Ferrets can be suitable for children to handle and can be lots of fun. However, getting a ferret is a big decision. As ferrets require plenty of attention and need to be cared for properly, it is important to consult a vet experienced with ferrets before getting one. Ferrets can live for up to seven years and are a species with unique dietary and other needs. They can also develop conditions with their reproductive system which can be fatal.
Ferrets must be handled appropriately so they do not scratch or bite and can develop a positive relationship with humans. It is important to handle ferrets regularly, especially when they are young.
Ferrets require a large hutch to live in that is safe and secure, has an area that protects them from the weather and provides enough space for exercise. A suitable hutch design includes a dark, dry area for the ferrets to rest and hide, which has a bedding of soft hay or shredded paper and is water proof. The other section of the hutch should be light and large enough to allow for a separate exercise and toileting area. The hutch must be well ventilated. It is best to have a hutch made out of wood as metal hutches tend to heat up more quickly. Ferrets enjoy climbing and are very inquisitive. It is recommended that ferrets hutches have multiple levels connected by gently sloping ramps so they have more space to explore. Ferrets benefit from access to different stimuli such as toys and tunnels.
It is important to clean the hutch at least ever second day by removing soiled bedding and ensuring ferrets have a dry area to sleep. Ferrets that do not have access to clean bedding can suffer from respiratory infections, skin ailments and pest infestation such as fleas and mites.
Ferrets are carnivores, which means they eat only meat. As ferrets require a special diet, it is important to consult a vet experienced with ferrets to provide advice on a healthy diet.
Ferrets are social species and prefer to live in groups. In keeping ferrets, always have at least two. To avoid unwanted pregnancies separate males and females or have your veterinarian desex them. Males will be less likely to fight each other if introduced at a young age. Females and males can be prone to fighting amongst each other so make sure you accustom new ferrets with each other in a supervised environment or through a mesh fence before they co-habit.
It is best to separate ferrets from other animals. Ferrets are hunting animals and if mixed with guinea pigs, rabbits or even kittens they may attack or kill them.
Health care for ferrets should include regular worming, vaccinations, heart worm prevention and flea control. Ferrets should be vaccinated against distemper at 8, 12 and 16 weeks of age then again at one year.
Ferrets should be desexed around 6 months of age. Ferrets that are desexed will not produce unwanted litters, are less aggressive and have a milder scent.
If you are breeding from your ferrets ensure they have been vet checked and are fit and healthy.
Any health issues that develop require advice from your local veterinarian.
Ferrets can suffer from heat stress. Once the temperature exceeds 30ºC it is necessary to regularly monitor your ferrets. It is important not place the hutch in direct sunlight during warmer months. Keep it in the shade even on warm to cool days. It does not take long for heat to build up in small areas. On hot days it may be necessary to provide a frozen drink bottle or ice brick in the nesting area of the hutch to reduce the temperature.
Ferrets require daily exercise. If your ferret is living in a hutch of minimum size make sure it has an exercise area that is safe and can be left in for at least two hours each day. If ferrets are let go in the house or back yard they must be supervised as they can chew and swallow hazardous objects.
Ferrets do have a strong scent. This is not to do with their anal glands, as some people believe, so having the anal glands removed will not affect their scent. There are three ways of reducing the scent:
- Have your ferret desexed.
- Wash its bedding often.
- Wash the ferret once a month (any more and the oil sacks under the skin will increase in production).
The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 protects the welfare of all animals, including ferrets.