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Caring for Ferrets

The ferret is a domesticated animal whose ancestors are believed to be native European polecats (Mustela putorius). Inquisitive, smart, and playful, ferrets have become popular companion animals, but they require a special diet and care.(1) Often, after the novelty of an impulse purchase wears off, ferrets are abandoned to certain death in the wild or to severely crowded animal shelters.

Adoption
If you’re willing to open your home to a ferret, first make sure that you don’t live in an area that prohibits it: California and Hawaii both ban keeping ferrets as companion animals, and some local communities, such as New York City, also either restrict or ban the keeping of ferrets in homes.(2,3) Ask your local wildlife department, fish and game department, humane society, or veterinarian about the legality of keeping a ferret where you live and whether you will need to obtain a permit if you adopt one.

Please adopt from an animal shelter or rescue group. Search the Internet or ask your local humane society for a group near you. Never buy ferrets—or any other animal—from pet stores, which sell ferrets raised in disease-ridden, factory farm–like conditions. Please read our factsheet “Pet Shops: No Bargain for Animals” for more information.

Ferrets can usually coexist peacefully and even amicably with cats and dogs. However ferrets should not be allowed free access to smaller pets such as birds or rodents. Supervision is a must, for the safety of the ferret and other animals. If you have young children, be sure to monitor their interaction with the ferret as closely as you would with a dog. Ferrets can and will bite in self-defense.

Ferret-Proofing
Maintaining a ferret-proof home is essential for the animal’s safety and well-being.

Exercise caution, especially with the following tempting but potentially dangerous items in your home:

• Cabinets and drawers (Ferrets can open them.)
• Heaters (Ferrets might knock them over.)
• Furnace ducts (Ferrets can get inside them.)
• Recliners and sofa beds (Ferrets have been crushed in their levers and springs.)
• Anything spongy or springy, such as kitchen sponges, erasers, shoe insoles, foam earplugs, Silly Putty, foam rubber (including inside a cushion or mattress), Styrofoam, insulation, and rubber door stoppers (Swallowing pieces of these items will often result in an intestinal blockage.)
• Filled bathtubs, toilets, and water and paint buckets (Ferrets can drown in them.)
• Plastic bags (Ferrets can suffocate in them.)
• Holes behind refrigerators and other appliances with exposed wires, fans, and insulation (Ferrets love to chew on wires and eat insulation.)
• Dishwashers, refrigerators, washers and dryers (Ferrets can get trapped inside them.)
• Houseplants (Some are poisonous.)
• Box springs (Ferrets love to rip the cloth covering the underside of box springs and climb inside, where they may become trapped or crushed. To prevent this, attach wire mesh or a thin piece of wood to the underside of the box springs.)

Housing
Even if you plan to give your ferret the run of the house, it’s best when you’re not home to enclose him or her in a ferret-proof room or in a roomy, metal mesh cage—one that is at the very least 24 inches long, 24 inches deep, and 18 inches high, although larger enclosures are certainly preferable. If you have two or more ferrets living together, you will need a much larger cage and preferably multiple levels and sleeping areas. Whatever you decide, your ferret will appreciate ramps, tunnels made from dryer hose or black drainage pipe, a “bedroom” made out of an upside-down box with a cut-out doorway, and hammocks made from old jeans or shirts. Line the cage bottom with linoleum squares or cloth cage pads, and use old T-shirts and sweatshirts for bedding—never use cedar or pine shavings, which are toxic to small animals.

Don’t let the temperature in their living quarters climb too high, and monitor the humidity. In the winter, when the heat is on and humidity can get too low, ferrets’ skin can get dry and itchy, so use a humidifier. And if the humidity is allowed to get too high during the hot summer and the temperature rises above 85 degrees, ferrets can succumb to heatstroke. Keep in mind that ferrets’ wild cousins live in underground burrows where the temperature is 55 degrees with 50 percent humidity.(4)

Litter Training
Ferrets can easily be trained to use a litterbox. They tend to choose their own toilet area in a corner, so start by putting a litterbox with paper pulp litter (NEVER clay or clumping litter) in that area. Gradually move the litterbox closer and closer to the area that you would like it to be in. Ferrets do love corners for their bathroom areas, so if you can put the litterbox in a corner, you will likely have greater success.

Diet
Ferrets are predators and strict carnivores and therefore require highly digestible, meat-based proteins. They cannot survive on vegetarian diets or most dog foods, as there is too much vegetable matter in those products, and too much carbohydrate in the diet can create health problems in ferrets.

