Ferrets have only recently been available in the United States. They became common in the 1980s, when importation from Europe began. By 1996, over 800,000 ferrets were being kept in captivity in the United States.1
Their popularity continued to grow, and now you can find them in pet stores across the country. The laws have since been rescinded in many places where they were once illegal. They are still illegal in some areas, though, such as California.
While they have only recently gained popularity in the United States, ferrets have been domesticated for over 2,000 years. No one knows when their domestication began or where. However, we have evidence that shows that ferrets were being used for hunting purposes during the Roman empire.
Despite ferrets being domesticated for a long time, they are not your average pet. It is essential to understand their care and temperament before adopting them.
In this article, we review a few of the more eccentric facts about pet ferrets, many of which are essential for understanding their needs.
1. The Law Is Complicated
Ferrets have never been as widely accepted as cats and dogs. The laws on keeping ferrets as pets vary from state to state and are often unclear. Before you adopt a ferret, it is essential to understand the laws in your area. You can’t always assume that it’s legal for you to own a ferret.
In California and Hawaii, ferrets are entirely illegal. No reason is stated in California, but in Hawaii, the risk of rabies and potential danger to local bird species is cited. We suspect that Hawaii is fearful of what happened in New Zealand, where released domestic ferrets began preying on local birds.
Ferrets are banned in certain individual cities, such as Washington, D.C. Most military bases also prohibit their ownership.
In other areas, the laws are a bit complicated. You can own ferrets in Illinois and Georgia, but a permit is required to breed them. In Dallas, Texas, it is technically illegal to own a ferret. However, regulations for vaccinating ferrets have been written, making the law a bit blurry.
Ferrets are banned throughout much of Wisconsin, but the actual regulations vary from area to area. In some places, it is simply illegal for them to be within city limits.
2. They Can Be Smelly
Like most animals, ferrets produce a unique odor. In the wild, this smell helps them mark their territory and attract mates. Unfortunately, this scent is quite musky to the human nose, and many people find it unpleasant.
Some of this scent comes from the ferret’s anal gland. Many domestic ferrets have this gland removed, primarily when sold at pet stores. However, they also secrete the scent from various other glands throughout their body, so no ferret will be totally un-smelly.
Luckily, there is quite a bit that you can do to combat this smell. Regularly grooming your ferret can prevent the scent from building up and causing problems. For instance, their ears can get quite smelly if they are not cleaned regularly.
Their oils can easily be transferred to any surface that the ferret has had contact with. It is vital to keep up with cleaning their cage. Preferably, all hard surfaces in their cage should be wiped down daily. Their bedding should be changed every few days, as this can also retain their musky scent.
3. Ferrets Are Social
This is not a pet that you can leave in a cage for much of a day. They are incredibly social creatures. Many species of ferrets live in colonies in the wild. In captivity, your ferret will need you to stand in for this colony, even if you purchase more than one ferret.
Due to their highly social nature, many people adopt at least two ferrets at a time. This is not necessary, especially if you have enough time to socialize with your ferret. However, if you don’t have that kind of time, then adopting two together is recommended.
Of course, just because ferrets are social, that doesn’t mean they always get along with each other. In many cases, ferrets will not like each other. Therefore, introducing two ferrets together slowly and mindfully is important.
4. They Need Plenty of Exercise
Ferrets need more exercise than most pets. They can be highly active and spend most of their day running around. They are not calm, indoor pets.
Ferrets will spend most of their time climbing, jumping, running, and hiding. It isn’t odd for them to hide under the couch and jump out at you when you walk by. They are almost always in a playful mood. Many owners love to watch their antics, but others find their constant activity a bit exhausting. If you’re looking for a cuddly pet that will sit with you on the couch, this is not it.
This also means you’ll need to plan plenty of out-of-cage time. Otherwise, your ferret will not get much exercise. Preferably, your ferret should be out of their cage whenever you are home, especially if you work regular hours.
These pets are often best for those with at least one family member home at a time, as they genuinely can’t be kept in a cage for that long. They need constant supervision when allowed to roam, though, as their playful nature makes them likely to get into stuff.
