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Ferret Shopping List
The Essentials (you need
these before you bring home a ferret)
- Wire cage
- Water dispenser (bowls
- Food dish
- Bed: hammock and/or
The Extras (you’ll need
these shortly after bringing home a ferret)
- Nail clippers
- Toothbrush and paste
- Ear wash and cotton
- Shampoo and
- Harness and/or
collar and leash
The Fun Stuff
- Toys (hard rubber or
- Thinking about bringing a ferret home
as a pet? That’s great, as long as you know what you are getting
into. Ferrets can make wonderful pets, but they are not necessarily
the best pet for all people. On the plus side, ferrets are small and
quiet and ideal for apartment living. Ferrets are also highly
intelligent, and will constantly amuse you with their antics. They
can become loyal friends and confidants. I personally can’t
imagine my life without my furry crew.
- On the other hand, ferrets take quite
a bit more care than other pets. They also tend to have higher
veterinary bills throughout their lives. Ferrets need lots of
attention and playtime and enjoy routines. If you work long hours or
travel frequently, maybe a ferret is not the best pet for you. Do
you have other pets? Ferrets are not a good combination with rodents
or birds (which make great ferret snacks). They can get along with
most cats and some dogs, but require constant supervision and pet
training for these interactions to be successful. Do you have
toddlers or infants in the house? Ferrets and small children can
hurt each other, so maybe another pet would be more appropriate.
Don’t have airconditioning? Ferrets are heat sensitive and need
climate control. Ferrets also have a unique odor, which some people
might find offensive.
- If you do decide that a ferret is
right for you and you are right for a ferret, be sure you are well
prepared to bring your first ferret home. You’ll need to shop for
the appropriate gear, find a veterinarian, and ferret-proof your
home. Let’s talk about each of these preparations in more detail.
- Shopping for Ferret
- Plan to go shopping for your ferret
and have everything ready before you bring your ferret home.
You’ll need quite a few essentials immediately, some extras, and
you have many options with additional fun ferret items (see sidebar)
- Cage. Ferrets do best in a wire
mesh habitat that provides plenty of ventilation. Wooden cages
absorb odors, and plastic or glass aquariums don't provide enough
ventilation. Ideally, the wire mesh should have wire spaces no
larger than 1”x2”, and the wire should be coated to prevent
rusting. There should be no sharp edges or “burrs” that could
injure you or your ferret. It’s also nice to have some sort of
washable pan or tray at the bottom to keep things neat. At the
absolute minimum, a cage for one ferret should provide two square
feet of floor space and 18 inches of
headroom. Double the size for two ferrets, or add another
story for each new ferret. Bigger is always better!
- Water bottle and bowl. Ferrets
need constant access to fresh water, so a no-drip water bottle for
the cage is a must. Try using a bowl to catch any drips from the
bottle. Ferrets actually prefer drinking out of water bowls, but
they tend to splash around and make a big mess. When your ferret is
out of the cage, keep a bowl of water available on the floor in your
house. Try a heavy, crock-style bowl that won't tip over.
- Food. Look for a
ferret-specific food or a premium kitten food with a guaranteed
analysis of 32 to 38 percent protein, 18 to 22 percent fat, and less
than 3 percent fiber. Read the packaging to make sure at least two
meat protein sources are listed in the first five ingredients. The
food should be a dry kibble; reserve the canned food for ill
ferrets. Most canned
formulas don't provide enough calcium, and they contain higher
levels of preservatives, which may not be healthy for your ferret in
the long run. And unlike crunchy dry food, canned food won't help
prevent tooth decay.
- Food Dishes. Bowls should be
heavy and difficult to tip over. Ferrets like to dig in their food,
so bowls with an interior lip are a plus, because they help prevent
the food from scattering around. Choose a bowl that's easy to clean;
ferret foods have a high fat content, which leaves residue inside
- Litter box. Ferrets need a
litter box or pan with a high back and a low, easy-entry front.
Ferrets naturally like to go in corners, so a triangular high-back
litter pan can be a good starter option. However, as ferrets grow
older and larger, some may not want to use a corner pan they can’t
fit in. In that case, a high-backed square box may be a good choice.