If feeding dry kibble, be sure that the food contains at least 30 to 40 percent crude protein (of animal origin) and 15 to 20 percent fat. A thorough reading of the label is crucial—the first three ingredients should be meat-based.(5) Avoid processed treats marketed for ferrets, as they tend to be carbohydrate- or grain-based. Supplements should not be necessary if the optimal diet is being fed. For more details, please read “Rethinking the Ferret Diet” by Dr. Susan Brown.

Keeping Your Ferret Healthy
Ferrets require routine veterinary visits, just as dogs and cats do. If you live in an area that requires rabies shots for dogs and cats, then your ferret will need one too. Ferrets can also get heartworms, fleas, and canine distemper. Please consult your veterinarian about preventive measures. Do NOT use dips, sprays, or collars to combat fleas.

At 4 months, ferrets can be spayed or neutered. This procedure is necessary not only to prevent reproduction but also for the well-being of your animal companion. Neutering greatly decreases a male’s body and urine odor once he matures and prevents him from urine-marking his territory in your home. Spaying also reduces a female’s scent and prevents her from dying of severe anemia, which can develop in intact females who go into heat but do not breed.(6)

Ferrets kept mostly indoors will likely need nail-trimming every six to eight weeks. A veterinarian can show you the proper way to trim nails.

Exercise is important! You can simulate your ferret’s need for burrowing and hunting with toys like large cardboard mailing tubes, dryer hoses, paper bags, PVC pipe, ping-pong balls, golf balls, and small cloth baby toys or feather cat toys that hang from springs. Please give your ferret time to play outside his or her cage for at least several hours every day.
Resources
American Ferret Association
Associaton of Exotic Mammal Veterinarians

References
1) J. Duda, “Mustela putorius furo,” Animal Diversity Web, accessed 22 Aug. 2011.
2) Francisco Vara-Orta, “California’s Ferret Drama Continues,” Los Angeles Times 6 Apr. 2008.
3) Office of External Affairs, “Health Department Statement on Maintaining Ban on Ferrets in NYC,” New York City Department of Health, 29 Jun. 1999.
4) Susan Brown, D.V.M., “Ferret Grooming,” Small Mammal Health Series, 8 Mar. 2001.
5) Susan Brown, D.V.M., “Rethinking the Ferret Diet,” Small Mammal Health Series, 14 Mar. 2001.
6) Susan Brown, D.V.M., “Ferret World,” Small Mammal Health Series, 28 Apr. 2008.

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  • william moon says:

    I personaly think that ferrets should require a license and a heath care sheet before buying one. I also think pet stores who sell them should be band for x amount of time as there are thousands ov ferrets in need of home in rescues right now i got all my fuzzies from rescues and cant stress enought to research about thease creature and if u decide ones for u rescue one or two i have eight and i have half of the neuterd all ready and have NO intenchion of breeding them i have eight ferret and will be thinking carefull about rescueing any more as i belive they should have forever homes and not be passed from person to person i get so angrey when i see kits for sale knowing that they will probly end up in a rescue or abandoned wish i could save more of them poor things sorry for the rant people x happy war dance and lots of dooking for u all x

  • Abbie says:

    I am entering my ferret into a school pet show. How do i keep her from tearing her dress? And how can I get her used to wearing a harness? I also would like to paint her nails is it ok to. If so what type of nail polish to use?

  • Nholofchak91 says:

    I have an older ferret, he’s very mellow but I would like to get another ferret soon. Can they put together even though his past friend has been diseased for almost 2 years?

  • Lucy says:

    thanks PETA for this info. it will be used alot if my class gets a ferret!

  • Kat says:

    Thanks, PETA, for recognizing the noble and intelligent ferret and the fact that ferrets, at least, MUST eat meat. I myself am working to become vegetarian but I must feed my older ferrets Hills A/D because that is all they will eat. I will work to move my younger ferrets to a free-range diet that is as cruelty free as possible (Evo? Wysong? Humanely killed frozen mice?). Also, PETA, thank you for your work toward reforming and attempting to shut down the evil Triple F. What can we do at this point in time to ensure the best situation possible for those poor babies at Triple F and Marshall? BTW – I think most of my ferrets came, originally, from one of those places (All my ferrets came from other owners who were ignorant or did not want to be bothered when the going go tough). Nevertheless, by investing ALOT of money in quality veterinary care from a ferret expert, I have been able to give my babies a life span of at least 7 years. Around that age, they seem to get all sorts of conditions and often go downhill very quickly. I just lost my sweetheart Bam Bam, to lymphoma at age 7 and have my cuddlebug, 6-year old Chikaka, going into surgery tomorrow for insulinoma.

