Category: owning a ferret

Handling your ferret

When awake, ferrets generally exhibit constant activity. However, they can be easily picked up and gently restrained by using both hands to support their weight and provide security from falling and injury.

It is important that you pick up your ferret correctly in order to avoid frightening or injuring your ferret, which could lead to it becoming aggressive.

The best way to pick up a ferret is to grasp it around the shoulders under the front legs with your thumb under it’s jaw, and at the same time supporting it’s hindlegs with your other hand. Ferrets should be handled gently, but firmly.

If your ferret struggles while holding it, it is possible to calm them down by gently swaying them backwards and forwards, this relaxes them and they seem to enjoy it. Do this by grasping them gently, but firmly around the shoulders as described above.

It is thought that the relaxation that results from this method is similar to that exhibited by very young kits as they are carried in their mother’s mouth from place to place.

It is important to handle your ferret as often as possible, to ensure they become tame and affectionate.

Ferrets: a history

The ferret, also known as Mustela putorius furo (which in Latin means ‘bad smelling weasel’) comes from the ‘Mustelidae’ family and is a domestic pet, not a wild animal. However, ferrets are descendants of the European polecat (weasel) and are, therefore, close relatives of skunks, mink, otters and badgers.

Ferrets are unusual animals, but not “exotic.” They have been domesticated for thousands of years and can be treated under the same set of disciplinary rules you would use for any other domesticated animal. Ferrets are also extremely intelligent and can be easily trained.

Is has been documented that the Romans brought ferrets into the UK in the 1st century, but they weren’t recognised until the 11th century when the Normans brought them over as a form of rodent control.

Since then ferrets were only really used on farms and estates as a form of pest control, and it wasn’t until the1960’s that ferrets became popular as pets.

There are two main varieties of ferrets based on coloration: the fitch and albino ferret.

Fitch ferrets, more commonly known as polecat ferrets, are buff-coloured with black masks, feet and tails. These seem to be the most popular.

Albino ferrets, also quite popular, range from pure white, to cream and yellow, but will always have pinky red eyes.

Other colours now seen include sandy, silver, black, cinnamon and chocolate.

Female ferrets are called jills, male ferrets are called hobs, and babies are called kits.

Hobs are typically twice the size of jills, but both sexes undergo periodic weight fluctuations. It is not uncommon for the average ferret to add 30-40% of its body weight in fat deposited beneath the skin in the autumn, and lose this fat the following spring.

The gestation period of ferrets is 42-44 days, with the average being 42 days.

The average litter size is 8, but it can range from 2-17. Kits are born deaf, with their eyes closed. Their eyes open and they begin to hear between 3 and 5 weeks of age.

Their deciduous (“temporary”) teeth begin to erupt at 2 weeks of age, at which time they can begin to eat solid food. Kits are usually weaned onto commercial kitten feed at around 8 weeks of age, and they will reach their adult weight at about 4 months of age.

The average lifespan of a ferret is 9-10 years.

Housing your ferret

Ferrets make wonderful pets because of their engaging personalities, playful activity and fastidious nature. Housing is important for your ferret, whether you keep them inside or outside.

They can easily be trained to use a litter box because they tend to habitually urinate and defecate in the same places. Provide a low-sided litter box for easy entry and exit. More than one litter box may be necessary if the ferret has free run of the house.

There is no innate animosity between ferrets and dogs and cats, and all can usually share a household with little difficulty. However, ferrets have been known to attack pet birds, so it is advisable for owners of both to take appropriate precautions to prevent these encounters.

Ferrets are naturally inquisitive and can squeeze through very small spaces. It is important to “ferret-proof” your house before bringing your pet home. Thoroughly check every room it will inhabit, sealing all holes and openings wider than 1 inch in diameter. Make sure that all windows that may be opened have secure screens. It is also important to check the openings around plumbing, heating and air conditioning ducts or pipes and gaps under doors.

Ferrets are small and silent, so you will usually not hear them approach. They are easily stepped on when they are sleeping under a throw rug or suddenly turn up under foot. Their love of tunneling and their inherent curiosity frequently places them in potentially dangerous situations.

They could very easily crawl unnoticed into your refrigerator, into the bottom boiler of a stove, through the rungs of a balcony railing, out the front door, or even end up in the washing machine with clothes under which the ferret was sleeping. Other dangers include folding sofa beds and reclining chairs. The obvious solution to avoiding accident and injury is to learn your ferret’s habits and be constantly vigilant.

To help protect your ferret, especially if it is allowed free run of the house, obtain an adjustable, lightweight cat collar, the kind with elastic on one end, a small bell, and an ID tag. The bell will signal that your ferret is underfoot or has perhaps slipped out the front door and will warn caged birds allowed unrestricted freedom in the home that the ferret is nearby. The collar also indicates to unknowing neighbors (many people have no idea what a ferret is) that whatever it is must belong to someone.

While ferrets are not destructive to most household items, such as furniture, clothing, etc, some have a tendency to chew on soft rubber or other soft materials. This is especially dangerous because the pieces of rubber can become impacted in your ferret’s intestines. This means that you should not give your ferret rubber squeak toys to play with either.

You should ensure that the cage is plenty big enough so that you can give your ferret plenty of toys to play with, tubes to run through and places to hide. You should also provide an enclosed area within the cage where your ferret can go and sleep. If your ferret is kept in a cage you will need to let it out regularly for exercise, either in a safe enclosure outside or in a dedicated “ferret-proof” room of the house.

Ferrets are especially fond of tunnelling under things, like towels, and prefer to sleep in this manner, so make sure you provide plenty of possible nesting material so your ferret can exhibit it’s natural behaviour.

You can use hay, straw or wood shavings on the floor of the cage to make it easy to clean, and they will most probably use the hay and straw to tunnel through as well. Make sure the bedding you use isn’t dusty as this can irritate their eyes. Ferrets are naturally very clean and will usually use one or two corners of the cage for toilet purposes. These areas can be lined with paper and wood shavings so daily cleaning is quick and easy.