets – Everything You Need to Know

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by Rob Byron

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Thinking of keeping a ferret as a pet but don’t really know what to expect, or where to start?

Then you’ve definitely come to the right place! Our mission is to provide potential ferret owners with all the information they need about keeping ferrets as pets.

What are Ferrets?

The ferret (Mustela putorius furo) is the domesticated form of the European polecat (also known as the black polecat/forest polecat). Ferrets are extremely curious animals, being a member of the weasel family (genus Mustela), with an average size of around 1.5 – 5 pounds (0.7 – 2.2 kilograms) in weight, and 20 inches (51 centimeters) in length, including a fury, 5-inch (20 cm) tail and they come in many colors and patterns.

Male ferrets are typically larger than their female counterparts, and these furry mammals have an average lifespan of 7-10 years, significantly longer than that of a hedgehog and guinea pig.

Where Did Ferrets Originate?

Like most domesticated animals, the exact history of the ferret’s domestication is uncertain, but research findings point to the great possibility that these playful creatures have been domesticated for more than 2,500 years!

Evidence for this is the fact that ferrets were mentioned as early as 450 BCE in the works of famous Greek playwright, Aristophanes, who pointed out the similarities between the Achaeans (the classical name for the Greeks) and the ferrets in their abilities as thieves. Today, ferrets are the third most popular house pet in the United States. To find out what makes keeping ferrets as pets so popular, read on!

Why Do Ferrets Make Excellent Pets?

Ferrets are extremely curious and inquisitive animals, who love to poke their tiny heads into everything they come across. They are playful, full of energy, and their mischievous nature makes them excellent companions for people of all ages.

It is often said that ferrets possess a combination of the best features of dogs and cats, with their own unique characteristics serving as icing on the cake: like cats, they are small (do not require large spaces) and do not make much noise (making them suitable even for people living in apartments); and, like dogs, they are highly affectionate and adore human interaction.

Ferrets are also highly intelligent creatures, who are able to respond to various verbal and visual commands (and of course, their names). Best of all, they enjoy performing tricks for their beloved masters, and sometimes even choreograph their own stunts! Of course, this can only be achieved with proper training, but fret not, as these smart creatures will surprise you with how fast they learn provided the right techniques are used

Almost anything can be a source of amusement for these furry companions. They love climbing up furniture, enjoy digging into laundry baskets, and always look forward to a game of treasure hunt as they hide your sock and shoe (yes, only one side of them!) in the most unexpected places.

Because of that, ferrets make great pets for people who leave for work early in the day and come back late at night, as, unlike other popular pets such as dogs, they do not become neurotic if left alone for extended periods of time.

While ferrets are not nocturnal, they sleep a lot when nothing exciting is happening, but are always eager to jump out of bed and play when you’re around (that’s right, they are able to adjust their sleep schedule to yours!).

Are Ferrets the Right Pet for Me?

Caring for a ferret can definitely be a fun and rewarding experience, but, like all pets, requires a great deal of commitment. Fortunately (as previously mentioned), ferrets do not require constant attention unlike many other popular pets, and are generally not too difficult to care for.

keeping a ferret as a pet

Are Ferrets Good With Kids?

Ferrets can definitely make excellent companions for kids. Nevertheless, children must first be taught how to care for the ferrets appropriately, which includes proper methods of handling a ferret, and also treats that are and aren’t appropriate for their pet (while it is really sweet of the child to be willing to share, candy should never be fed to a ferret!).

Healthy, well-trained ferrets generally don’t bite unless agitated and have a lower bite rate than other popular household animals, such as dogs. Like all pets, though, ferrets need to be trained, and it is our responsibility to let our pets know what acceptable behavior is, which is why we highly recommend that ALL ferret owners (and potential owners) should get a copy of this comprehensive pet ferret training manual written by one of the most experienced ferret trainers in the United States.

How to Care for a Ferret?

Before we go any further into the topic of caring for ferrets, check out this video clip of two happy ferrets enjoying themselves during playtime:

Don’t you just love the sight of these cheeky little ones playfully dancing around?

It is, of course, every ferret owner’s dream to provide their furry companions with the best possible care. The question is – HOW?

Here, we shall attempt to have your questions answered in the following sections below.

Space

Ferrets do not require constant attention. With that being said, it is important to have an area that has undergone ferret-proofing, in order to allow your ferrets to have the space they require to roam free without supervision.

Just like child-proofing but on a smaller scale, ferret-proofing involves setting up a place in which your ferrets are safe to run around. Such an area should also be indoors, as ferrets are extremely susceptible to heatstroke. For more information, check out a detailed guide on ferret-proofing HERE!

However, if you are unable to get all that done, and have to keep your ferrets caged, fret not, as you can still always have supervised playtime for your pets! Ferrets typically require around 2 hours of playtime a day, so whether you make it an hour in the morning and an hour after work, or two hours straight after dinner, is all up to you at your convenience.

Nevertheless, you should still be looking at providing your ferrets with a decent-sized cage in which they can still have sufficient space to move about and get the physical and mental stimulation they need. A couple of toys could also make a significant difference!

Food

Food is, of course, one of the most vital aspects (if not THE most) when it comes to caring for your pet ferret. Providing your ferrets with a healthy, balanced (and suitable) diet will go a long way in ensuring that they lead active, long and happy lives.

Ferrets, like cats, are obligate carnivores (meat makes up the core of their diet), and possess a very short digestive tract, where food usually passes through the intestine in 3 hours. Therefore, a diet consisting of high digestible animal protein is what you should be looking at. In general, here are the two main choices that you as a ferret owner can make:

  • Dry food, either those specially made for ferrets, or even cat/kitten food, are a convenient yet healthy choice for your little companions, especially when a high quality and reliable brand is chosen. Typically, you would be looking for something high in animal protein and moderate in healthy fats, while containing a very low percentage of carbohydrates.
  • Natural raw meat, served in appropriate portions, is also a possibility, with various pet food companies now offering choices of ready-packed raw diets in pet stores. However, it is very important to ensure that what you are feeding your ferret is clean and fresh, as you wouldn’t want them to be catching any unwanted diseases or illnesses!

Due to their short digestive tract, ferrets have an extremely high metabolic rate, which in turn means that they are in need of food very frequently. As a result, there should be constant availability of food for your pet ferrets, as, unlike dogs, who would eat simply because food is available, they will only eat when there is a caloric need, and this is something that occurs at a frequent rate (yet can’t be fully gauged by us, humans).

Because of this, it is often more convenient to opt for dry food for your pet ferrets, as that way you would be able to provide them with constant access to food without having to worry about freshness and contamination (which becomes a problem if meat is left exposed for long periods of time).

It is important to remember not to feed your furry little pets food consisting of complex carbohydrates, such as grain, corn, rice, cereal, and vegetables, as these foods require a very long time to digest, which their strictly carnivorous digestive tract are unable to process. As long as they are getting enough healthy fats and animal protein, ferrets don’t need carbohydrates in their diet. Remember, ferrets are NOT rodents!

About
Rob Byron
Learning about and helping all kinds of animals has been in my blood as long as I can remember. I've been part of many different animal associations over the years so I decided to create this animal info blog with my family who are all involved with animal rescue in some capacity. Also, Because Animals Matter!
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