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Ferret Care

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Aleutian Disease (ADV)

          Aleutian mink disease virus or ADV is a parvovirus that infects mink, ferrets, raccoons, skunks and possibly other Mustelidae.  ADV causes an infectious disease known as Aleutians, a strong virus that can live outside of the body for an extremely long period of time.  This is a highly infectious disease and every ferret owner should be aware of the potential problems involved.​


          Here are some sites where you can learn more about ADV:​

Bathing & Grooming

           Ferrets, for the most part, do not need bathing very often at all. While some ferrets don’t mind being bathed, you really only need to bathe them once or twice per year. Bathing will not clean them of their scent and in some cases may actually make it worse. If you bathe them too frequently, many times their skin will start producing extra oils to compensate, which will make them smell stronger. The best thing to do is to change their bedding every few days (or at least once per week) and clean their litter pans every day. This usually keeps the odor level down.

Nail Trimming:


           Keeping nails trimmed is important. Long nails can easily catch on things and ferrets may panic and hurt themselves trying to get free. There are a couple of ways to trim nails quickly and with minimal stress to the ferret:

           If you are doing this alone, put the ferret on its back and drip a couple of drops of Marshalls Furotone or Salmon Oil on their stomach. The ferret will usually stay relatively still and lick at the spot. While they are distracted, they usually won’t mind having their nails trimmed.

An alternative is to have someone hold the ferret by the scruff of the neck and put Feretone on his/her fingers. The ferret will go limp and hang there while scruffed and the Feretone will distract them.

           Cut the nail just longer than the pink line inside it. Place the cut parallel to where the floor will be when the ferret stands, to prevent the tip from breaking later. Be careful not to nick the line or the toe, since in either case it’ll bleed a lot and your ferret will decide nail clipping is not a good thing. If you cut this area by accident, use a styptic stick (like Kwik-Stop) to stop the bleeding or hold a piece of tissue or paper towel over the nail and elevate the foot for a few minutes until it stops.

Cleaning Ears:

           Cleaning ears is also very important. They shouldn’t need cleaning more than once a month, but if they seem dirty, dampen a cotton swab with sweet oil (made for cleaning babies’ ears) or a ferret ear cleaner and gently clean them.Do not use peroxide or water, because wet ears are much more prone to infections.

           Hold the swab along the animal’s head rather than poking it into the ear, to avoid injuring the ear. Yellowish or brownish-red ear wax is normal, but if you see any black substance your pet probably has ear mites, which should be taken care of. There are a number of products made especially for cleaning pets’ ears. Your vet should be able to tell you about them.

The Bath:

           To bathe a ferret, you can fill a tub or kitchen sink partway with warm water. Be careful about the temperature. Many ferrets like warmer water, but you don’t want to scald them. Keep the temperature so that it is warm, but not hot, to you. Some ferrets like to play in the water and this can be a good way to keep bathing time from being stressful.

           When you’re ready to bathe them, use a ferret shampoo or a no-tears baby shampoo. Wet the ferret and lather them up. Pay careful attention to the back legs and tail, since this is where much of their scent comes from. They’ll likely start struggling at this point, so be careful that they don’t slip out of your hands or hit their heads into the faucet. Rinse them thoroughly to get the shampoo fully rinsed off (dry shampoo residue can cause dry skin). You may only want to wash up to the back of the ears to keep the shampoo away from their faces and out of their ears. Then use a damp washcloth and gently wipe their faces.

           When you have older, sick, or weak ferrets, you may want to use a “waterless” shampoo (but not any powders) or baby sweet oil, which can also help get things out of fur.

Drying Off:

           This is where the fun starts. Most ferrets get very excited after they are done getting bathed. Trying to get them dry before they run off is a challenge. Some people put towels in a box and let them run around in it until they are dry. Others use terry cloth bathrobes and let them run through the sleeves. We typically hold onto them, wipe them down with a hand towel, and then let them run loose in the bathroom with towels all around and the door closed. Sometimes a hairdryer set to the lowest setting helps dry them faster, but most will run away from that. Immediately after a bath, many ferrets will go nuts, bouncing around and rolling against everything possible to dry off. Mainly they’re trying to dry themselves, but they get excited from the whole process, too.

