Ferrets as Pets

Before you get a ferret, take a moment to see whether a ferret is right for you.

What’s good about ferrets as pets?

Ferrets are a lot of fun. They are very playful, with each other and with you, and they don’t lose much of that playfulness as they get older. A ferret — or better, two or more — can be a very entertaining companion. They are smarter than cats and dogs, or at least they act it. They are also very inquisitive and remarkably determined, which is part of their charm but can also be a bit of a bother.

They are friendly, and they do know and love you, though for some of them it can take a year or so to fully bond. They can be trained to use a litter box and to do tricks, and most of them love to go places with you, riding on a shoulder or in a bag. They sleep a lot, and they don’t particularly mind staying in cages temporarily, although they need to run around and play for at least a couple of hours a day.

A “single” ferret won’t be terribly lonely, although they will likely need more attention from you each day. Plus, the fun of watching two or three playing together is worth the small extra trouble. Barring accidents, ferrets typically live 6-10 years (typically closer to the 6 on average).

What is not good about ferrets as pet?

Ferrets have lots of good points as pets, but there are some negatives as well. Like kittens and puppies, they require a lot of care and training for the first years.

In terms of personality, they’re in between dogs and cats. They are independent like cats, but tend to be “higher maintenance” like dogs. They’ll need more of your time and attention. In addition, many of them aren’t quite as good about litter pans as cats are, so you will need to be patient.

Ferrets have their own distinct scent, which bothers some people. Most are descented, but still have at least a slight odor. If you get a retired breeder ferret or a ferret directly from a breeder, a male may still have his scent glands.

Although most ferrets get along reasonably well with cats and dogs , it’s not guaranteed. If you have large pets, especially any dogs that were bred for hunting (such as terriers) or more aggressive breeds, keep that in mind. Ferrets may look like rodents to them. Likewise, small children and ferrets are both very excitable, so the combination might be too much.

Finally, the importance of ferretproofing cannot be emphasized enough. Ferrets are less destructive than cats, but they love to get into everything, so if you keep them loose you have to make sure they can’t hurt themselves or your possessions. Like their weasel cousins in the wild, ferrets have very flexible bodies and can fit through tiny spaces and holes (some as small as a quarter!). And with their determined nature, they will find a way to get past barriers. They also love to steal small (and not so small!) objects and stash them under chairs and behind furniture.But one of the biggest dangers is that they like to chew on spongy, springy things, which must be kept out of reach or they’ll swallow bits, causing harmful blockages. Any boxes, bags, and trash cans will be crawled in, and houseplants within reach are liable to lose all their dirt to joyful digging. Finally, many ferrets tend to scratch and dig at the carpet.

Naturally, these traits vary from one ferret to another, but they’re all pretty common. If you’re not willing to take the necessary time to protect your property and your pet, a ferret may not be for you.