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Ferrets


Ferrets are not rodents, but are members of the Family Mustelidae. Unlike its wild cousins, the otter, martin, ermine, mink, weasel, badger, and wolverine, the ferret is not wild, and would almost certainly die soon after release or escape. It has been domesticated for nearly 2500 years, originally for hunting and pest control. family is the largest within family Carnivora (Carnivores) and is comprised of 56 species. Traditionally skunks have been considered a subfamily within Mustelidae, but recent evidence indicates that skunks do not lie within the mustelid group and instead are recognized as a seperate family, Mephitidae.

The domestic ferret should not be confused with the black-footed ferret, an endangered species native to the Midwestern United States and Canada.

And always remember: Never trust a quiet ferret.

  • Housing
    • Wire Cage - A multi-level wire cage is my preference for housing ferrets, but with a few modifications. This type if cage comes in many sizes, from about 3 feet tall to over 6 feet tall. The biggest you can afford and have room for is the best. Some come with plastic levels rather than wire ones. If you decide on a cage with wire flooring, adding a layer of flooring vinyl (linoleum) to protect little feet is best. On the bottom level, covering half of the floor while leaving half uncovered as a place for the litter box is optimal, protecting feet and allowing spilled litter to fall through. Tie or wire the vinyl down, or your ferrets will pull it up and burrow underneath it.
    • Plastic Cage - I'm not a big fan of housing ferrets in a plastic bottomed cage (usually with wire bars on the top). Ferrets are burrowers (often living in abandoned ground squirrel burrows) and really need the feeling of multi levels.
  • Bedding
    • Recycled Corrugated - For the bottom of wire cages (or alternately plastic cages) I prefer recycled corrugated like Carefresh (NOT in dyed colors), a similar product is available at Wal~Mart stores. It is super absorbant, recycled, and biodegradable, and it is nice and soft, ferrets love to burrow and nest in it.
    • Wood Shavings - I don't like using wood chips or shavings with ferrets, I've encountered too many apparent allergies that were solved by eliminating shavings.
  • Litter Box/Litter - Ferrets are mostly litter-trainable, most can be expected to find their box upwards of 80% of the time. However, when distracted by play or outside-of-the-cage exploration, accidents will occasionally happen. Keep the litter box clean; scoop everyday, change and disinfect every week. However, when you empty the box weekly, save a little bit of the old litter. A clean completely fresh box is just an invitation to snorkel. Add a little of the old litter to discourage burrowing and encourage the proper use of the box. As a small warning, I was rehabing a ferret who had never had a litterbox, he just lived in inches of his own waste. At first he wouldn't go near the box, but placing his misses in the box got him in the habit pretty quickly. Unfortunately I was so quick about scooping his hits that he got rather spoiled and for a while wouldn't go in the box if there was already anything in it. I guess you can be too clean with a ferret.
    • Litter Box - I like a corner box by SuperPet shaped like a slice of pie. They secure in the corner, have a high back and a low front lip. If you've ever watched a ferret do its business you know that high back is a must.
    • Litter - I love SwheatScoop for ferrets, rabbits and cats. There is even a special formula for small animals. It's all natural, 100% kiln dried wheat, biodegradable, clumping, unscented (smells like baking bread when you pour it), no silica to inhale when your ferret goes snorkeling in it (and he will). It has a nice texture that I have never had an animal dislike.
  • Companionship - If you intend to have more than one ferret, get them at the same time and raise them together. There is still no guarantee that they will continue to be happy house mates as adults, but the odds are stacked in your favor. Personalities are more important than gender, since they are altered so young. If you have more than one adult ferret and they were not raised together, I estimate a 50/50 chance of being able to integrate them into the same housing.
  • Reproduction - Ferrets are generally sterilized by the breeder before they are available for sale. I don't agree with the very young age at which they are removed from their mothers and spayed/neutered, however the need to sterilize is absolute. During the operation, veterinarians also remove the scent glands. Unaltered male ferrets smell very strongly, and an intact female must be bred or she will become anemic and essentially bleed to death.
  • Feeding
    • Dishes - There is a particular 'indestructible' parrot dish that I absolutely love. Food dishes that rest on the bottom of the cage are subject to becoming 'pucks' to be pushed around and dumped, and alternate litter boxes. This dish has an arm that clamps onto the bars of the cage, and the bowl itself twists into a notch that keeps it secure.
    • Food - Long ago when ferrets first became popular, cat kibble was the feed of choice. Frankly, most cat kibble isn't fit for consumption by any animal. Ferrets (like cats) are obligate carnivores, meaning that they must receive all of their essential nutrition from meat sources. There are many resources on the web for researching raw-feeding for ferrets, including the RawPaws Yahoo Group. If you absolutely must feed kibble, something like Innova's EVO Feline is best as it has very limited grain content.
