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15 Things You Need to Know Before Adopting a Ferret

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5. Ferrets are not aggressive toward humans.

While it seems like everyone’s heard a horror story about domestic ferrets being vicious or unfriendly toward humans, nothing could be further from the truth. Ferrets are incredibly playful and friendly, and they are incredibly safe pets unless they’ve been hurt or abused. They’re often able to coexist peacefully with cats and dogs, as well.

That being said, very young ferrets sometimes like to play rough and may nip their human companions during play. Like kittens or puppies, this is their natural way of interacting with each other. Ferrets have very thick skin, so a nibble that wouldn’t hurt another ferret can be painful for a human. Again, this is a behavior that your ferret can be trained not to engage in. Most ferrets outgrow their nipping phase as they reach adulthood.

6. Ferrets cannot live their lives in cages.

A lot of people buy ferrets thinking it’s like getting a gerbil or guinea pig — that they can stay in their cage most of the time and just come out once and awhile for play when it’s convenient. The truth is, ferrets need lots of freedom to roam, play, and exercise. They’re actually very high-maintenance and require 3-4 hours of supervised playtime every day.

Some people let their ferrets roam freely like a dog or a cat, but I don’t recommend it. For one, ferrets tend to get tired and fall asleep after 1-2 hours of play, so they’re probably not going to appreciate the extra freedom anyway. It’s also very difficult to completely ferret-proof your house (or even just one room), so it’s safer and healthier for them to be caged when they’re not playing with you.

Just be warned: if you don’t let your ferret out to play often enough, he or she will start to get frustrated and act out. I’ve seen ferrets overturn food dishes, rip water bottles off the wall, and even toss dirty litter across the cage when they aren’t able to let out their energy in a more productive way. If you don’t have several hours a day to dedicate to a ferret, do yourself a favor and get a goldfish instead.

7. Ferrets MUST be spayed or neutered to live healthy, happy lives.

Unlike dogs or cats, pet ferrets must be spayed or neutered unless you plan to breed them, or you’re putting them at risk of serious health issues. Intact male ferrets tend to be more aggressive and may fight more with other animals in the home, and intact female ferrets will eventually die if they’re not bred. (Yes, literally.) For these reasons, it’s very difficult to buy pet ferrets in the United States that haven’t already been spayed or neutered — most pet stores and breeders will only sell them to prospective owners after the surgery.

8. Ferrets are not dirty animals.

In fact, ferrets are very clean creatures. They will naturally develop the habit of using a litterbox if you provide one and they are constantly grooming themselves to stay clean. Now, it’s true that ferrets can have a distinctive natural odor — males more than females. Most pet ferrets have had the glands that produce their strongest scents removed during spay or neuter surgery, but their natural aroma still takes a little getting used to. (Personally, I think dogs are smellier — and I even like dogs.)

There are steps you can take to reduce the ferret scent in your home, and surprisingly enough, bathing your ferrets regularly isn’t one of them. Washing a ferret with shampoo strips its natural scent temporarily — until its body goes into overdrive to rebuild its identifying odor, and then your pet will smell even worse than before for a few days. Instead, cleaning the litterbox and washing your ferret’s bedding regularly is the best step you can take to keep your house from smelling overwhelmingly like ferret.

9. Ferrets are very affectionate, but they don’t show it the way a cat or dog does.

If a ferret’s not deeply asleep or eating, it’s probably bouncing off the walls. Ferrets are affectionate animals, but most of them are just too excited about life to sit and snuggle with their people. There are definitely exceptions to this rule. Lap ferrets exist, but they’re hard to find.

Be warned: even the cuddliest ferret will still want to spend more time playing with you than snuggling up. Instead, they show their love for you by trying to engage you in play. They might try to steal things out of your hands to get you to wrestle, pounce on your feet, follow you around the house to get your attention, or even try to get you to chase them across the room. It will take a little time to figure out what games and toys your ferret likes the most — after owning four different ferrets, I’ve never stopped being shocked at how different every ferret’s personality and preferences really are.

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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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