A Ferret is a domestic mammal of the type Mustela putorius furo. Ferrets have been domesticated since the times of the ancient Greeks or Egyptians. The exact history of the ferret domestication is uncertain, like most other domestic animals. It is very likely that ferrets have been domesticated for at least 2,500 years, but it not certain for what purpose the ferret was originally domesticated except maybe for hunting. They are still used for hunting rabbits in some parts of the world today but increasingly they are kept simply as pets. The ferret was most likely domesticated from the European polecat or the Steppe polecat or a hybrid of both.
In the U.S., ferrets were relatively rare pets until the 1980’s. The number of domesticated ferrets in the U.S. was estimated at 7 million in the 1990’s.
Domestic ferrets typically have brown, black, white, or mixed fur, have an average length of 20 inches (51 cm) including a 5 inch (13 cm) tail, weigh about 2-4 pounds (1 kg), and have a natural lifespan of 7-10 years.
Ferret spend 14-18 hours a day sleeping and are naturally crepuscular, meaning they are most active from dusk to dawn. Though ferrets sleep more than most domesticated animals, they are very active when awake and will seek to be released from their cage to get exercise and to satisfy their abundant curiosity daily. Ferrets are energetic, curious, interested in their surroundings, and often actively solicit play with humans, having a repertoire of behaviors both endearing and difficult for some human owners. Play for a ferret will often involve hide-and-seek games, or some form of predatory/prey game in which either the human attempts to catch the ferret or the ferret tries to catch the human.
They also have a strong nesting instinct and will repeatedly carry small objects to hidden locations. Ferrets will seemingly form attachments to certain objects and will repeatedly “steal” the same object and take it to their hiding places. Ferrets love playing tug of war with toys and stuffed animals. Ferret will also tear open packages and other containers to see what is inside or to explore the inside of the package. Ferrets are interested in holes, pipes, and other small-enclosed spaces and seem compelled to explore holes. Thus a cardboard or plastic tube will be appreciated. Ferrets are especially fond of variety in their toy selection - bell-balls, crinkle bells, and paper bags will work well. All toys should be mixed up regularly, as ferret will grow bored of playing the same games repeatedly.
Don’t bathe ferret weekly, their skin gets too dry, and their odor increase. Bathe less often, but clean bedding very, very often. Ferret kits are almost always sold too young for their rabies shots to have been provided. In fact, most kits are sold after only the first CD vaccination. They need 3 carefully timed CD vaccinations in their first months, so usually purchased kits need 2 more CD vaccinations with their rabies vaccination following. Medical care for a ferret over its lifetime often adds up to $3,000-$5,000.
Shape ferrets toward good behavior by encouraging them, and use short time outs for bad behavior. Most ferrets are not 100 percent about using litter boxes. Many cat litters are unsuitable for ferrets. A litter made of recycled paper is preferred.
When ferrets are excited, they may perform a routine commonly referred to as the weasel war dance, a frenzied series of sideways hops. This is often accompanied by a soft clucking noise, commonly referred to as dooking. It is often an invitation to play or an expression of happy excitement and is not threatening. The ferret’s posture may become rigid with wide-open jaws, momentary eye contact followed by thrashing and turning of head from side to side, arching the back, piloerection, and hopping to the side or backwards while facing the intended playmate. This is often accompanied by an excited panting sound that may sound like a hiss. Often, this behavior will break into a game of chase, pounce, and wrestle. Ferrets in war dances are very accident prone, often hopping into objects or tripping over their own feet. Ferrets tend to nip as kits. Nipping is the act of biting in a playful manner representative of mock fighting and sparring; young ferret are also more prone to chewing and teething, and have a tendency to bite harder. Older ferrets tend to chew less frequently, and, when trained correctly, almost never nip at a human hand or only so do very gently. However, ferrets that have been abused or are in extreme pain may bite a human, and are capable of strong bites that can break the skin.
Ferret, like cats, can use a litter box with training, but they are not always completely litter box trainable. Their instinct is to spread their waste in order to scent mark a wider foraging territory for themselves; thus, multiple litter boxes may be necessary, and all litter changed frequently.
A common ferret problem to many pet owners is introducing new ferrets into their population. Senior ferret may seem excessively violent to unknown ferrets in their home, but adding another ferret to one population to decrease boredom or for breeding will greatly encourage the morale of the ferret(s). Males and females will exhibit much stronger territorial urges when confronted with a new ferret, and will often treat the new ferret as a toy. After a fighting period that should be monitored, rarely will the results be harmful, the older ferret will shoe its dominance, often by dragging the junior ferret around by the scruff of it’s neck to its hoard and leaving it like any other valued object. Given time and careful monitoring, the older ferret or group will almost always accept new ferrets. Young ferret can actually benefit from having an older house trained ferret around when being taught to use the litter box, taking baths, or having their nails clipped.
Ferrets are obligate carnivores and the natural diet of their wild ancestors consisted of whole small prey, i.e., meat, organs, bones, skin, feather, and fur. Some ferret owners feed a meat-based diet composed of whole prey like mice and rabbit along with raw meat like chicken, beef, veal, kangaroo and wallaby. Alternatively, there are many commercial ferret food products. Some kitten food can also be used, so long as they provide high protein and fat content required by the ferret’s metabolism. Ideally, a ferret food should contain a minimum of 32 percent meat based protein and 18 percent fat. Low quality pet foods often contain grain-based proteins which ferret cannot digest. Ferrets have a fondness for sweets like raisins, bananas, peanut butter, and pieces of cereal. The high sugar content of such foods has been linked to ferret insulinoma and other diseases. Veterinarians recommend not feeding ferrets raison and the like at all. Also, like many other carnivores, ferrets gradually loose the ability to digest lactose after they are weaned. As a result, lactose-free milk is preferred.
Ferret curiosity often exceeds common sense and ferrets are good at getting into holes in the walls, doors, cupboards, or behind household appliances such as clothes dryers or dishwashers, where they can be injured or killed. Many enjoy chewing items made of soft rubber, foam, or sponge, which present the risk of intestine blockage or death if ingested. Ferrets chewing on electrical cords have caused serious and sometime fatal injuries. Screen doors can damage a ferret’s claws and dryer vents can provide an escape to the outdoors
Unlike cats and dogs, ferret display little homing instinct and do not thrive as strays. The escape of a ferret should be addressed immediately as wandering ferret can be injured, killed by a neighborhood animal, local wildlife, or passing vehicles. Recliners and foldout sofas are the leading cause of accidental death in ferrets. Owners usually ferret-proof their home, the task of going through every room, removing any dangerous items, covering holes or potential escape routes. As ferret can open improperly latched cupboards or doors, childproof latches are often used and owners should keep cleaning products high and out of reach. Ferrets can fit through any hole as small as their head making some childproof latches ineffective. Some owners prefer to house their pets outdoors in sheds and not indoors. Ferrets are fearless and should not be allowed to wander. Whenever they are outside, they should be closely supervised and preferably kept on a leash.
When a ferret is outdoors, an owner must take additional care during mosquito and tick season, as ferrets are susceptible to diseases carried by these parasites.
Most veterinarians recommend an annual health check up. Ferrets often hide symptoms of illness very well, so any unusual behavior is good cause for a medical consultation. Like skunks, ferrets can release their anal gland secretions when startled or scared, but the smell dissipates rapidly. Most pets sold in the U.S. are de-scented with their anal glands removed.
Ferrets do not require frequent bathing, which may remove their natural oils. However, ferrets are not adverse to water. Ferrets need their nails clipped and ears cleaned on a regular basis, and usually shed twice a year in the spring and fall.