- Litter. Try a pelleted litter
made from compressed newspapers or organic vegetable matter (such as
denatured pine, citrus peels, or aspen wood). Clay and corncob
litters tend to be too dusty for ferrets.
- Never use clumping litters—which are
dangerous for ferrets for a variety of reasons—or silica litters,
which can be dangerous if ingested.
- Bed. Ferrets must have a bed
where they can sleep. Old towels and T-shirts will do in a pinch,
but have the potential to snag toenails. Most ferrets love
fleece-lined sleep sacks and hammocks for snoozing; some of mine
prefer hammocks with a pouch for sleeping either inside or outside.
Make sure bedding is washable and snag-resistant.
You can give more room to your ferret by suspending a hammock
from the top of the cage. In
a multistory cage, hammocks can catch a ferret falling from a high
- Carrier. A carrier is a must
for not only the first trip home, but also vet visits. A soft-sided
carrier is fine for short, local trips. You'll need an
airline-approved plastic carrier for long-distance traveling. It can
also be used for brief time-out sessions when your ferret needs some
- Nail clippers. You'll need to
trim your ferret's nails every other week or so. The notched
scissors designed for birds' or kittens' claws are best. Don't use
human nail clippers on your ferret—they'll block your view of your
pet's nails, making it easy cut off too much; plus, they tend to
crush nail rather than cut them.
- Toothbrush and paste. Ferrets'
teeth need brushing every few weeks. Never use toothpaste meant for
humans—it can be toxic if your pet swallows it. Also, human
toothbrushes (even those for babies) are too harsh for ferret teeth
and can damage the tooth enamel. Use a brush and toothpaste
formulated for cats instead.
- Ear washes. Ferrets need their
ears cleaned every few weeks to prevent ear mites and the buildup of
smelly earwax. For regular cleaning, choose a gentle ear wash that
you can apply with a cotton swab. Treat ear mites with a miticide
gentle enough for kittens or rabbits.
- Shampoo and conditioner. You
can bathe your ferret every few months using a pH-balanced ferret
shampoo, but remember: Very frequent baths (more often than once a
month) actually cause ferrets to smell worse! Ferrets tend to
overproduce musk oils if bathing strips their skin and fur of its
natural oils, and the dry fur then absorbs the extra odoriferous
oils, resulting in a stinkier and discolored ferret. Conditioners
are optional, but they can help moisturize the fur that was stripped
during the bathing process.
- Harness, leash, and collar.
Whenever your ferret is out of the cage, you'll be able to locate
her more easily if she wears a safety collar with a bell. A harness
and leash are a must if you want to take your ferret outdoors.
Choose a harness in an H-type design, and a lightweight leash.
- Supplements. Ferrets who eat a
balanced diet probably don't need extra vitamins, but they can
benefit from a liquid supplement of essential fatty acids, which
helps maintain a healthy skin and coat. Actually, most ferrets think
this oily stuff is a great treat! Also, ferret shed during the
spring and fall and will need a hairball preventive during this
time. A quarter-teaspoon of cat laxative twice a week does the
- Toys. Ferrets are playful
creatures who love playing with toys. Just make sure the toys are
safe: Avoid latex, soft rubber, spongy items and anything with small
parts that a ferret could swallow. Ferrets love anything that moves,
so toys on stretchy cords, balls, and fishing rods with fun lures
are very entertaining.
- Treats. If you're training your
ferret or rewarding for good behavior, look for healthy treats with
minimal sugar and lots of meat protein. Ferrets also enjoy the
occasional fruit or vegetable, as well as some cereal products.
However, don't use treats as a substitute for food, or nutritional
problems may result
- Tubes. Ferrets love running
through tubes—translucent plastic maze tubes and clear dryer hoses
are great fun! Just be sure there are no exposed wires or sharp
edges on the tubes, or any areas where a ferret could snag a toenail
or trap a paw.
- Apparel. Clothes and hats are
fun photo opportunities, but ferrets don’t need extra clothes and
most don’t like them Just remember that your ferret should wear
apparel only when you're there to supervise.
