Caring for your pet ferret
Ferrets can be a suitable pet for children to handle and can be lots of fun. However, getting a ferret is a big decision. Ferrets require plenty of attention and need to be cared for properly. It is important to consult a vet experienced with ferrets before buying 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 correctly so they don't scratch or bite and can develop a positive relationship with humans. It is important to handle ferrets often, especially when they are young.
The welfare of all animals, including ferrets is protected by the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986.
Housing your ferret
Ferrets need a large hutch to live in that is safe and secure. It needs an area that protects them from the weather and provides enough space for exercise. A suitable hutch design includes a waterproof, dark, dry area for the ferrets to rest and hide with a bedding of soft hay or shredded paper.
The other section of the hutch should be light and large enough 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 every 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.
Feeding your ferret
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 and prefer to live in groups. If you keep 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 live together.
Keep ferrets separate 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:
- heartworm prevention
- 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 using your ferrets for breeding, get them checked by your vet first to make sure they are fit and healthy.
If any health issues develop, get advice from your local vet.
Ferrets can suffer from heat stress. Once the temperature exceeds 30ºC you must regularly monitor your ferrets. Do 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.
Exercise for your ferret
Ferrets require daily exercise. If your ferret is living in a small hutch 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 backyard 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). 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).