BELOW IS A BREIF SYNOPIS OF CARE. FOR MORE DETAILED INFORMATION, DOWNNLOAD MY INFORMATION PACKET OR FERRETS FOR DUMMIES.
A brief history
Mustela furo, the European ferret is a member of the weasel family (polecats, minks, skunks, ermine, otters, fishers.) Ferrets were domesticated before the cat. Ferrets first came to the United States over 300 years ago on ships where they were used for rodent control. There are no "wild ferrets" in the United States,. Closest being the Black-footed Ferret (Mustela Nigra,) which is an endangered species and in a captive breeding program. While most commercial bred ferrets ferrets have no hunting instincts left and are unaccustomed to whole prey, many private bred ferrets are raised on whole prey and/or raw meat. Ferrets are domestic in the truest sense of the word. They come in a variety of colors, ranging from albino, sables (with the racoon like mask,) chocolate, champagne, black roan mitts and variations of. ) Then there are various color patterns - mitts, panda, badger and points. Male ferrets referred to as hobs, average 3-6 pounds in weight, while their female counterparts, jills, average between 1-3 pounds. Baby ferrets are called kits, and are not considered adults until 10-12 months old. A group of ferrets is known as a "business" of ferrets.
When handling very young or unfamiliar ferrets, make sure that they are not hungry, and wash your hands if you have recently handled their food so that your fingers are not mistaken for a tasty morsel! Keep them away from your face until they are used to you - ferrets explore new things with their mouth and teeth - not a good idea for noses and ears! Ferret kits can be nippy (just like kittens and puppies) and must be trained not to do this. Usually a soft tap on the nose- just to get attention when saying NO or grabbing the skin under their chin and a loud NO! will work. Some people push their fingers into the ferrets mouth and other actually bite the ferret back (Like Mom). With a little training and time, they will grow out of the nipping stage.
As when any young child and animal are together, they should be supervised at all times. Children may be too rough and hurt the ferret, and cause it to bite in self defense. Ferrets are much like 2 year old children - inquisitive with short bursts of high energy.
A good wire cage with carpeting or linoleum on the bottom of the cage to protect their feet is best. You need room for a litter box, hammock, and food/water dishes with enough space left over for them to move around easily and stretch up on their hind legs. As a general guide, a 24"x36"x24" cage would be a good starting size for a couple ferrets, with a hammock hanging from the top. A Ferret Nation cage or a cage from Kritter Koncepts are both good suggestions.
For food, a heavy crock type bowl or one that attaches to the side of the cage (they will move their food bowl - do not underestimate their determination!) is best.
Water: While a heavy crock for water is best, many ferrets will dig out, snorkel or kick litter/food into the bowl, leaving them without any fresh water and likely wet bedding. A large sized water bottle (one that contains enough for two days) is a good idea in place of a water bowl. And...NO water bottles DO NOT harm ferrets teeth! This is a myth! You should of course change the water every day - leaving a two day supply out is just a good idea as that will ensure that your ferret will not run out of water unexpectedly. You may want to attach a small bowl to the side of the cage underneath the water bottle to catch any drips and it also can have some water for drinking also.
In addition to a hammock, you can use old tee shirts or sweats for bedding. Even if you use a hammock, it is a good idea to give your ferret a choice of sleeping areas. They like to burrow, and will enjoy snuggling under the bedding in their cage. Under no circumstances should an aquarium be used as housing, as they do not permit sufficient circulation of fresh air. Ideal temperatures for ferrets are between 65 to 76 degrees. They handle the cold much better than the heat. Heat in excess of 85 degrees can cause heat stroke and death.
A good quality dry ferret food is best. We recommend a high quality cat/kitten or ferret food. Many are available through several on-line stores (CHEWY.COM) as well as pet stores.. There should be 35-55% (animal) protein, at least 18-20% fat, and very little fiber (under
3%.) Look for foods without Peas or at least the peas be no closer than the 4th ingredient. Milk and other dairy products can cause problems such as salmonella and coccidiosis so avoid these. Ferrets love chocolate, but just as in dogs, chocolate is toxic to ferrets. Raw pieces of muscle and organ meats are great healthy treats. There are several freeze dried meat foods/treats like Stella and Chewys if you are uncomfortable with raw. Some private breeders also feed whole prey such as mice, rats and chicks.
I feed all my kits a large variety of foods so they are used to raw, whole prey, freeze dried as well as several kinds of dry kibble Variety is the spice of life! I highly recommend those as snacks. Even my 4 week old kits love the mice.
Spaying and Neutering
If you bought your ferret from a pet store, it has more than likely already been spayed or neutered. If not, upon reaching maturity all pet ferrets should be spayed, neutered or . A jill should be before she comes into her first season - usually the first Spring after her birth at 6-8 months old. Jills, when they come in season can die from aplastic anemia if not taken out by spaying, hormone shot, V-hob or bred.
