Category: caring for your ferret

Routine health care

We are all familiar with the phrase “A healthy pet is a happy pet” – but there is probably also something to be said for keeping your ferret happy in order to maintain its health. If you know your pet you will probably quickly recognise the signs that suggest it is not well.

A healthy ferret will have bright eyes, clean ears, eyes and nose and be interested in what is going on around it.

If your ferret’s weight remains constant then they are eating the right amount of food. You should be concerned if their appetite or water consumption suddenly changes or they suddenly start to gain or lose weight. When in good condition the coat should be shiny, soft and free of parasites.

Your ferret must be fed a healthy diet and allowed regular exercise.

The closer your ferret’s diet and environment is compared to how it would eat and live in the wild, the healthier and happier it will be. Giving them plenty of enrichment in also hugely important for their mental wellbeing.

A healthy diet is a balanced diet containing all the nutrients your pet requires.

Ferrets are obligate carnivores, which means they are only designed to eat protein, however very occasionally it is possible for them to eat other food in small quantities as a treat.

There are a number of measures that can help prevent your pet developing diseases. You should discuss the special needs of your pet with your vet.


It is a sad truth that the number of pets born every year is far greater than the number of good homes that can be found for them. As a result, thousands of healthy animals are destroyed and many unwanted ones are abandoned. Having your ferret neutered will help to reduce the number of unwanted animals and can also help to safeguard your pet’s health and welfare.


Ferrets should be vaccinated against canine distemper.

Dental care

Ferrets tend not to suffer from dental problems unless they are fed a poor, moist diet.

If your ferret has a poor coat condition, dull eyes, dirty ears, eyes or nose it may indicate that they are unwell. Changes in behaviour (a normally happy and affectionate animal may become grumpy and avoid human contact, preferring to hide away by itself), altered appetite or water consumption should also alert you to the possibility that there may be a problem.

Most animals recover from illness in 24-48 hours – if your pet does not seem to be improving in this time or is getting worse then you should contact your vet.

Neutering your ferret

Neutering your ferret not only prevents unwanted or accidental pregnancies – it is a fact that every year many litters of unwanted kits are born. It is also important when considering other factors such as breeding, accommodation and health.

Female ferrets are seasonally polyoestrus, which means they can come into heat more than once during the breeding season (usually March through to August).

Female ferrets, also known as ‘jills’, are also induced ovulators, which means that once they come into season (oestrus), they will not come out of it again until they have been mated. While they remain in oestrus, the vulva swells dramatically and can becomes sore and inflamed.

If she is mated, the swelling of the vulva usually regresses to normal within 2-3 weeks. Sustained oestrus can be dangerous, even life-threatening because persistent production of oestrogen usually results in bone marrow suppression, which in turn can lead to anaemia and decreases in the number of circulating white blood cells.

At one time, the only answer to this was to breed from the jill every year. This leads to a considerable population explosion unless the kits are to be euthanased at birth.

Currently, a popular method for owners of a number of jills is to run a vasectomised (sterilised) male ferret, also known as a ‘hoblet’, with them – he mates with the jills and stops the oestrus without a pregnancy resulting.

Another option is to take your jill to the vets to have a hormone injection which prevents them from coming into oestrus, or suppresses it if they are already in oestrus – if given in the spring it usually lasts the whole of the breeding season, however sometimes a repeat injection in the summer may be needed, which can prove costly depending on the number of jills you have.

Yes, she can.

Female ferrets not intended for breeding should be spayed at about 6-8 months of age.

This is the best solution if you own a jill. It is a routine operation, although there are always some risks associated with any surgery. There aren’t currently any anaesthetics licensed for use in ferrets in the UK, so combinations of anaesthetics used in dogs and cats are widely and reliably used for ferrets. Ferrets tend to take surgery well and recover quickly.

A spayed jill is often referred to as a ‘sprite’.

Male ferrets, also known as ‘hobs’, are generally castrated for social rather than medical reasons.

One of the characteristics of the ferret is their distinctive smell which is much stronger on an entire hob than in a castrated hob. This smell is the result of the influence of sex hormones on normal skin secretions. Consequently, castrating your ferret is usually sufficient to control this problem. It is usually done at around 8 months of age. A very pungent and equally objectionable secretion is occasionally produced by the ferret’s scent (anal) glands – some owners also have their pet ferrets descented, however this doesn’t get rid of their musky smell.

Another reason for castrating a hob is that they are inclined to be more aggressive and snappy than jills. There is probably an element of sexual frustration in this, and it is reasonable to suggest that, in the abscence of plenty of jills, they are happier without their testosterone!

Castrating a hob is quite a simple operation, although there are always some risks associated with any surgery. There aren’t currently any anaesthetics licensed for use in ferrets in the UK, so combinations of anaesthetics used in dogs and cats are widely and reliably used for ferrets. Ferrets tend to take surgery well and recover quickly.

A castrated hob is often referred to as a ‘gib’.

Both sexes can be neutered from 4 months of age.

The breeding season starts in the spring, so the best time to get kits neutered in during their first winter.

Feeding your ferret

Ferrets have unique feeding requirements. They are carnivores and are unable to obtain nutrients from vegetable matter; the food they eat also passes through their digestive system very quickly. For this reason their diet needs to be high in animal protein, fat and low in fibre. A ferret thrives on a varied diet, so the more varied you can make your ferret’s diet, the better.

There are a few specially designed dry complete ferret foods available and are specifically formulated to provide all the nutrients a ferret needs.

The base of your ferret’s diet should consist of a dry food, this is recommended over semi-moist and canned food alternatives because the soft food can lead to gum and dental disease. Once you have a good dry food you can also offer other food to make their diet more varied.


These can be offered as an occasional treat either cooked or raw.


Ferrets aren’t so keen on fish, but it can still be offered as an occasional treat if your ferrets decided they like it.

Meat and bones

Ferrets love both cooked and raw meat, in particular rabbit, poultry and mice. Raw meat should be given fresh and don’t worry about the bones, ferrets can eat bones and they are a great source of calcium, marrowbone and minerals.

Other treats that can be given, but in very small quantities, and not on a regular basis, include:

  • cooked vegetables
  • non-acidic fruits, e.g. raisins, banana and coconut

Food to avoid completely include:

  • dairy products unless they are lactose-free)
  • salty/sugary/spicy food
  • nuts
  • cat/dog food

Most of these cause tummy upsets, even if fed in relatively small quantities, and so are best avoided.

This really is up to you. You could either leave a bowl of dry food for them all the time, this way they can eat when they are hungry, or you could give them a couple of feeds a day, either way, you will soon learn which method is best for your ferret.

You should also remember that your ferret should always have access to fresh, clean water. This can be offered in either a water bottle or a heavy ceramic dish to avoid spillage.