The Ferret Owner’s Manual
FIRST THINGS FIRST
Before you bring your new domestic ferret into your home, you will need the following supplies and equipment.
Valentine, our first ferret
Food – The domestic ferret will thrive on a premium dry ferret food or, if that’s not available in your area, a premium kitten food. Keep in mind, though, that cats and ferrets have differing nutritional needs and cat/kitten foods will not completely satisfy the dietary needs of a ferret. At our shelter we use Totally Ferret manufactured by Performance Foods, Inc. Dog food doesn’t even come close to meeting the ferret’s nutritional needs. The analysis (found on the bag) should show a minimum of 34% – 36% protein and a minimum of 22% -24% fat. The bulk of the protein (especially the first two on the ingredients list and perhaps three of the first four) should be from animal sources, preferably poultry. Most vegetable matter such as corn can not be adequately digested. Corn has been shown to cause urinary stones, so make sure it appears far down on the ingredients list. Although vegetable matter adds to the “protein” analysis on cheaper foods, it amounts to a “filler” that will pass right through a ferret’s short digestive tract. Make sure you read the ingredients on the bag. Some “ferret foods” are really mink foods. These usually have a fish or fish byproduct listed first or second. Some nutritionists feel that large quantities of fish is not the ideal diet for a ferret. Fish may also cause “litter box odor.” Also look at sugars. Sugars, including fructose and glucose are not the ideal diet ingredient, especially for older ferrets. Some sugars are “hidden” as fruits. They should be far down on the list, if present at all.
Cage – For the animal’s protection and security, if you aren’t absolutely positively sure that your home is ferret-safe, I recommend confining him to the cage during the night and periods when no one will be on hand to supervise. It is the best way of ensuring that he will stay out of harms way.
Remember, however, that a ferret is a companion animal, like a dog or a cat. It is not a “cage animal.” It is an animal that just happens to fit in a cage. Most of the time, your ferret should be out of the cage and interacting with you and your family, just like a family dog or cat. You wouldn’t keep a dog or cat in a crate most of the time. Don’t do that with your ferret. If you have a cage, be sure to leave the cage door open while he is out so that your ferret can go in and out for food, water, to use the litter box, or even to nap. (Although most of ours prefer to nap in drawers, behind the refrigerator, under the futon, behind the TV, or some other inaccessible place. One has even taken to nap under the grandfather clock.)
If you must have a cage, it should be large enough for the ferret to stretch and for limited play even though he will likely just sleep most of the time that he is confined. The cage should be large enough to provide room for a litter box, an area for food and water, and an area for sleeping. A cage measuring about 3 feet by 3 feet deep by 2 feet high will comfortably house one or two ferrets. Multi-story cages will provide more area for the same amount of your floor space, but make sure that there are no areas where the ferret could take a long fall should he slip from one of the upper floors. The floors of the cage should be solid and padded. Bare wire will damage their delicate paw pads. You can cut linoleum samples to fit the floors. To help keep it in place, punch small holes in the corners of the material and use a tie wrap through the holes and around the wire on the floor .
Small area rugs, sweatshirts, etc. will provide a soft sleeping area and allow the ferret to “tunnel in” for sleeping. Watch that your ferret’s nails aren’t split or long such that they catch on the material. Terry cloth and similar material may snag on the nail and cause serious injury as the ferret struggles to free itself. If you use a cloth material for bedding or flooring, be sure to check it periodically to make sure that the ferret is not eating the material and that the material is not unraveling. Long threads can wrap around a ferret and cause injury or death. Use those with caution. The bedding should be washed at least weekly. This significantly reduces the musky odor common to ferrets. Please don’t use wood chips, wood shavings, or shredded newspaper for bedding as these create a breeding ground for bacteria. Cedar and pine chips release aromatic oils that are believed toxic to ferrets if they are in prolonged, close contact.
A cage, constructed of a heavy gauge wire or rubber coated wire, is usually a good choice. These can be made or purchased. Aquariums are not a suitable cage for your ferret. Lack of ventilation will allow buildup of bacteria in the very air your ferret has to breathe. Most plastic pet carriers suffer from the same problem – lack of adequate ventilation. While they are good for transporting your ferret from your home to the veterinarian’s office or off to a visit to Aunt Harriet’s, most plastic carriers are not recommended for long term housing.
If you are considering making your own cage and are thinking about wood for a frame, remember to heavily urethane the wood on all sides and ends to keep moisture out and so that you can wash the cage when necessary. Don’t use pressure treated lumber. The chemicals used to treat the wood may poison your ferret.
Remember, your ferret is NO more a cage animal than is a dog or a cat. He needs time to play and interact with people. He should out of the cage most of the time EVERY day. He looks forward to being with you and interacting with you.
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