  • Janey says:

    My female ferret is and has loss a fairly large amout of her hair. Is it something thats unsommen or something to do with her diet? Please let me no what you think so i can deal with this problem. She is not finding her self itchy either!So were puzzled! Thanks for your time sinserouly Janey (ferret lover)We have 4 and the others are fine with buitaful hair.

  • sherry says:

    **Triple F Ferret Mill…not Triple H. I apologize my brain is fried these last few days.

  • sherry says:

    I have two ferrets whom make up my family of 5, I have two amazing sons. I live in California. I saw an ad for them and I got them the same day. These are not just “pets” to me but a part of our family. I found out I am the 3rd owners of these lil babes (makes me sick!) and I also found out the girl who sold them to me knew that my one babe, Monster, had a chronic illness she didn’t/couldn’t financially support. I’ve spent over $5000 on Monster doing everything I can to make him healthy again and to live the rest of his life as happy as possible. I noticed two tattoo dots on inside of both of their ears, also finding out that meant they both came from Marshalls Ferret MILL!!! Lifespan from that satanic hole is 3 yrs. compared to an average 8 yr. lifespan a normal ferret should live. I hate Marshalls and I hate Triple H! Every single person who works there or encourages these torturing hell holes should go through the pain of what Monster is currently going through right now…he is dying now. I have him as comfortable as can be with pain meds and antibiotics and when its time to say goodbye I trust I will know. I can’t give up on him yet as he’s shown signs of improvement and he is a fighter and hasn’t given up yet either. This is the worst thing I’ve ever gone through. PETA! WHAT DO YOU/WE HAVE TO DO TO SHUT DOWN THESE FERRET MILLS??? YOU HAVE THE PROOF YOURSELF OF WHAT THEY DO TO THESE LIL BABES SO WHY ARE THEY STILL OPEN??? PLEASE TELL ME WHATS MISSING FROM CLOSING DOWN MARSHALLS FERRET MILLS AND TRIPLE H FERRET MILLS!!! I am angry and hurt for my baby not to be taken personal I just don’t understand…:(

  • Clint says:

    Do ferrets require lots of human time, because I work long hours

  • envelope says:

    On the debate about legalizing ferrets, I do agree that allowing ferrets to be sold will open the doors to abuse due to negligent and simply ignorant owners. I do even see pet shops that lack the knowledge to properly care for their ferrets, bedding them in cedar, allowing them access to dangerous materials, etc., but I think for such a strictly domestic animal it would be sad to encourage further and further population reduction by denying access to ferrets. Maybe a compromise may help – if there is some form of educational requirement before ownership – a license on care training and signed agreement not to release the ferret into the wild – then a much higher percentage of owners would be armed with the understanding of how to care for their ferrets. I don’t think the majority of poor owners do so out of maliciousness to the ferret, but simply because they don’t know better, and possibly don’t know where to find more information. I also think the training requirement would drastically reduce on-a-whim purchases and reduce the number of owners who are just too lazy to properly care for the ferret. It might establish a healthy pet community and precedent for other exotic animals that are illegally or at least improperly sold and owned (a law doesn’t stop this, it only makes it invisible, unfortunately).

  • ximmeron says:

    A neighbor asked me to care for a white, tame ferret she found in her yard and there are many homeless cats here plus she has a little dog and another lady has two little dogs. Well, I have a cat and a very large dog, so go figure. One person thinks it belongs to a family who is currently out of town, camping :( No other choice but to put it in a large pet carrier for its safety – my dog would never hurt it – but my place isn’t ferret-safe. Bought some “ferret food” which it is eating. It certainly slept a long time under the piece of blanket I put in there… for a while I thought it had died. Probably exhausted. 35 years ago I had a ferret, a brown one, which had the run of my house and used to ride my Afghan Hound around the house like a little jockey :) and it would share a saucer of milk with my Siamese. But I’m old now and can’t keep this one and don’t want to hand it off to just anybody if it doesn’t belong to the family temporarily out of town. I gather it’s been loose for ages anyway :( Sad.

  • ted says:

    ferrets cannot and do not become feral. in a hundred years of history a ferral colony of ferrets has never been found, nor a single ferral ferret. biologists once tried to start a feral colony of ferrets on an island off the coast of california to control vermin, but despite their best efforts, and food handouts, the colonies did not, could not, survive on their own. ferrets were “made” to depend on humans for their existence, they could not live with human help. they were domesticated even before the cat, in Egypt, I believe.
    They are wonderful creatures, tuned in very closely to human emotions, but if making them illegal is what it takes to keep them out of the hands of the iresponsible, so be it…

  • Pike says:

    Thank you very much for updating your information about the diet! I am also extremely happy to see that you have linked to Dr. Susan Brown’s article, it is an excellent source of information and is especially helpful for owners who want to choose the best diet for their ferret, whether it be whole prey, raw, or high-grade kibble.