    • Treats - High sugar/carbohydrate treats are not natural for ferrets (including raisins and other fruits) and may be linked to Insulinoma, a cancer of the pancreas. It is purported to be caused by constant overproduction of insulin in reaction to sugary treats and too many carbohydrates in the diet. Yogurt based treats are usually also high in sugar, and most ferrets become lactose intolerant after weaning. NEVER feed chocolate or anything with caffeine. Treat with affection.
  • Water - Fresh water EVERY DAY. Just because your ferret has a liter-sized water bottle doesn't mean that you can leave it for days until it's gone. Water bottles will develop bacterial and algae growths if not cleaned regularly. Refill daily, disinfect weekly.
  • Health - Keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list, you should always do your own homework both before you choose to give a ferret (or any animal) a home, and after to stay abreast of current medical concerns. Check with your municipality about the legality of owning a ferret and any vaccination requirements.
    • Ferret Proofing - Ferrets are naturally curious and can't resist investigating small spaces. As such, recliners and other furniture with internal rocking mechanisms are death traps for ferrets. Make sure you know where your ferret is before using mechanical furniture. Wires are also a major hazard for ferrets, who seem to enjoy the chewing the rubbery casings. Keep cords out of their reach and give a Kong. Ferrets are also quite near-sighted and nearly fearless. A ferret will climb onto almost anything and have no concept of the fall. Never leave a loose ferret unattended.
    • Cancer - Ferrets are prone to cancers affecting the adrenal glands, pancreas, and lymphatic system. Hyperplasia (a condition affecting the adrenal glands) is common, its main symptom being a bald ferret.
  • Toys & Enrichment
    • Toys - One of my ferrets favorite toys has been a small Kong, packaged especially for ferrets, but the small dog Kong is the same, and often a couple of dollars less.
    • Hammocks - I got tired of spending $10 each on hammocks so I created my own pattern and started making them. I always like to have an entire second set on hand so I could change them out and wash them once a week. Here's a description of how to make My Super-Duper Dual-Duty Ferret Hammocks.
    • Box-O-Tube - Time for another trip to your local home improvement store. This started when I bought a new big cage for another rescue ferret. It came assembled in a big box, about 3'x3'x4'. Then I picked up about 20' of plastic dryer vent tubing. I cut penny size holes in the tubing about every 9" for ventilation (Don't cut the holes too big, you don't want the ferret trying to squeeze out and strangling!). I cut 2 holes at the bottom of opposite sides of the box the same size as the tubing. I put the whole length of tubing in the box and twist-tied the ends to the holes in the box. Release ferret. Ferret runs through the tubing coiled in the box. Every time he moves the tube moves, creating an endless maze for him. Ferret JOY!
  • Grooming
    • Bathing - Since the chances are overwhelming that your ferret will eventually go snorkeling in his litter (or worse), you will need to give him a bath. Start young, ferrets who are acclimated to bathing regularly when they are young generally love playing in the tub in a couple of inches of warm water. Use a very gently shampoo, baby shampoo is nice, I'm not a big fan of 'ferret' shampoos as they often have perfumes in them, and if your ferret doesn't like how he smells, he will just roll in the litter box again. Over-bathing is something I find common, and is a vicious circle. The more you bathe your ferret the drier their skin can become, causing it to produce more oils, making him smell more and an oily coat attracts more dirt. Unless he gets into something nasty, once a month is appropriate.
    • Drying - Don't let your ferret play on the floor before he's good and dry. As soon as you put him down he will rub himself all over the carpet, and will surely find every dust bunny in the house. Be sure to dry him very well with a soft warm towel (toss the towel in the drier for a few minutes before wrapping up your ferret) so he doesn't catch a chill. Be very careful using a blow drier, keep it on low, keep it moving across the ferret's fur, and don't get it too close to him. Some ferrets would rather kill the drier than be dried with it, so watch your cord. Ferret drying bags are available, but a making a simple one of your own is easy, just take a soft fluffy towel and fold it in half, then sew up two of the sides. This will satisfy your ferret's need to burrow and let him dry himself safely.


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I am not a veterinarian; I can not diagnose medical issues, offer medical advice, prescribe drugs, or perform surgery.

Reiki is healing, not medicine, and should never be used in place of veterinary care. If your pet is ill or injured, call your veterinarian immediately.

All readings and personal information are kept strictly confidential.


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Last updated Saturday, February 7, 2015

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