Ferrets belong to the family Mustelidae and are in the same genus as weasels; Mustela. They're an inquisitive, intelligent, and mischievous carnivore who can form incredibly strong bonds with their humans. Previously, they've been used for hunting animals such as rabbits, but they're becoming increasingly popular pets.
They're a crepuscular mustelid who can sleep up to 20 hours a day! They do make up for it when they're awake, ferrets are notoriously cheeky and require lots of space and free-roam time.
A group of ferrets is called a business. Ferrets are gregarious and usually live socially, but occasionally a ferret will prefer to live alone.
Ferrets can live either indoors or outdoors.
Please take care when housing near prey species, it's advised to keep them in a separate room because the ferrets natural odour will induce stress in prey species.
Ferrets are known for their "slinky" bodies, they have flexible spines and collapsible ribs - similar to snakes - that allows them to fit through spaces you wouldn't initially expect.
Ensure their living environment is between 15-24oC. Ferrets can adapt to colder temperatures such as 7-10oC. Humidity should be approximately 40-65%.
Housing ferrets outdoors can be tricky if your enclosure isn't sturdy and ferret-proof. Many ferrets can easily chew out of hutches and even chicken wire.
After speaking to very experienced ferret owners and ferretrys, the ideal recommended outdoor housing is an insulated metal-framed shed with a source of natural light. Similarly, outbuildings are recommended too.
By creating this kind of outdoor environment, ferrets are more protected from escapes and extreme weather conditions. The downside to such enclosures is how impractical they can be to build.
If you're housing your ferrets in outdoor hutches, it's essential that the hutch is no smaller than 6ft in length, and has at least 2 tiers. Your hutch should also have permanent access to a 6ft pen - ensuring both are safe from extreme weather conditions. Summers in the UK are getting hotter, and more ferrets are being exposed to heat-related illnesses (heat stress usually occurs above 30oC)
Ferrets require a large amount of space. It's generally advised to house them within a large (usually a multi-story) metal cage and convert a room, or space within your home and 'ferret-proof' the area. This is done by ensuring your ferret can't injure themselves or damage your home - some damage will be unavoidable, this comes with the territory of keeping ferrets.
Ferrets will usually utilise most toys due to their inquisitive nature. Favourable toys include tubes, hammocks, beds, digging boxes, treat puzzles, cat towers, shallow water, ball pits and other toys that will appeal to their natural behaviours. Remember, ferrets enjoy digging, playing, foraging, hiding, and resting.
Both indoor and outdoor ferrets can be litter trained as ferrets usually go to the bathroom in one or two locations. Ferret litter trays have high-backs and usually fit into a corner; ferrets prefer to eliminate on vertical surfaces. When eliminating, a ferret will often back into a corner, and squirt upwards.
Gib: Neutered male
Spite: Neutered female
Ferrets are social and sexually dimorphic mustelids; males are substantially larger than females. They make a variety of social sounds from chuckling to hissing.
Jills are known as induced ovulators. Without the sexual activity from a male, a jill can actually die. For this reason, socialising and ferrets is something you must be familiar with.
Jills: The breeding season for ferrets is between March and September. Females will then start going into heat; known as oestrus. Once a female comes into heat, she needs to be mated with. If not, jills can become anaemic because of a reduction in red blood cells. Anaemia can be fatal in ferrets.
If the jill is not mated with, then she can continue to come into heat numerous times throughout the breeding season.
There are several ways to resolve this dilemma:
- Spaying: spaying eliminates cycling and can reduce odour. This is usually done before their first breeding season.
- Mating: if you mate your jill with a hob, then this will bring your jill out of oestrus, the main downside is this will often result in litters - numerous litters throughout the jills life. Alternatively, some people mate the jill with a gib. This also has its flaws; phantom pregnancies (false pregnancies) can occur which can be stressful for both the owner and the jill
- 'Jill Jab': hormone injections (informally known as 'jill jabs') commonly contain progesterone. This will suppress oestrus and is usually given at the start of the breeding season. Some jills may require more than one injection throughout the breeding season.