Breeding should not be taken lightly, and is best left to an experienced breeder. Ferret kits are a lot of work, and you can't guarantee being able to find good homes for them. You put your Jill at risk of mastitis and vaginitis, and some jills will eat their kits or just let them die. Hobs have a strong musky smell until neutered. Descenting will not remove this smell. It is caused by their hormones and secreted through the oils in their skin. Descenting is not necessary and not recommended unless for medical reasons.
Health and Maintenance
Ferrets have nails like a dog which need to be trimmed regularly. The easiest way to do this is by putting your ferret in your lap in a sitting position. Put a few drops of Salmon oil (available at pet stores) on his tummy. While he's busy licking it off you can trim both the front and back nails. Use cat nail trimmers or regular people nail trimmers. Be sure you don't cut into the pink area of the nail. If you do, use flour, cornstarch or baby powder to stop the bleeding.
Ears should be cleaned regularly - at least once a month. A Q-Tip moistened with water or mineral oil is good. Be sure to get all the little pockets and avoid sticking the Q-Tip down the ear canal.
If you feel the need to bathe your ferret, a tearless baby shampoo works well, or there are products available designed specifically for a ferrets coat. Do not bathe more than every 4-6 weeks. If you do, he will produce more skin oils, which will make his odor increase. Bathing too often is also very drying on your ferrets skin.
For periodic teeth cleaning, a cat toothbrush and toothpaste is available at most petstores. The back teeth can accumulate tartar, and should be cleaned by your vet or someone experienced.
A special note about fleas. If your ferret gets fleas, use only a flea product that is safe for cats and kittens. We recommend Frontline Plus or Advantage Kitten which you can get from your vet. Scratching does not always mean your ferret has fleas. Dry skin in the Winter or coat change in the Spring can cause skin irritation, leading to scratching. A few drops of salmon oil every couple of days may help. Also, to avoid hairballs during coat changes, the use of a cat hairball remedy or a ferret specific one may be useful.
If your kit's mother used a litter box, chances are she has taught her kit to use one too. If your ferret hasn't had any litter training, it is best to start in a small area. Place a rectangular litter box in the corner of the cage - one that goes to both sides of cage is best. (You may have to drill holes in the box so you can secure it to the care bars - a ferret WILL try and move the box!) For litter, you can use a dust free, non-clumping cat litter or recycled newspaper pellets. An excellent and inexpensive litter is Wood Fuel pellets. They are bio-degradable, and can be used for mulching after the ferret has finished with them. Do not use clumping litters or wood cedar chips. Clumping litter can be ingested causing a blockage, and wood cedar chips can cause respiratory problems.
Your ferret may well decide to play in the litter at first. Don't worry! Don't put too much litter in the pan, and add a previous "deposit" to let your pet know what the box is for. To help prevent accidents, put lots of bedding (soft tee-shirts, towels) in any problem spots. Ferrets do not like to dirty their bedding - so if you use enough bedding materials, it almost forces your pet to use just the box.
Most ferrets won't return to the cage to use the box during playtime. You will need to use a couple of boxes in the room where your ferret plays, placing them in there every 15 minutes or so to see if they "need to go." Always reward use of the box with a little treat, but NEVER punish your ferret for accidents - simply pick him up and place him in the box. If your ferret has an accident which you didn't notice, clean the area thoroughly to remove any smell. A vinegar and water solution works well. Remember, just because you can't smell the accident - it doesn't mean your ferret can't! If it smells like a bathroom, then it is a bathroom as far as he is concerned. If your pet always chooses to go in one particular place, simply move the litter box to that place. At times, it is easier to let them choose their own bathroom areas! And always remember the golden rule - be consistent. The more you work with your ferret, the better litter trained he will become.
Playtime and Toys
Ferrets are very social animals and love to play. It is important for their well being that they get out of the cage every day for play time. If they don't, they will lose muscle tone and can become depressed. When frequently handled with lots of TLC, they are less prone to nip and become the loving pet you wanted! As for toys, many things a ferret likes to play with can actually be dangerous for him. Avoid rubber, plastic, ribbons or any item that can be swallowed and cause an intestinal blockage. This can be fatal - and at the very least, require expensive surgery to remove the obstruction. Safe, inexpensive toys include ping-pong balls, plastic practice golf balls or small balls with bells in them, milk jugs with holes cut in them, boxes, stuffed animals (nothing loose) and dryer vent tubing.
Ferrets require two types of vaccinations. One for canine distemper - Merial's Purvax, Nobivac Puppy and Neovac are distemper ones used. IMRAB 3 is the only vaccine approved for ferret use. Please note that in order for your pet to be legal in Franklin County as well as many other large municipalities, he must a current rabies vaccination from a Vet. If the pet store says that your ferret has been vaccinated, please be aware that he will need two further distemper shots three weeks apart once you take him home. He will also needs his rabies shot no earlier than 12 weeks of age. Do not give the distemper vaccine and the rabies vaccine on the same day. If your ferret should have a reaction to the vaccines used, it may be impossible to tell which vaccine he is reacting to. Yearly boosters are also required for both canine distemper and rabies, along with a yearly vet exam to make sure that everything is fine with your pets health.
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