Cages & Litter

           Many people keep their ferrets in a cage or very well-ferret proofed room whenever they can not be supervised. This drastically reduces the risks of digestive-tract blockages from swallowing indigestible objects, injury and escape. However, even if you plan to let your ferrets have the run of the house at all times, you’ll want a cage at first for litter-training and other kinds of training as well as for temporary use.


           A metal mesh cage is probably the best choice, but if the floor is mesh, make sure that you cover it with linoleum or plastic. The openings in the mesh are stressful on ferret feet and some ferrets may get caught in between. Many pet stores keep ferrets in aquarium-like enclosures, but they are not recommended as cages. They don’t provide enough ventilation at the bottom, and your ferret will feel isolated from whatever’s going on in the room. Most aquaria also aren’t nearly big enough. Plain wood cages aren’t recommended because the wood soaks up urine and other liquids, so getting the smell out and getting the cage really clean are nearly impossible. If you use wood, cover the floors with linoleum squares or coat the whole thing with polyurethane.


What size cage will I need?


           If you plan to keep your ferret caged whenever you’re not home, and you’ll be gone most of the day, a generous cage size is important. Try to give an area of 2 X 3 feet and 2 feet high (60 X 100 X 60 cm) per ferret. A second ferret could share that size cage, but it may get tight. Of course, a nice, big cage is even better, especially with lots of levels and hammocks to prevent falls from the top shelf. If you’ll only be using the cage temporarily, such as when you’re taking your pet on a vacation or to the vet, 1 X 2 X 1 feet (30 X 60 X 30 cm) is sufficient for one or two ferrets, perhaps three.

Where can I get a cage?

           Pet stores are good places to start looking for pet supplies and have lots of cages, too. Ferret Nation Cages are probably the most popular store-bought cages. 

What should be in the cage?

           In the cage, you’ll want some sort of “bedroom” for your pet. A ferret won’t be very happy sleeping on the open floor of a cage.  You will want to place a baby blanket on the cage floor as well as hammocks, round beds and sleep sacks. Many ferrets like to chew on the cotton and this can cause dangerous intestinal blockages. Don’t use wood shavings. The bottom of the cage can be covered with linoleum squares, carpet samples, or cloth cage pads for easier cleaning.

           Other than food, water, a litter pan, bedding, and a bedroom, what you put in your ferret’s cage is largely up to you. Enough room to stretch and move around is important, and different levels, ramps, tunnels made from large dryer hose or black drainage pipe, (dryer hose can be purchased through Amazon) and so on will probably be appreciated. Most ferrets get bored easily when caged and sleep much of the time, so they probably won’t get a whole lot of use out of toys; they’d really rather be outside when playing. Just be sure nothing you put in your ferret’s cage could hurt him, whether by catching a toe, being swallowed, or some other way.

           Also be sure your cage door fastens securely, perhaps even with a small lock, because ferrets can be very determined and rather intelligent escape artists. Twist ties, cable ties, or bits of wire often work well for fastening down litter pans or some bowls; and clothespins and larger alligator clips can be enormously handy for holding all kinds of things down, up, or closed.

About Litter Pans:

           You will almost certainly need more than one litter pan, particularly if you have a large home. Small-size cat litter pans work fine, as do plastic dishpans, storage boxes, or large school supply boxes. Many ferrets don’t seem to like the special triangular corner boxes, probably since they can’t climb all the way in, but yours might. (Before buying one, ask ferret-owning friends. Chances are somebody has one sitting around that his ferrets never use.) For a travel cage or shoulder bag you can use a Rubbermaid-type plastic container intended for bread or ice cream (about 6 X 9 X 5 inches). Make sure the sides of the pan are at least 4 inches high, since ferrets habitually back into corners to deposit their wastes and you don’t want messes over the sides of the pan. However, one side of the pan should be no more than an inch or two high, so your ferret can get in and out easily. This is especially true for a young kit.

           If you’re particularly sensitive to cleaning pans or to litter pan odor, one novel suggestion was to use empty milk jugs, standing upright, with the circular indentation on the side cut out. Use only a small amount of litter, and the whole jug can then be thrown away when it gets dirty.

About Litter:

           Some people have had problems with the clumping varieties of litter due to some ferrets’ habits of sniffing at their litter corners or dragging their rumps across the litter when done using it. The litter can get into their noses or rectums where it clumps and causes problems. Likewise, cedar shavings should not be used as the heavy odor and cedar resin may cause sinus problems. If you want a safe clumping litter, use Swheat Scoop, which is a wheat-based product (rather than the clay that other clumping litters use).


