Care of Ferrets
In the wild, ferrets dive into small prairie dog and rabbit burrows – therefore in captivity they are good at finding small holes to bury themselves in and are notorious for being able to escape from their cages.
DIET: In captivity, ferrets still need to be fed a strictly carnivorous diet in the form of a high quality dry kibble. It is very important that ferrets get a high amount of fat and protein and little to no carbohydrates. There are a variety of ferret diets available, such as Zupreem and Marshall Farms, or a high-quality kitten food can be used. Dry food is preferable to canned food because it is better for their teeth. Ferrets should have food available at all times. Ferrets should never be given fruit, raisins or other high sugar foods – this is bad for their teeth and their digestive system.
WATER: Ferrets should always have access to fresh water from a water bottle or a large bowl. It is preferable to use a water bottle because ferrets are very good at tipping over water dishes which makes a big mess!
CAGE: Ferrets are very sneaky animals and they can fit through even the smallest holes. Therefore, it is important to keep your ferret in a cage when you are not home. The cage should be a few levels so that the ferret can climb. The floor of the cage and of the levels should be flat plastic NOT metal or mesh. Ferrets can get their feet and legs caught in metal and/or mesh. Additionally, the urine of ferrets is acidic and will cause the metal cage to rust and disintegrate. In the cage, ferrets should have at least one or two cloth hammocks to sleep in. Ferrets generally urinate and defecate in corners. Therefore you can place a short-sided litter pan in the corner of the cage that the ferret prefers to use as the toilet. Shredded paper towels or newspaper can be placed into the litter box as a substrate. Additionally, recycled newpaper products such as Carefresh bedding can also be used.
ENVIRONMENT: Ferrets in captivity love to chew and swallow anything that is rubber or foam (shoes, erasers, ear plugs, rubber bands, foam balls, electrical tape, etc.). Therefore it is very important that ferrets are only allowed to play in areas that are free of all rubber and foam material. Gastrointestinal foreign bodies are common in ferrets and are easily preventable by ensuring that their play area is safe for them. Ferrets love to nibble on shoes, socks and bare toes, so it is easy to accidently step on your ferret. Therefore always take care when walking in a room with your ferret. Ferrets are good at getting under couches and reclining chairs and can get accidentally crushed. Therefore, it is best to allow you ferret to play in an area that doesn’t have any furniture that your ferret can get under.
VACCINATIONS: It is generally recommended that ferrets receive annual vaccinations against Canine Distemper Virus and Rabies. Vaccine reactions can occur in ferrets and specific vaccine protocols should be discussed with your veterinarian.
- Infectious ferret diarrhea: Ferrets can contract a form of diarrhea from other ferrets. Therefore it is very important to isolate all new ferrets in the house for at least 4-6 weeks before introducing to your other ferrets. This type of diarrhea is highly contagious and can even be given to your ferret if you play with other ferrets and then play with your own. Therefore it is very important to change your clothes and wash your hands very well after playing with other ferrets or visiting them at pet shops, ferret shows, etc. Signs of this infectious diarrhea include: diarrhea (can be greenish in color or even bloody or black if severe), lethargy, loss of appetite and dehydration. Please contact your veterinarian if you notice any of these signs.
- Gastrointestinal foreign bodies: As discussed above, these are very common in ferrets. Signs of a foreign body include: diarrhea, loss of appetite, belly pain, grinding teeth and occasionally vomiting. Unlike in other species, vomiting rarely happens when ferrets have foreign bodies.
- Insulinoma: This disease is caused by having too much of a hormone (insulin) from the pancreas. This is the opposite of diabetes. When this hormone gets too high, it causes the blood sugar level to get too low. When this happens, the ferret can act very sleepy, may fall over, may drool a lot and may paw at his/her face. In severe cases, ferrets may have seizures. If you notice any of these signs, you can feed your ferret (if it is not having a seizure) or put honey on the ferret’s gums – taking care not place your fingers into the ferret’s mouth. Please contact your veterinarian immediately if you notice any of these signs.
- Adrenal gland disease: This disease is casued by too many hormones (sex androgens) from the adrenal glands. When these hormones get too high they can cause the ferret to be itchy, loose their fur, have a swollen vulva (in females) and have a swollen prostate (in males). When ferrets have a swollen prostate, they can have trouble passing urine – this is an emergency and ferrets can die from this. If you notice your ferret having trouble passing urine, passing bloody urine, dribbling urine or straining to pass feces please contact your veterinarian immediately. If you notice that your ferret is losing its hair, is itching or has a swollen vulva, you should also contact your veterinarian although it is not an emergency.