5. They Chew Frequently
When compared to cats and dogs, ferrets chew frequently. They will attempt to chew on nearly everything that they encounter. They are incredibly mouthy animals and explore everything with their teeth, including you. Ferrets are known for nipping their owners and even chewing on them.
They will also chew on the legs of furniture, clothes, blankets, and pretty much everything else. Providing chew toys doesn’t help that much, unfortunately.
This behavior often leads to health problems because ferrets are likely to eat something that they shouldn’t. Ingesting dangerous items will often lead to a need for surgery to have them removed. Supervising them is necessary to ensure that they don’t eat something inedible.
If you get a ferret, you will need to ferret-proof your house. This is often a bit more involved than making it safe for other pets, as ferrets are quite resourceful.
6. Ferrets Need Routine Vet Care
Just like cats and dogs, ferrets need routine veterinary care. A ferret that is well taken care of can live to be 10 years old. This was once the overall lifespan of most pet ferrets. However, over the years, their lifespan decreased. Now, most of them live to be around 5 or 6.
Many factors have gone into this decline, like poor breeding. However, there are many things that you can do to ensure that your ferret lives as long as possible, including providing the appropriate vet care.
Most ferrets need to go to the vet for an annual checkup. You should find someone with experience with ferrets, as they aren’t considered a “normal” pet in many areas. You may need to find an exotic vet.
Providing these regular checkups increases the likelihood of catching diseases early.
Some vets recommend that older ferrets visit every 6 months, as they are more likely to develop health problems.
7. They Are Carnivores
Ferrets are 100% meat-eaters. In the wild, they do not eat vegetable matter at all. In captivity, they should be fed a complete meat diet as well. This can be done most easily through a formulated ferret food.
Decades ago, this food wasn’t available because these pets weren’t popular enough. Many people gave their ferret cat food for this reason.
Today, though, you can find many ferret foods online and at pet stores. We highly recommend choosing one of these instead of cat food because it is specifically made for ferrets.
You should ensure that the food that you give them is high-quality and full of meat. Check the ingredient list to ensure that the main ingredients are meat.
8. Ferrets Can Get Fleas
Ferrets are just as prone to fleas and heartworms as more common pets, even though they will spend much of their time indoors.
However, it is difficult to get ferret-safe flea and heartworm prevention medication. In many cases, you will have to speak to a vet who is knowledgeable about ferrets. They will likely know of a ferret-safe option that they can prescribe to you.
Don’t simply run out and purchase something that is marketed for dogs or cats. Often, these products will be unsafe for ferrets.
9. They Need Vaccinations
Most pets need vaccinations of some sort, including ferrets. In many places, the law requires that you vaccinate your ferret against rabies at least. However, ferrets are also prone to various other diseases that have available vaccinations.
Your vet may recommend vaccination for canine distemper. While this often affects dogs, ferrets are also susceptible to it and should receive vaccinations as well.
Typically, this is done on a similar schedule as for puppies. Your ferret will likely need about three different vaccinations spread over a few months. They may need to visit the vet a few times during their first year, especially if they need a few other vaccinations.
10. Ferrets Can Get Hairballs
Ferrets groom themselves similarly to cats. When they do this, they can ingest quite a bit of hair. This can lead to hairballs, just like in cats. Usually, they can digest this hair or cough it back up. Sometimes, it can lead to an obstruction, though.
Ferrets are also prone to adrenal problems, which will cause them to lose fur at a faster rate. This can lead to them having more hairball problems because they will ingest all the excess hair.
Ferrets are like many other pets. They require exercise, a high-quality diet, and routine vet care. They are far more similar to cats and dogs than many people realize. Due to their smaller size, it isn’t odd for prospective owners to believe that they are low-maintenance and can be kept in a cage for much of the time.
However, this is not true. Ferrets tend to be higher-maintenance than dogs or cats due to their grooming needs. Their cage needs to be cleaned at least once a day, and they will likely need a bath once a month.
The difficulty of finding vets and groomers with experience with ferrets makes their care even more troublesome. In many cases, you may have to travel far for vet care.
Purchasing a ferret is no simple matter. It is essential that you completely understand the care that goes into these animals. Otherwise, you could be getting more than you bargained for.
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Featured Image Credit by Peryn22, Shutterstock