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15 Things You Need to Know Before Adopting a Ferret

15 Things You Need to Know Before Adopting a Ferret
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It’s easy to fall in love with a ferret when you see a cage full of young kits in the pet store. Over the past few decades, these pets have experienced a massive boom in popularity, becoming more and more common in households across the United States — in fact, they’re now the third most popular pet after cats and dogs. In 1996, a government study estimated that more than 800,000 ferrets were being kept as pets throughout the country, and the number has undoubtedly grown since.

Unlike cats and dogs, most people don’t know much about ferrets or how to care for them. Many people simply aren’t prepared for how much work they can be to care for. So if you’ve been thinking about adopting one of these adorable (and sometimes downright goofy) creatures, today I want to share 15 facts every prospective ferret owner needs to know before taking the plunge.

1. Ferrets are NOT wild animals.

While ferrets may have only become a “cool” pet in the last 20 years or so, the truth is that humans and ferrets have coexisted for thousands of years. Ferrets were first domesticated more than 2,500 years ago, but not as pets — much like early cats or dogs, ferrets were working animals, used for hunting rabbits or controlling pests near farms or grain stores.

This misunderstanding may stem from people confusing domesticated ferrets with the black-footed ferret, a wild endangered animal native to the Western United States. While related, these animals are completely different species, and bear about as much resemblance to each other as a house cat does to a wildcat. After so many centuries living side-by-side with humans, pet ferrets are unlikely to survive on their own in the wild and prefer being with their human families.

2. Ferrets aren’t rodents, either.

It’s easy to see how someone could mistake a ferret for a member of the rodent family, but they’re actually carnivores that are descended from weasels and polecats. The horrifying truth (at least for pocket pet lovers) is that these animals were domesticated and bred to be highly efficient rodent-eliminating machines, much like domestic cats. So if you keep pet rabbits, rats, hamsters, or mice, a ferret probably wouldn’t be a good addition to your animal family.

3. Ferrets are very social animals and bond strongly with their families.

Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes people make when they buy a ferret is assuming that they don’t bond to their owners the way a dog or a cat would — and so if the family doesn’t get along with the pet, it’s no big deal to give them up. Actually, ferrets bond with their humans for life. When you adopt a ferret, you need to be willing to make a life-long commitment to your new pet.

Because ferrets are such social creatures, they do better in groups of two or three. A single ferret will require much more time and attention from an owner than a ferret who has friends to keep him or her company while their human is gone during the day. Be careful, though: ferret ownership can be addictive!

4. Ferrets are incredibly intelligent and can be trained — to a point.

Okay, so you’re probably not going to be able to train your ferret to sit, stay, or fetch. But ferrets are very smart animals who can and will respond to their names when you call (some more reliably than others), and ferrets are usually very easy to litter-train. They naturally seek out corners to use as bathrooms, so usually just putting a litter box with cedar or newspaper pellets in the corner of their cage on the opposite end from their food is enough to get them started.

Much like dogs, ferrets truly do want to please their people — you can even teach them to do tricks. But like cats, they’re always trying to push the envelope to see exactly what they can get away with.

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99 comments

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5:10AM PDT on Jun 10, 2014

thanks for sharing :)

6:10PM PDT on Oct 25, 2013

They sound adorable and fun, but extremely high maintenance. Think I'll admire from afar.

4:52PM PDT on Oct 15, 2013

ferrets must be kept off carbs and sugars and anything with much magnsium as these things are very bad for their kidneys they can be given a tiny amount of a low mag low sugar friet once in a while like a berrey but to be safe google these first for magnsium and sugar thats a no brainer no banana or dried friut if you feed kibble don/t give anything else i find that right now mine are doing great on raw beef hearts i aviod chicken it pro cancer in any thing read dr. virginia livinston wheeler and you will know why too

8:30PM PDT on Oct 14, 2013

No thanks, not I.

2:59PM PDT on Oct 14, 2013

if ferrets smell awful, then you can likely blame their owners for either not keeping their cage/bedding clean, and/or feeding them the wrong food.

one thing that these articles never seem to fully cover is that ferrets can be born deaf. This article states that white ones are affected and that is not really the truth. Most of the dozens of white ferrets that I have been associated with have NOT been deaf. But, 1 type that is almost always deaf are the ones with a white blaze on the top of their heads. My last little deaf guy was so smart that he actually taught me hand signals and body language so that I knew what he wanted. As some have pointed out, they do get very sick and it is important to know the signs of serious illness. Most of my ferrets have died w/i 24 hours of their 1st symptoms. And twice vets have told me that we will have to keep an eye on them for the next few weeks, only for their illness to progress very quickly and kill them w/i days.

12:37PM PDT on Oct 14, 2013

They are so beautiful, intelligent and adorable.

8:36AM PDT on Oct 14, 2013

Thanks for sharing!

6:17AM PDT on Oct 14, 2013

Thank you.

5:18AM PDT on Oct 14, 2013

great article!
I once thought about having a ferret, but I don't think I can do it at the moment.
But from what this article says, there are many characteristics of ferrets that remind me of rats. I've had pet rats and they too have very different personalities, some like to steal papers (like my homework) or pencils from your desk, sleep under the desk, and if the cage is not rat-proof they can get out, and they nibble on everything. They are so smart and can be really cheeky. And they also very often get cancer when they get old :( A lot similar to ferrets, from what this article says. But probably rats are easier to care for.
So, after reading this, maybe I'll think about adopting a ferret once I have time and space for him :)

4:50AM PDT on Oct 14, 2013

TY.

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