           Many people favor pelleted wood litters or wood stove pellets. These are inexpensive and can be found at hardware stores. If your pet is used to one and you switch, it may take a while for him to connect the scent of the new litter with where he’s supposed to go.  Potty pads are also a safe alternative if you ferret decides not to tear them up or play with them.

Ferret Proofing

           Ferrets are naturally curious about everything. They love to get into things and the saying about curiosity and cats is true for ferrets. Whether you give them one room or the whole house, you need to go through and make sure that it is safe for both them and your possessions.


           Ferrets love to squeeze into tiny places and little holes. Their flexible bodies can fit into anything that is smaller than their heads (in some cases, the size of a quarter). This can be very dangerous is they get behind a refrigerator, dryer, or other appliance. An often-overlooked area is under your sink, where plumbing goes into walls.


           Before you let your ferret out, get on your stomach and look at the world as they do. Look for holes under cabinets and even in cabinets (a big problem in apartments, where plumbers are sloppy and leave large holes). Ferrets can open cabinets and drawers, so using safety catches is recommended. You can find childproof cabinet closures at your local hardware store. Block any openings to kitchens or laundry rooms with wood. Flexible plastic that is slightly larger than the doorway is good, allowing you to bend it slightly and put it into the doorway. As the plastic straightens, it seals off the area.


           Be especially aware of your furniture. Recliners and sofas are favorite hiding places for ferrets and the springs and moving parts are extremely dangerous. Too many ferrets have gotten crushed in the levers and springs underneath. They’re difficult to ferret proof, except by putting them in a forbidden room. Even regular couches and beds can be dangerous if the ferret digs or crawls his way into the springs or stuffing.


           Next, look around the area your ferret will be playing. Remove anything spongy from reach, and put fragile items out of the way. Keep in mind that many ferrets are good climbers and jumpers, and they will find a route to places you never thought they could reach. They can get onto a sofa, into a trash can, onto the third shelf of a set of bookcases and into the opening on the back of a stereo speaker. They can also open cabinets and drawers, unzip backpacks, and climb up drawers from underneath or behind to get onto the desk or kitchen counter. Keep the toilet lid down in your bathroom. Ferrets are curious and will often jump in the basin and not be able to get out.


           Keep any household cleaners locked up. Ferrets have been known to try to drink them. Be particularly careful of pens and pencils, erasers, rubber door stops, styrofoam, silly putty, shoe insoles, even the bottom of tennis shoes. Anything spongy and soft will become a chew toy and may cause harm.For some reason, many ferrets like to eat soap, too, so you will need to keep that from them as well. While a little bit won’t be a problem, they can get sick when they begin to eat too much.


           Buckets of water, paint, etc. can also be drowning or poisoning hazards, or might just be tipped over. Toilet paper and paper towel rolls are a problem because ferrets get their heads stuck in them and can choke or suffocate, and if you let your ferret play with plastic bags, you may want to cut off the handles and cut a slit in the bottom.


           Certain ferrets may also have special ferret proofing needs; for example, some like to eat paper, cloth, or plastic bags, which can easily cause a life-threatening intestinal blockage. A few ferrets like to chew on electrical cords or plants, and some common plants are quite poisonous. Liberal application of Bitter Apple paste to the cord or plant can help persuade your pet to stop gnawing on it.


           Finally, once done, it’s important to keep it safe. Watch your ferret’s toys to make sure they’re not beginning to crack or break apart, and keep in mind that you can be dangerous to your ferret, too. Always double-check your dishwasher, refrigerator, clothes washer and dryer (even top-loading models) before closing them or turning them on, and watch where you sit and walk: that chair, throw rug, or pile of laundry might be hiding a napping ferret.

Ferrets & Children

           There is a big difference between having both children and pets and getting a pet for your child. Please remember that a ferret is a lot like a cat or dog, and will require the same kind of attention and care. It is not at all like keeping a pet hamster or guinea pig. If your child is responsible, careful, and not too young, and you are going to supervise and help out with the care, a ferret will be a great pet. Otherwise, consider getting a low-maintenance pet you can keep in a cage instead.