- Ferrets are incredibly inquisitive
animals who will want to explore your entire house. Keep dangerous
areas such as the kitchen, laundry room, and bathroom off-limits by
closing doors or installing barriers. You'll need to ferret-proof
all other rooms by blocking off any holes larger than the size of a
quarter. Staple a barrier (panelling
or heavy fabric) to the bottom of upholstered chairs,
couches, or mattresses. Hang all potted plants out of reach and
install baby locks on cabinet doors and drawers. Ferrets also like
to eat things that aren't good for them, so hide anything that is
rubbery or spongy (ferret favorites!).
- Visiting the Vet
- Start your search for a veterinarian
who treats ferrets. Often, ferret vets have an “exotics”
specialty, but call to make sure. You can also get vet referrals
from a local ferret club. Make an appointment with the vet for a
physical exam, shots, and possible licensing. Baby ferrets need
three canine distemper shots two to three weeks apart. Most often,
baby ferrets have only their first shot when they're sold, so you'll
probably need to make at least two visits to the vet during your
pet's first few months in your home. If you aren't sure of your
older ferret's vaccination history, she may need a distemper booster
or two. (All ferrets need this vaccine annually, because they can
easily catch canine distemper, which is fatal.) If your ferret is 3
months old or older, an annual rabies shot is also in order. Do you
live in an area with mosquitos? Your vet may also need to prescribe
a monthly heartworm medication. You'll need to plan to see your
veterinarian at least once a year for a checkup and annual
vaccinations. If your ferret is “whole” it will need to be
spayed or neutered by about six months of age. Fixing ferrets
reduced odor problems by about 90%. Male ferrets, if not neutered,
can become aggressive. Female ferrets, if not spayed, develop
serious health problems at their first heat and die. New ferret
owners should not be tempted to breed until they are very
experienced in ferret care. Breeding is difficult, expensive, and
requires a huge time commitment –leave it to the experts.
- Choosing a Ferret
- Where should you get your ferret?
Petstores carry baby ferrets, but you can also find ferrets in the
classified ads of the newspaper or at a ferret shelter. If you have
never owned a ferret before, consider starting with a mature ferret
from a ferret shelter. The shelter operator will know the ferret’s
history, personality, and state of health and can match you up with
a ferret needing a good home. Baby ferrets (kits), although
incredibly cute, are a real challenge. They are incredibly active,
need nip-training, litter training, and extra veterinary care. Also
be careful about ferrets advertised in the classified ads, because
of possible behavioral or medical problems that an inexperienced
ferret owner might not recognize.
- In any case, choose a ferret in good
health – a glossy coat, bright eyes, clean ears and teeth, trimmed
nails, healthy skin, and a super personality. A ferret’s nose can
be either wet or dry – this is not a health indicator. But the
nose and eyes should not be runny. Keep in mind that some specialty-color ferrets can be deaf,
particularly ferrets with a white stripe on their face, or dark-eyed
whites. Whether you choose a boy or girl is up to you, just keep in
mind that males will grow to be twice the size of females. If your
ferret needs to be neutered or spayed, the cost of fixing a female
- Home at last!
- Now, you're ready to bring your baby
home. Moving to a new place is always a stressful experience for a
ferret. (Vet visits are stressful, too!) Ease your new arrival's
transition by letting him explore the cage; find his litter box,
food, and water; and take a nap in a hammock. Then, close the door
to the ferret room and be quiet
for an hour or so, even if your ferret looks very excited and wants
to play. Later, you can take your ferret out of the cage for a
15-minute exploring session. (Check to make sure she uses the litter
Don't let your ferret run all over the house yet. Confine the ferret
to one room and, over the next few weeks, gradually expand the
exploring area and length of playtime. When you're not home, keep
your ferret in the cage.
- Chow Time
- Your ferret needs plenty of food and
fresh water available at all times. Don't make the mistake of
feeding him small portions of food only at certain times—this is
very unhealthy. Ferrets have a fast metabolism that requires
constant nourishment; without it, they can suffer from nutritional
problems, metabolic imbalance, and blood-sugar swings—all of which
can increase the probability of disease, lower the immune system
response, and shorten a ferret's life.
- Litterbox Training
- Most ferrets tend to be pretty
reliable about using the litterbox in their cage. Like cats, they're
clean animals who don't want to soil their bedding. Clean the box of
solid waste every day and change all the litter weekly. However, if
your ferret has a large play area, be prepared for him to use some
other corner of your house as a litter box. If he's busy playing,
he's not likely to walk all the way back to the cage to do his duty!