  • Ben says:

    I have found that owning (or I think she owns me LOL) a ferret has brought me more joy than I could have ever thought. I keep hearing people complain that they are dirty, smell, are dangerous, or that they are just plain to hard to take care of. I find all of this completely wrong and sad. People do not understand these highly intelligent and fun loving creatures.
    I have had a lot of trouble finding ferret okay treats. Most of the stuff that I have found around town (even at “specialty” pet stores) nothing more than cat and dog treats. When asked about the safety of these for ferrets, the employees stand there dumbfounded. It is just plain sad that they are like this.

    I was given the opportunity to rescue my ferret from some complete douche bag that had her in a shit filled cage with no food and just a very little amount of water.

    Thank you all for loving these great animals

  • Sherri says:

    ferrets can NOT eat fruits and vegetable. That will cause blockages. They lack a cecum, which means they can not digest plant matter. So for all you vegans out there. If you want a ferret for a pet, you HAVE to feed it meat protien. They are obligate carnivores. Which means they eat only meat. Cause I know alot of you would feed it crappy vegan ferret food. My 7 ferrets are healthy and happy. They get a mix of EVO ferret and Go natural food. Plus they also get raw chicken and cooked chicken as a treat. Alternating raw for cooked every other day. And yes… all my ferrets are from pet stores. But there are no ferret shelters around here. I did at one time have 4 rescues though, sadly they all got old and died. I do hate pet stores selling so many ferrets though. So many people buy when they are cute little babies. Not realizing ferrets are tough critters and expensive(vet bills) to keep. They get so many cancers. Poor ferrets!!!

  • Lisa.Cyr says:

    I was at Petland not too long ago and noticed that in the ferret enclosures were chewed up rubber dog toys (some had very large pieces missing from them) and I was concerned and asked an employee if the toys were made of rubber (in case they were made of gelatin which would dissolve) she told me “Yea we give them rubber puppy toys” I informed her that they were eating them and that that was very unsafe, she then told me “Yeah they like to eat them but we give them new ones often.” I was horrified. seeing no point in arguing with this dumb, uneducated girl I later talked to her manager who told me that it was probably a mistake and that she could remove them if I’d like. No shit I’d like them removed.
    I was so angry. It sickens me how pet stores do not educate their employees so they are not capable of properly caring for the animals they are selling.

  • rob1138 says:

    The main reason ferrets are banned in California, NYC and Hawaii is the unfounded fear they will become feral and take over. This is ridiculous because the vast majority of ferrets are fixed. Plus as said before the probably won’t survive long. Especially long enough to find another feral ferret.

  • Hanna says:

    Actually, there are more ferrets in California than any other state. The ban cannot be enforced and just doesn’t work. You think it’s okay for innocent animals to be put to sleep? You sicken me.

  • Ashley-P says:

    Hi Troy, California’s current ban on keeping ferrets means that they are not being sold or bred en masse in that state. The ban prevents domesticated ferrets from being mistreated and abandoned. If California’s law were overturned and people began acquiring ferrets, many more animals would be at risk.

  • Troy says:

    If you ban ownership of a breed of animal that is domesticated (in other-words: Dependant upon human care in order to live.) who will care for them? With the studies and everything thats been going on to try re-introducing Black Foot Ferrets into the wild they discovered that in order for the chance of a one that was born in captivity to be even relatively successful they had to undergo a “bootcamp” like training while they were still young involving the Black Foot to find and kill its own food and living in outdoor burrows. Thats for a NON domesticated “Black Foot Ferret”, for the pets California wants to legalize to be dumped into the wild, they’d simply lack the skills to survive. Who’d care for all these pets that humans have already made? If it was illegal? If no one, what do you think would happen to the ferrets?

  • Ashley-P says:

    Hi Susan! Thank you for your comment. PETA is in favor of legislation banning ownership of ferrets. While some people who raise ferrets are responsible and loving owners, to many people they are “fad pets,” obtained on a whim and discarded when they are no longer “in” or the person tires of meeting their many needs. As you might know, caring for a ferret requires a world of patience. Unwanted ferrets who are tossed into the wild cannot fend for themselves, and usually meet unfortunate ends. Those who make it to shelters can only hope that a caring family will adopt them.

  • susan says:

    Why do you oppose legalizing domestic ferrets in California?

  • rorsborn says:

    you can not feed ferrets cat food in any form…..its like giving them junk food their whole lives…they have to be on high protein ferret food….cat food has filler in it such as corn and other grain…i do not agree with your first line of information about diet……

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