Supervise Children with any Pets

           It is definitely necessary to monitor interactions between young children and ANY pets closely and to make sure children know the proper way to handle pets. A living creature needs, and deserves, to be treated with more care than a toy. Ferrets in particular love to pounce and wrestle when they play, which may frighten children, and children tend to play rather roughly, which may prompt a more vigorous response from an active ferret than from a typical cat. Ferrets may bite when they play. These playful nips can startle you and a frightened response from the child may cause more problems.


           Just as some very friendly dogs become nervous around children because they don’t look, smell, or act like adults, some ferrets who aren’t used to kids don’t quite know how to behave around them. Make sure both your child and your ferret understand what’s expected of them, and what to expect from the other one.

What about ferrets attacking babies?

           There are several stories floating around about ferrets attacking babies, some more true than others. Ferrets are unfamiliar to most people, so it’s easier for them to make sweeping statements on the basis of a tiny amount of information. Some of the reports are simply rumor, or the result of confusing another animal with a ferret. Others are based in fact, but omit important information (for instance, that the child and pets had clearly been neglected or abused prior to the attack). A small number are unfortunately true.

           However, plenty of children have been attacked and even killed by dogs and cats. The number of people injured by ferrets each year is a tiny fraction of the number wounded or killed by dogs. People don’t claim that all dogs and cats are too dangerous for pets, but rather that more responsible parenting and pet ownership is needed. The same is true for ferrets.

According to Dr. Bruce Williams, DVM:

           I can say from personal experience that there are many, many more bite incidents with the household dog or cat, and that either of these species tend to do a lot more damage. I have seen children require over a hundred facial stitches from getting between the dog and its food, but never anything like this with a ferret. But I’ve also been nailed by my share of ferrets too. Personally, I don’t recommend ferrets for people with children under 6 or 7 – either the child or the ferret ends up getting hurt.

Ferrets as Pets

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 ferret proofing 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.


Store-Bought Toys


           There are a lot of good ferret toys available now. Many ferrets like Polar Fleece balls (available at the Ferret Store) since they have a safely chewy texture and a bell inside. However, many cat toys will be okay as well. Ferrets are very tough on toys, so you need to be careful about what you choose. Hard plastic toys are best if they won’t break easily. Stay away from webbed toys or anything foamy since they will break apart easily and be ingested. For hard rubber toys, make sure they can’t get stuck in their mouths. Avoid superballs since they break apart under ferrets’ sharp teeth. Catnip won’t hurt ferrets, but it doesn’t affect them like it does cats. Remote-control cars are also popular, if somewhat expensive, ferret toys, though they may prefer chewing on the wheels.


Homemade Toys


           Most ferrets enjoy playing in a hammock made from a piece of cloth and some metal eyelets, and the leg from an old pair of jeans will be fun to crawl through or nap in. For other toys, try bathrobe belts, tennis balls, golf balls, ping-pong balls, film canisters (rinsed to wash out any chemicals), or old socks with bells rolled up in them. Paper shopping bags are good, but watch out for the plastic ones–ferrets may get caught or suffocate in them. Cardboard boxes are also fun, especially several nested together with ferret-sized holes cut at various places. Plastic bottles can be turned into clear ferret play-tubes by cutting off their tops and taping them together or you can put popcorn seed inside for a rattling toy. Carpet-roll tubes and tunnels made of plastic pipe, large dryer hose (you can purchase on Amazon), or drainage tubing are popular too. Avoid tubes from toilet paper or paper towels, though; they’re small enough that ferrets can get their heads stuck in them and choke or suffocate.An excellent, inexpensive toy is a piece of plastic dryer hose about 4″ (10 cm) in diameter. Wrap any loose wire ends. Be sure that your real dryer hose is out of reach (or get a metal one), since you’re showing your pets that dryer hoses are great fun to crawl through.


Everything Else


           No matter what you decide your ferret’s toys are, he or she will almost undoubtedly choose some household items you never expected. Keep anything that would be damaged with a little chewing, or that might hurt your pet, well out of reach. Unfortunately, digging up houseplants is quite a treat for a ferret. You may want to keep them on shelves away from them or put a fine wire mesh over the top to keep them out of the dirt.



What Are Ferrets?