- Hormone Implant: hormone implants can be given off-license. This eliminates cycling for up to 18 months but can take some time to achieve the full therapeutic effect. The implant can reduce odour. A brief false season may initially occur.
Gibs: A gib will usually have a far less pungent odour and, depending on the way they've been neutered, will have less of a mating instinct. They can live with either males or females.
- Castration: Castration removes a mating drive, possibly improves aggressive behaviour, and reduces odour. Unlike other animals such as cats, dogs, and rabbits, surgically neutering a ferret may predispose them to hyperadrenocorticism/Cushings disease. It does, however, eliminate the chances of testicular cancer.
- Vasectomy: In ferrets, a vasectomy is irreversible, and the procedure is more complex than castration. Although your ferret would be unable to impregnate a jill, they do still have testosterone due to the testicles remaining intact. Testosterone considerably contributes to a mating drive and the ferret's pungent odour.
- Hormone Implant: A hormone implant is temporary (lasting around 16 months in gibs) but will make them temporarily unable to impregnate a jill and will reduce their odour. A hormone implant is the better option for most ferrets.
Sprites: Sprites live well with both males and females.
If socialised from a young age, ferrets see humans as companions and form very strong bonds with their owners.
- Canine Distemper Virus:
Similarly to cats and dogs, ferrets can also catch distemper. Yearly vaccinations are the best way to protect your ferret.
What is CDV (canine distemper virus)?
Canine distemper is a fast-acting, often deadly, and a very contagious virus belonging to a class of viruses known as Morbillivirus; it's relative to measles.
CDV can affect the respiratory tract, gastrointestinal tract, and central nervous system of the infected individual. The disease can be transmitted via direct contact with an infected animal and can spread through the air through becoming airborne.
- Chin and groin rash
- Reduced appetite
- Thick mucus and/or pus discharge from eyes and nose
- Lack of coordination
- Hardening and swelling of the skin along nose and footpads
- Brown crusty eyes
The prognosis for CDV is very poor, and most diagnoses are made post-mortem. Treatment is extensive and oftentimes expensive. Your ferret will be admitted as an inpatient, and quarantined away from other animals. Fluids, antiviral agents, antibiotics and immunosuppressants are ordinarily used to treat CDV.
In canines, more than 50% of dogs will die within 2-12 weeks after treatment. Early treatment will promote a higher chance of recovery, but a full recovery isn't guaranteed.
Prevention will be the most effective way of reducing the chance of some health issues occurring.
- Daily brushing with a soft-bristled toothbrush and carnivore toothpaste
- Providing bones such as wings
- Off license water additives
- Topical cleansing gels
- Annual veterinary oral examinations
In the UK, de-scenting ferrets (removing anal glands) is not allowed as it is considered an unnecessary mutation.
As previously mentioned, ferrets are obligate carnivores. Their dietary proportions are very specific:
- 30-40% protein
- 15-20% fat
- Low carbohydrates to prevent insulinoma
- Low fibre
- Pellets: Your ferret can live well on a suitable ferret pellet that meets the dietary proportions of a ferret. Very few, if any, brands of pellets marketed for ferrets are actually suitable for ferrets. Rather, look for cat pellets such as Thrive Premium Plus chicken cat food
- Raw diet: A raw diet will offer your ferret the most natural diet, but you must be well versed in ferret nutrition. You must also be well aware of where your food comes from to prevent issues such as salmonella and botulism. A raw diet can includes whole prey such as mice, rats, chicks, rabbits (your ferret will digest the entire animal, including their bones), cutoffs of meats usually sourced from butchers, and suppliers such as Natures Menu and Dinner for Dogs Oaffal. If you can provide your ferret with a safe and nutritious raw diet, then this is by far the most natural option. Generally, 80% muscle, 10% bone, and 10% secreting organs such as liver and kidneys are the recommended proportions for a raw diet.
- Adding in Cat Foods: Some people find adding suitable cat foods can be an easier alternative. Research the dietary proportions to ensure your ferret gets their dietary requirements. Don't feed dog foods.
Please feel free to ask more questions.