Ferret 101 is Live
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If you are given the opportunity to own a ferret then you are going to have one of the most rewarding experiences next to having children. These little balls of fur will provide you with unconditional love, and the only thing they will want from you in return is to be treated with responsibility and respect. A
I cannot stress enough that before anyone decides to buy a ferret that should do the following: Read books about ferrets and their care, visit shelters that house ferrets, talk to current ferret owners as they will provide you with some of the best experience and knowledge you can find from anyone, etc! It is incredibly common (sadly) that a ferret owner will decide that they no longer want them. The ferret then gets abandoned, set loose outside (which is a death sentence for modern ferrets), given away or worse. Unfortunately, the shelters that are out there are incredibly overcrowded with ferrets because many people don’t understand the amount of effort and energy that is required in order to properly care for a weasel. No pet should be purchased or acquired unless you are going to take on the full responsibility of taking care of said animal for their entire life!
Around 8 weeks of age a ferret (baby ferret obviously) will need it’s distemper inoculation, a booster will be required around 11-12 weeks of age and then the final booster around 14-16 weeks. From this point on an annual vaccination will be required. The yearly rabies shot is given around 12-13 weeks of age (two weeks between the distemper shots). These shots are not something you want to mess around with. A lot of people skip shots. These are an ABSOLUTE must for your ferret baby. Full grown female ferrets are on average 1-2 lbs while the males can get up to 2-4 lbs. The average ferret will live roughly 9 years (the united states ferrets tend to be a little shorter lived) and they will maintain their activeness for most of their lives. One thing you must take into consideration is that ferrets are susceptible to certain illnesses as they age and these illnesses will require medical intervention. The most notable disease a ferret will encounter is Adrenal Disease (70% of the ferrets I have owned have had this disease) and the other is Insulinoma. Please be ready for the expenses tied to these diseases as there is a great chance you will encounter it.
Ferrets and Humans
While everyone can enjoy ferrets they are NOT necessarily the pet for everyone. You must take special consideration if your household has small children (especially an infant) or other animals like cats, dogs etc. Some common misconceptions are that ferrets are rodents or cage animals. They most definitely are NOT. The need quite a few hours outside of the cage on a daily basis to burn off their high energy. They love to jump around and war dance so don’t keep them in their cage all day every day. They also love interacting with one another as well as their human companions (that’s you). Ferrets have relentless curiosity and tons of energy so they will definitely make for amazing entertainment for you and yours.
Remember, you are the one responsible for your ferret. If you have company over, or have small children, it is on you to keep the ferrets in the cage or to at the very LEAST keep a super close eye on them. Children love the way ferrets look and scurry around but they rarely handle a ferret with the required care to keep the animal healthy. They will pull or pick at the fur as well as pick them up incorrectly. Guests will almost always want to hold a ferret but you must remember that to a ferret a guest or visitor is a new giant person that they are unsure of. A ferret may bite or nip at a newcomer. not because they are being vicious but because they are trying to protect themselves from something they are unsure of. If you have a ferret that tends to accept your visitors, they might try to play and a visitor without the knowledge of a ferret may mistake this as being aggressive. Be sure that your guests know that a ferret bouncing around isn’t to be hit. They can be misunderstood very frequently and if a person is unsure they will swat to push them away.
So I would like to take this time to re-emphasize on some things: Your ferret should probably be caged while you have guests. Your fuzzie depends completely on YOU to protect them at all times so when you are playing with them you need to keep that in mind. A ferret can easily hurt you on accident if you aren’t careful because they have incredibly powerful jaws. If they should accidentally get too rough with you please remain calm and do NOT hit the animal. The best way to teach your ferret is to scruff their neck and say “ouch” or “no”. Follow this up with dragging them across the ground a little just like their mother would and you will teach them how to behave with you. The last thing you want to do is be abusive to your animal. Another option when it comes to training your ferret when it comes to not nipping your hands is to spray your hands with bitter apple, which most ferrets absolutely hate the taste of. Finally, putting some ferret treat (nutrical / laxatone) on your hand will cause them to lick you instead of biting you!
Bathing Your Ferret
One thing a lot of people do by mistake is wash their ferret too frequently. This causes the ferret to produce more oils which will also cause the odor to increase. You want to wash them every so often but the main thing for cleanliness is the frequent cleaning of the ferret bedding and anything that they use on a regular basis. I have had upwards of 6 ferrets at any given time (that I personally own) and the bedding was almost always the culprit when it came to strong odors coming from the room they reside. My weasels get a room setup just for them with monitored house access after the fact. When you do bathe your ferret make sure that you use a shampoo that clearly labels it is for use on a ferret. If your ferrets absolutely love bath time, which many do, let them indulge but do not use any shampoo.
Introducing a New Ferret
Introducing a new ferret to an existing ferret (or group of ferrets) can be a trying experience. You must understand that sometimes a new ferret may not integrate with the existing bunch immediately, or at all. In situations like this you need to take into consideration cage needs as well as play needs. You should always introduce your new ferrets to the bunch slowly and in controlled environments where they are able to smell each other. Bathing all of the ferrets at once so that they all smell the same is of major benefit in situations like this as well. The new ferret should have it’s own cage for the first few days while they all become acclimated to one another. Switching the bedding between the cages once the new addition has arrived can also assist in the group becoming more familiar with one another.
While remaining in a controlled environment you will slowly increase the amount of time the new addition spends with the original ferret or group of ferrets. Let them mingle until there are no unnecessary fights. It is very common for ferrets to drag each other around by the neck, hiss, scratch, war dance, dook, and other general rough housing. This is common behavior and should not be interrupted. This is how the ferrets work out their order on the totem pole. One establishes itself as the big dog on campus while the others fall in line.
Ferrets are very social creatures. Even with them being so fun loving and social there is no guarantee that they will get along with one another. Before growing your ownership of ferrets you should definitely consider the possible need to accommodate the new addition with additional caging and play times.
Ferret Play Time
When taking into consideration your ferrets play time you must remember one thing. Ferrets are very durable. Now that we have covered that ferrets are durable I have another thing you MUST take into consideration when your ferret is playing. Ferrets play very rough and aggressively. They will play rough with one another and do all sorts of things that can be mistaken has fighting or being in discomfort. You will become accommodated with these items as you experience your ferret. When fights get out of hand you can generally tell because they will keep running back for more or running the other way. Be sure to break up any extreme rough play or fights immediately if there has been blood drawn. In the occurrence of blood separate the ferrets and let them calm down.
Some things that ferrets love playing with are: Anything shiny, tubes (they love running through tubes), playing with small jingle balls and other little toys. A lot of ferrets love being squirted with water from a water bottle and will immediately start dooking and war dancing. Obviously, if you have a ferret that does NOT enjoy this action you shouldn’t do it. Ferrets also love digging in boxes full of rice (not instant as this rice expands upon swallow), dirt, kidney beans, or packing peanuts (safe biodegradable kind).
If you have a safe, contained, area outside then your ferrets will absolutely love playing and digging in the dirt. When doing this you must make sure that your ferret has a leash though as being outside without you is a guaranteed death wish for the animal.
Dick Bossart has written an excellent resource for both new and seasoned ferret owners covering a wide variety of topics titled “The Ferret Owners Manual”, which is available for download. You will need the latest version of Adobe Acrobat Reader to view the manual.
You are the sole person responsible for the well being of your ferret. Without you, your weasel will leave a pretty sad and miserable life. They require a lot of you but you will be happier with them and they with you. Take care of them, be ready for any costs and be sure to keep a close eye on them and you will enjoy years of love and fun.