           Ferrets are domestic animals and cousins of weasels, skunks and otters. They are not rodents! They are friendly and make excellent pets. If you’ve never met one before, the easiest way to think of them is somewhere between cats and dogs in personality, but rather smaller. Ferrets do not have a great sense of sight, but they have excellent senses of hearing and smell. Like any animal, each ferret is unique in terms of its personality and temperament. Some are cuddly, while others more independent. It all depends on where they came from and how they were raised. Read more about the pros and cons of ferret ownership.

What You Need

What will I need to take care of my ferret?


You will need:


*     Food: Ferrets will need a good-quality food (ex. Zupreem, Totally Ferret, Mazuri, Oxbow Essentials Ferret Food).

*     Water bowl and bottle (a hard-to-tip bowl for when they are out of their cage).

*     Supplements: Marshalls Furotone or Salmon Oil for  trimming their nails. Bitter Apple or something similar to prevent them from chewing things. And Petromalt or Laxatone for hairballs.

*     Cage and litter items: You will need a litter box and ferret-safe litter and good bedding, such as hammocks and sleep sacks, for them to sleep in (not wood shavings).

*     Cleaning items: Ferret shampoo or good baby shampoo for bathing. Pet claw clippers (or large human-nail clippers).

*      Toys (ferret proofed). See Section on Toys for more detail.

*     You may want an H-type harness and a leash for walks.



What should I feed my ferret?


The key ingredients in any food for ferrets are fat and protein, specifically animal protein. Find a quality ferret food that has a high protein content and minimal fiber and ash. Ferrets have very short digestive cycles, so vegetable proteins and high amounts of fiber are not good for them. Use a food that has chicken, turkey, beef, or lamb. Most ferrets don’t like fish and it may make their litter pan smell worse. The food should have 35% protein and 20% fat, and animal protein should be the first ingredient and at least two or three of the next few.Unless your ferret is overweight, you should just keep her bowl full and let her eat as much as she wants.





What food to use


There are a number of ferret foods available now. Totally Ferret for Active Ferrets was specifically designed for ferrets and is available online. You may want to try some different brands to see which your ferret prefers. Zupreem also offers a super premium formula that is not only high in protein and fat but also super digestible, so your ferret will actually eat less, which means less waste.


Please note that most of the foods with ferret pictures on the bags were not designed for ferrets either — they were designed for mink or cats and maybe modified slightly, and priced twice as high. You should check the label to make sure it will be good for them!!! If you are unable to find a quality ferret food, some people have used kitten food.


If you need to do this, you should use only high-quality cat or kitten food (make sure the food does not contain peas or pea proteins). High-quality food may cost a bit more than grocery store brands, but your pet will eat a lot less and be much healthier.


Soft cat food is not good for ferrets, partly because it generally contains much less protein than the dry kind and partly because it isn’t hard enough to rub plaque off their teeth and can lead to tooth decay. However, very young kits and those recovering from illness or surgery may need their food moistened with water for a week or two. Note that moistened food spoils much more quickly than the same food left dry, so dump out leftovers every day.


Dog food is NOT acceptable, as it lacks some nutrients ferrets (and cats) need. Among other things, ferrets and cats both need taurine, which is found naturally in poultry; many cat and ferret foods supplement it as well.




Furotone is a vitamin supplements that nearly every ferret considers a wonderful treat. it is also one of the most common treats, since nearly every ferret loves it. Furotone contains vitamin A, which can be very harmful or even fatal in excess, though it probably takes a whole lot more than you would ever give your ferret. Still, some people prefer to dilute them 50/50 with olive oil or vegetable oil (not mineral oil), which should not hurt. Also, as with hairball remedies, too much Furotone can give your ferrets loose stools. No more than a few drops to one pump a day is recommended, and it is not thought to be necessary to give them any at all if you are using a good food.


Bitter Apple is a bad-tasting liquid or paste intended to stop pets from chewing things. The paste will probably be much more effective.

Hairball remedies

Many people give their ferrets a small amount of a cat hairball remedy such as Petromalt on a regular basis. This can help them pass the styrofoam, rubber bands, and such that they seem to love to eat, as well as helping to prevent hairballs from fur swallowed during grooming. Even better, most ferrets seem to think of this as a wonderful treat, too. As with all treats and supplements, give them only in moderation. Give them once or twice a week and every day during shedding season.What are good treats?Treats containing sugar can be harmful, especially if a ferret has insulinoma (low blood glucose). Totally Ferret makes a very safe, good treat.

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