General Ferret Information

** The following information has been compiled using www.Vin.com
(the veterinary information network) and Lifelearn Inc. client information sheets**

Vital Statistics

Body Length: 9-15 inches
Body Weight: Males: 1-2 kilograms
Females: 0.5-1 kilogram
Sexual Maturity: 4-8 months
Life Span: 5-8 years

The domestic ferret is believed to be descended from the eastern European polecat and the steppe polecat. The ferret was originally domesticated for pest control over 2,000 years ago. The ferret is a member of the weasel family similar to skunks, otters, weasels, badgers, and minks. Ferrets were most likely introduced to North America in the 18th century by ships using them for pest control. Ferrets are very playful and inquisitive animals. Ferret’s coats come in a few different colors such as; buff with black markings on the face feet and tail, albino (white with pink eyes), and can also be silver, Siamese, cinnamon, panda, black-eyed white, blaze, and butterscotch. Female ferrets are called a jill, males are called a hob, and the infants are called kits. The females are pregnant for about 42 days. Similar to puppies and kittens, the kits are born with their eyes closed and deaf. The kits start walking around 3 weeks of age and can be weaned off of milk and onto ferret food at about 6 weeks of age and can then be found a new home. Socialization is very important with kits as it is with any young animal to avoid aggression with unfamiliar situations or animals. Like any small pet it is important to be careful if your home has young children, for both the safety of the pet and the child.

Ferret Nutrition

Similar to cats, ferrets are obligate carnivores meaning their bodies depend on meat to survive. Ferrets need to eat a diet high in meat proteins and fat. Ferrets have a short gastrointestinal (GI) tract, so it only takes 3-4 hours for their food to be completely digested. Ferrets can easily become hypoglycemic (have low blood sugar), so they should be fed several times a day. As long as your ferret does not become overweight it is okay to "free feed" them (having food available 24 hours a day). It was previously recommended to feed your ferret cat food, but now there are commercial diets produced specifically for ferrets. These foods are much more balanced and recommended. Some good commercial ferret foods are, ZuPreem ferret diet, Totally ferret, Mazuri ferret chow, and Evo ferret food. As long as your ferret is being fed a balanced diet there is no need to supplement with vitamins. Fresh water should be available to your ferret 24 hours a day. Treats
Most ferrets do enjoy a treat but these foods should be limited as to not cause any GI upset. To avoid GI upset treats of fruits and vegetables should be limited to 1 tsp daily and any sugary treats should be avoided.

Ferret Health

Similar to cats and dogs ferrets should have yearly exams by one of our veterinarians, and should be vaccinated for distemper and rabies. Ferrets do have some common health conditions to look out for, including; diarrhea, intestinal foreign bodies, parasites, heart disease, and a variety of tumors.

Diarrhea
As stated previously ferrets are very prone to GI upset, so watch your pet for any liquid feces. Since ferrets are small pets it is easy for them to become dehydrated, so any issue with diarrhea should be addressed as soon as possible.

Intestinal foreign bodies
Since ferrets love to chew on everything, it is common for young ferrets to become obstructed due to an intestinal foreign body. This is why it is very important to remove any small or eatable items from your ferrets’ environment.

Parasites
Similar to dogs and cats, ferrets can contract a variety or external and internal parasites. Your ferret should be examined at least once a year by one of our veterinarians; you should also provide a stool sample during your pet’s exam so it can be checked for internal parasites.

Tumors or Cancer
Ferrets develop cancer relatively quickly; early detection is very important for survival, this is another reason a yearly exam with one of our veterinarian is so important. Ferrets are prone to cancers like insulinoma (cancer of the pancreas), adrenal gland tumors, mast cell tumors of the skin, and lymphosarcoma (cancer of the lymph nodes and lymphocytic white blood cells).

Heart Disease
Unfortunately ferrets commonly develop heart disease due to cardiomyopathy, normally occurring when they are over 3 years old. Clinical signs of heart disease include weakness or lethargy, loss of coordination, anorexia, coughing, and distended abdomen.

Housing

Ferrets are well known as "escape artists", so need to be housed securely in a cage that can be locked. Ferrets should be housed in the largest cage you can afford and accommodate in your home; a suggested minimum size cage recommended would be 24 x 24" x 18". The cage floor should be a solid surface or a wire bottom, wooden or porous floors should be avoided so it does not become saturated in feces and urine. Ferrets sleep 12-18 hours a day, and need a dark enclosed area. Some ferrets will chew bedding or any cloths so inspect your ferret’s cage often for any rips or tears and removed any damaged material right away. Your ferret can be litter box trained and the litter box should be filled with a pelleted litter, ferrets prefer to back into a corner to eliminate so it is best to purchase a litter box that fits in the corner and clips onto your pet’s cage. Ferrets are too active to be completely confined to their cage; they should have at least 2-3 hours of exercise daily. It is important to "ferret proof" any area where your ferret will have access to; meaning any hole should be blocked off with plywood or hardware cloth. Ferrets tend to chew anything they can so all foam, plastic, and rubber products should be kept away. Ferrets are also very sensitive to heat stroke and their environment should be kept at or below 80°F and their cage should be well ventilated.

Check list for your ferret’s supplies

  • Large cage with solid or wire bottom
  • A dark place to sleep
  • Corner litter box
  • Heavy water bowl
  • Heavy food bowl
  • Access to good quality food
  • Access to fresh water
  • "Ferret proof" toys

Grooming

Grooming with ferrets is very similar to grooming your cat or dog. Regular bathing, nail trims, brushing teeth, and cleaning ears. Bathing your ferret too often can dry out its skin and coat. Ferrets have a natural musky odor to them and you cannot bathe them enough for them to smell "clean". If the musky smell is offensive to you then a ferret may not be the right pet for your home. Ferret nails are sharp and can get stuck in carpeting or cloth if left to grow too long, so nails should be cut often.

Behavior

Healthy ferrets are inquisitive, alert, curious, bright eyed, and are either in constant motion or are sleeping. An unhealthy ferret is not as curious, becomes listless and lethargic, stops grooming themselves and eyes become glazed and unfocused. If you see any of these unhealthy behaviors you should bring your ferret into see a veterinarian as soon as possible. Since ferrets are such active and inquisitive creatures behavior enrichment is important. As mentioned previously it is important to allow your ferret play time out of the cage, but it is also important to make sure this play time is stimulating; so it is best to try to mimic some of their natural environment, using cardboard boxes and PCV pipes can make for good tunneling play; hiding treats and food in their toys is an even better way to make sure their minds are being stimulated during their play time.

Other good toys for your ferret

  • Dryer hose
  • Empty paper bags
  • Straw mats and baskets
  • Food treat in plastic bottle or egg carton
  • Telephone books
  • Toilet paper/ paper towel tubes
  • Ping Pong balls in water
  • Hiding toys in sandbox
  • Suspended ping pong or plastic ball or string
  • Paper bag filled with crumpled paper
  • Cardboard box filled with soil, rice, ping pong balls, hay or crumpled pieces of paper or hay
**Please call the staff at Otterkill animal hospital if you have any questions about your pet, we are always happy to help, or set up an appointment with one of Our Veterinarians**