Ferrets have become popular pets because of their lively, inquisitive nature. Ferrets were originally used for rodent control and to hunt rabbits. Their scientific name (Mustela putorius furo) translates to “smelly, mouse catching thief.”
Lifespan – 5 to 7 years
Diet – Ferrets are obligate carnivores which mean their diets are more similar to cats. They cannot digest fiber so they don’t do well with vegetable and fruit sources. Ideally, their diet would consist of whole prey foods such as rats, mice, or chicks. The next best choice is a balanced raw carnivore diet (available as freeze-dried or frozen from pet food companies). Dry ferret diets are available but those that contain dried fruits and vegetables are not recommended.
Housing – Ferrets are naturally curious and are escape artists, so adequate wire caging with a solid floor that is easily cleaned is necessary. Sleeping areas can be as simple as a soft towel or fancier store bought sleeping tubes, tents, or hammocks.
Exercise – Ferrets need at least 2 hours of supervised exercise in a ferret proof area.
Potty training – They can be litter box trained but don’t use clay or clumping litter. Instead use pelleted or shredded bedding (recycled paper, wood shavings, etc.)
Toys – Avoid latex or foam rubber toys since they like to chew and swallow these which may lead to intestinal obstruction.
Grooming – Ferrets naturally have a musky odor but shouldn’t be excessively groomed, as this may lead to dry skin. Most ferrets have already been descended (and spay or neutered) before they are sold.
Vaccinations – Distemper, Rabies. Vaccinate annually and only use a vaccine approved for use in ferrets. Do not use canine distemper vaccine because the ferret may develop the disease. There is only one approved rabies vaccine for ferrets.
Vaccine Reactions – Ferrets have vaccine reactions more often than other animals, most commonly to distemper.
Medical Problems – Canine Distemper can be transmitted to ferrets by dogs, foxes, raccoons, and other ferrets directly or from the infected material.
Ferrets are highly susceptible to human flu and show upper respiratory signs and occasionally diarrhea.
Anemia (in unaltered female ferrets), fleas, heartworm disease, GI foreign bodies (usually young ferrets), Epizootic Catarrhal Enteritis (ECE more common in shelters), Aleutian disease (caused by parvovirus), heart disease, skin tumors (majority are benign), adrenal disease (very common in ferrets over 2 years), insulinoma (tumor of the beta cells of pancreas), other cancers such as lymphosarcoma or organ tumors.