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.
Photos by author
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