It's much easier to go in a nearby corner. Try putting an extra
litterbox or newspapers in those corners.
- Ferrets always use the litter box
after they wake up, so don't take your ferret out until he does.
Then you only have an hour or two before the next urge comes. You
may want to put extra litter boxes or newspapers in the corners of
the rooms your ferret explores, just in case. Don't punish your
ferret for missing the litter box. Ferrets have short attention
spans and they won't link the punishment with the miss.
- Play time!
- Ferrets are incredibly social, playful
creatures. If you don't have time to play with your ferret for at
least a few hours every day, consider getting a larger cage and
another ferret as a buddy. Also, be prepared: When ferrets get
excited during playtime, they may do the "weasel war
dance," jumping and hissing with their mouths open. Some get so
excited that they bounce into walls!
- Nipping is a no-no
- Ferrets have very tough skin, and may
grab other ferrets' skin in play. This doesn't hurt them, but the
same toothy grab may be painful to you! Baby ferrets in particular
are quite nippy and don't know their own jaw strength.
Ferrets must be gently taught to be gentle. If your ferret
nips too hard, scruff him by grasping the loose skin on the back of
his neck like a mother ferret carrying one of her babies. Then say
"No!" and gently put the ferret down. If your ferret
continues to be overly excited, give him a five-minute time-out in
the carrier. Never, ever hit or physically punish your ferret for
biting, because that will just make him bite harder and more often.
- Nap time
- Ferrets play hard and sleep hard.
Sometimes they're so difficult to wake up, you'll think they're
completely unconscious. Ferrets sleep about 15 hours a day, but
they'll wake up every two to three hours to eat a snack, drink
water, or play. They tend to be most active whenever you are, or at
dawn or dusk. Sometimes when you first wake ferrets up, they seem to
be shivering. Don't worry, they're not cold or scared, they're just
adjusting their sleeping body temperature to waking mode.
- Pesky Pests
- Ferrets can get fleas and ticks, and
these parasites can cause health problems. Ferrets are very
sensitive to insecticides, so you can’t use all the same products
you might use for cats and dogs. For example, NEVER use a flea
collar, flea powder or flea dip on your ferret. You can use flea
shampoos that are labeled as safe for kittens or rabbits. There are
also a few drop-on-the-neck products that appear to be safe for
ferrets – you can use ½ the cat dose of Frontline or Advantage.
Farnam also has a Bio-Spot product specifically designed for
- Common Medical
- Veterinarians usually say the most
common reason for a ferret needing surgery is for intestinal
blockage. Ferrets have a tendency to chew and swallow all sorts of
indigestible household objects which cannot get past the stomach,
causing life-threatening problems. Another common problem, usually
evidenced by balding, is adrenal disease. Older ferrets may also
develop insulinoma, which is a blood sugar problem that may result
in a weak hind end or even seizures. These common problems are just
one reason why the annual veterinary checkup is so important.
Adrenal disease and insulinoma can be treated surgically and
medically. Heartworm is extremely difficult to treat, and distemper
is fatal, so prevention is the key. Finally it should be pointed out
that ferrets are very heat sensitive. Ferrets should be kept indoors
in temperatures below 80 degrees F, or they can suffer dehydration
and heat stroke.
- Finding out More
- A good ferret owner will continue to
learn more about keeping ferrets healthy and happy. There’s lots
more to find out about ferret medical problems, training issues and
even showing your ferret at shows. There are plenty of great ferret
resources out there – just check them out!
- Ferret Resources
- Ferrets Magazine, 6 issues per year,
- Ferrets USA Magazine, annual issue, at
petstores and newsstands
- The Ferret: An Owner’s Guide to a
Happy Healthy Pet, by Mary Shefferman (Howell Book House ISBN
- A Practical Guide to Ferret Care, by
Deborah Jeans (Ferrets, Inc. ISBN 0-9642589-1-9)
- Ferret Central and the online FAQ
(Frequently Asked Questions) on Ferrets http://www.ferretcentral.org
- I hope these tips will help your
ferret to grow to be a happy, healthy, well-behaved member of your
household. Ferrets are full of surprises, however, and there is a
lot to learn about ferret health, needs, and behaviors. Get ready
for a fun ferret education!